NRC site offers nuclear plant info; online licensing

If you have ever passed a nuclear power plant and watched puffy clouds of steam rise into the sky, you may have thought—with some trepidation—"How safe is this place?"

Now you may be able to use the Internet to find out. This year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed the way it goes about inspecting nuclear power plants for nine plants involved in a test pilot. If all goes as planned, every plant in the country will be subject to the new inspection method by the end of the year.

In concert with the new approach to inspecting and licensing nuclear power plants, the agency decided to post on its World Wide Web site ( current information about power plant evaluations involved in the pilot. The postings, which first appeared this month, will include evaluations of all nuclear power plants in the country—more than 100—once the new oversight process is formally established by the end of the year.

"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 the NRC's office of the chief information officer. "Putting performance indicators in our Web site goes a long way toward revealing how well plants are doing in a variety of areas that are important to safety."

The online information, said NRC Webmaster Jeffrey Main, is much more than a mere uploading of documents. It has been culled from a variety of documents and organized specifically for the site, he said.Visitors can find the information by clicking on News & Information on NRC's home page, then clicking on Plant Assessment under the Documents heading.

Of chief interest to the general public are tables displaying breakdowns of how each power plant performed in its latest evaluation, which can be found by clicking on Performance Assessment at Nine Pilot Nuclear Plants. For example, those interested in Minnesota's Prairie Island nuclear power plant can see that it received a white rating, slightly poorer than the top rating of green, in an emergency preparedness measurement. By clicking on the white box marked ERO Drill Participation, visitors can read a response to the evaluation from the power plant, which contends that it received a lower rating in this category because its training system does not stress drills as highly as classroom training and education. Plant officials write that they are changing their training system to satisfy NRC.

NRC also plans to launch a program that will enable nuclear power plants and other qualified groups to participate in the licensing process online.

Currently, when a company wants to warehouse hospital materials tainted with radiation, for example, it has to provide paperwork that can grow to tens of thousands of pages, duplicate that paperwork 10 times and mail out all the documentation, Oliu said. The proposed licensing system will enable them to file for those 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 site to file legal briefs opposing the application.

But not all public advocacy groups are championing this feature. "We think it's good that the 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 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."

The Web site, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks, gives people access to information that has been available in the past, but only in the form of a paper document—and always outdated. The paper documents "mainly deal with historical information," he said. "They talk about what's been happening at the plant for the past few years, not last week."


From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's home page, visitors can link to up-to-date information about nuclear power plant inspections.


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