NRC site shares evaluations of nuclear power plants

As part of a pilot test of new way to inspect nuclear power plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this month began posting on its World Wide Web site the evaluations of nine nuclear power stations.

NRC has begun a pilot program to test its revised oversight process of reactors, which emphasizes maintaining safety, enhancing public confidence and reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens. NRC has posted the results of the evaluations on its Web site (

Visitors to the site can learn, for example, how well the nuclear power plant in their neighborhood is containing radiation, the degree to which workers are being exposed to radiation and how effectively the plant is safeguarding against "radiological terrorism."

"The agency is very concerned with establishing public confidence in the way we do our business," said Walter Oliu, chief of the publishing services branch of NRC's office of the chief information officer. "Putting performance indicators in our Web site goes a long way towards revealing how well plants are doing in a variety of areas that are important to safety."

By the end of the year, all of the more than 100 nuclear power plants nationwide likely will be subject to the new oversight method, and data from all of the plants will be posted on NRC's Web site.

NRC Webmaster Jeffrey Main said the information, is much more than a mere uploading of a document to a Web site. The information on the site has been culled from a variety of documents and organized specifically for the site, he said.

Of chief interest to the general public is a table with breakdowns of how each power plant performed in its latest evaluation.

For example, anybody interested in the Prairie Island nuclear power plant in Minnesota can see that it received a "white" rating—which is slightly poorer than the top "green" rating—in the category of emergency preparedness during the first quarter of this year.

The power plant contends on the Web site that it received a lower rating in this category because its training system does not stress drills as highly as classroom training and education. The plant indicated that it is changing its system of training to satisfy NRC.

NRC also plans to launch a program through its Web site that will let nuclear power plants and other qualified groups participate in the licensing process online.

Currently, Oliu said, if a company, for example, wants to warehouse hospital materials tainted with radiation, it has to provide paperwork in the tens of thousands of pages, must duplicate the paperwork 10 times and must mail all of the documentation. The proposed system will let companies file for licenses online.

In addition to the companies and power plants that may take advantage of the service, activist groups that are opposed to the granting of a particular license, for example, will be able to use the NRC Web site to file legal briefs opposing the application.

But that isn't something all public advocacy groups are championing.

"We think it's good that NRC is using the Web site and technology to try to open up the participatory process," said Jim Riccio, staff attorney for the Critical Mass Energy Project division of the Washington, D.C.-based public advocacy group Public Citizen. "But a lot of my work is ferreting documents out of the agency (in public document rooms). I'm afraid in the future, with the electronic versions, that's just not going to be possible."

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said the new system of monitoring draws what in the past had been a wide-ranging system of evaluation into one more focused upon matters that explicitly deal with providing energy or ensuring safety.

The Web site gives people access to information that has been available in the past, but only in the form of a paper document and always outdated, Dricks said.

The documents, he said, "mainly deal with historical information. They talk about what's been happening at the plant for the past few years, not last week."


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