NRC takes its reading rooms, reports online

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided to stop distributing paper copies of its documents to its reading rooms nationwide and now will provide future documents only on the Internet.The change, slated for Oct. 1, would coincide with the rollout of a new information system called the Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS), which NRC would use to capture and store all of its official records. ADAMS is based on workflow and document management software from FileNet Corp.

Bruce Evans, a consultant who heads the electronic recordkeeping subcommittee of the Nuclear Information and Records Management Association, a professional association for records managers in the nuclear industry, said NRC's decision places it on the "leading edge" of agencies that are using information technology to manage and distribute their documents.

"It is a significant step forward from an information management and information sharing perspective," Evans said. Every federal agency publishes some of its official documents on the World Wide Web, but in most cases paper and microfilm versions are the ones provided most routinely to the public.

Some consumers who use NRC documents to monitor nuclear power plants and waste sites worry, however, that the agency is moving online too quickly. "Making information Internet-available is a step in the right direction," said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a Washington, D.C.-based interest group that opposes nuclear power. "The move to make it completely electronic is premature."

Gunter fears not enough people have the right computer skills or have access to the Internet to be able to download the documents they want. "It's still only a fraction of the population that can and do use the Internet," he said. "That includes not only home users but in some cases county and city and state government."

Meanwhile, David Pyles, who collects NRC documents for the Brattleboro, Vt.-based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, said he is mainly concerned that the new Web site be easy to use and that documents, once posted, always will be online. The group orders hundreds of documents from NRC every year, and electronic versions would be easier to store.

"I just want to know that when I go to look for something that it's going to be there [and that it will be] in a form that I can do something with," Pyles said.

An NRC spokeswoman said last week that the agency was not ready to discuss its plans and that no agency official was willing to comment.

But in a recently published press release and Federal Register notice, the agency said its plan offers several benefits. NRC for the first time would provide the full text of its documents online and make them available within days rather than the weeks that it now takes to distribute hard copies. The information also would be more widely available because people could access it anywhere, not just in the agency's reading rooms.

NRC maintains 86 reading rooms across the country, mainly in libraries that are located near nuclear reactors, but NRC decided, because ADAMS enables electronic distribution of documents, to stop funding the reading rooms, according to the Federal Register notice. The notice said almost all the facilities where the reading rooms are located will offer Internet access to their patrons by the end of this year. People still could order paper and microfiche copies of documents, for a fee, if they want them.

Although NRC still receives regulatory documents in paper form and will be providing scanned text and images of the documents via ADAMS, eventually industry will submit its information to ADAMS electronically.


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