U.S. NRC Blog

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Tag Archives: Federal Register

Principles of Good Regulation: Openness

Roger Hannah
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region II

Nuclear regulation is the public’s business, and it must be transacted publicly and candidly. The public must be informed about and have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory processes as required by law. Open channels of communication must be maintained with Congress, other government agencies, licensees, and the public, as well as with the international nuclear community.

graphic-pogr_opennessMost of us in the NRC’s Office of Public Affairs were trained and have worked as either print or broadcast journalists. That background and our experiences in trying to get information from many different organizations make us all strong advocates for an open flow of information and access for all. The NRC Principle of Openness is a real-world standard that guides everything we do.

Some of the NRC’s activities generate quite a bit of public interest while others may garner little attention. No matter what the issue may be, our goal is always to provide the media and the public with as much information as possible, allowing them to learn about what we do or take an active role in our regulatory process.

We provide letters, reports and other documents on many of the agency’s activities, including detailed information before we issue a license, when we update our regulatory requirements and even when we have technical questions for our applicants or licensees. We believe all people and groups interested in our policies and actions must have access to clear and understandable information.

We hold public meetings near the facilities we regulate, at NRC headquarters and in the four regional offices. Documents and correspondence related to license applications and inspection findings, with the exception of security-related, proprietary, and other sensitive information, are made available through the agency’s web site.

principles-of-good-reg-web-screen_1The agency also typically issues news releases when it receives license applications and to announce public meetings, opportunities for hearings, and other public involvement activities. We also use several different social media tools including Twitter, Facebook, this blog and others.

Copies of key documents may be sent to federal, state, local, and tribal authorities, published in the Federal Register, and made available on the NRC web site. Librarians at the NRC’s Public Document Room are available to assist in accessing or obtaining copies of the agency’s documents. We have also established a process to respond to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

It can sometimes be frustrating to try to find information from a federal agency or other large organization, but at the NRC, we want to reduce or eliminate that frustration as much as possible. We may not always succeed, but we take the Principle of Openness very seriously and work hard to achieve that goal.

This is the second of five posts exploring each of the Principles of Good Regulation. For the history of the Principles of Good Regulation, read this post.

 

Updating Radioactive Materials Transportation Regulations

Emma Wong
Project Manager

10cfrIf you have ever wondered about the safety of packaging and transporting radioactive materials, now is the perfect opportunity to learn about it. The NRC is kicking off the process of updating our requirements in 10 CFR Part 71.

We do this periodically to reflect new information. Changes to international packaging and transportation standards published by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which serve as a standard for the U.S. and other nations, can also trigger revisions. Stringent safety requirements, as well as coordination among federal agencies, international regulators, and tribal, state and local officials, help to ensure radioactive materials shipments are made safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has primary responsibility for regulatory materials transport, while the NRC regulates packages for larger quantities. This structure provides many layers of safety.

When it is time to review our requirements, the NRC coordinates with DOT to ensure the two agencies have consistent regulatory standards. The process may take several years. We are also working to align our regulations with the IAEA’s.

To encourage public input, we are publishing an “issues paper” that outlines areas we have identified for possible revision. We’ll take comments on it for 60 days. We plan to use that input to develop a draft regulatory basis—a document that identifies a regulatory issue, and considers and recommends a solution. Once finalized, the draft regulatory basis will be made available for public comment. After taking comments on the draft, we can publish a final regulatory basis.

At that point, if our Commission agrees that revision to our requirements are needed, we would move into developing a proposed rule, then a final rule. Each step in the process takes about a year. Details on how to submit comments can be found in a Federal Register notice that will be published on November 21. This information and additional details about the rulemaking will be available on the federal rulemaking website.

We’re also planning a public meeting on Dec. 5-6 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss the paper and answer questions. Details on participating, including by teleconference and webinar, can be found in our meeting notice.

img_0230While the regulations are being updated, the fact remains that radioactive materials are transported safely all the time. Millions of these shipments are made each year and arrive at their destination without incident. Occasionally, a carrier might be involved in a traffic accident. But in decades of experience, there has never been an accident that resulted in injury from exposure to the radioactive contents.

All shipments of radioactive material must also be made in compliance with DOT regulations. Smaller shipments pose extremely low risk. The larger the amount of radioactive materials, the more stringent DOT’s requirements are. DOT limits how much radioactivity can be transported in each package. That way, no transport accident involving these shipments would pose a significant health threat.

But what about larger amounts of radioactive materials? What about spent nuclear fuel?

In addition to meeting DOT requirements, larger shipments of radioactive cargo such as spent nuclear fuel and fissile material must meet NRC regulations for packaging and transport in Part 71. These regulations include very detailed requirements for shipping under normal conditions, as well as stringent tests to show the packages can withstand hypothetical severe accidents. These are the regulations we are updating now. If you would like to learn more about the transportation of spent fuel and radioactive materials, see our website.

You Can Ask the NRC to Change Its Rules

Jennifer Borges
Regulations Specialist
 

One of the ways the public can take part in NRC actions involves asking the agency to issue new rules or change existing ones. The NRC’s website describes this “petition for rulemaking” process in detail, including how to submit a petition and what information the NRC needs in order to consider the request.

publicopinionnewAt its most basic, a petition needs to explain the issue and why the petitioner believes action is needed. The petition should include whatever supporting information is available. One example of a successful petition involved revising NRC requirements for emergency planning at nuclear power plants. The petition led to a new rule that allows state and local governments to include stockpiles of potassium iodide for possible use in the event of an emergency at a nuclear power plant.

Starting the process can be as simple as consulting with the NRC before filing a petition. We’ll provide information about the process, our regulations, and what we understand about the issues you intend to raise. If a petition falls short of the legal requirements, we’ll explain how to meet our criteria. The petitioner then has the chance to send us more information.

When petitions meet the requirements, we enter them in our review process and announce our review in the Federal Register. If public comment can play a role in resolving the petition, the Federal Register notice explains how the public can provide their views.

The NRC staff then evaluates the petition and any public comments to decide whether to start our rulemaking process. We stay in contact with the petitioner with periodic updates on the status of the staff’s work on the petition.

If we deny a petition we announce the decision in the Federal Register and explain our reasons. We also respond to any public comments on the petition.

If we accept a petition for consideration in our rulemaking process, the Federal Register notice explains how we intend to move forward. We also describe how the public can keep track of the NRC’s actions on the petition. If the NRC issues a proposed or final rule related to the petition, our Federal Register notice on the rule will explain how we have addressed the petition’s concerns.

We’re currently updating our rulemaking petition process with a proposed rule we issued on May 3, 2013 (78 FR 25886). The revisions would:

  • Expand a petitioner’s access to the NRC by allowing consultation with our staff both before and after filing a petition for rulemaking;
  • Improve the content requirements for a petition for rulemaking;
  • Clarify our evaluation criteria;
  • Explain our internal process for receiving, closing and resolving a petition; and
  • Update information for tracking the status of petitions and subsequent rulemaking actions.

 

The NRC’s other petition process allows anyone to ask the agency to take an enforcement action against a nuclear power plant or other NRC licensee. We discussed these processes on the blog in 2011.

 

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