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NRC: Take me to your leaders

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Touting a focus on accountable and accessible government, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is coming to town in an effort to inform elected officials about the license renewal process for the Diablo Canyon power plant.

On Jan. 4, officials from cities in the vicinity of the plant received e-mails and phone calls inviting them to meet with NRC staff to “provide information about our review process so that officials can better respond to inquiries from their constituents,” according to an e-mail sent to Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters.

The correspondence, sent by Drew Stuyvenberg, project manager for the NRC’s Division of License Renewal, said NRC staffers will travel to the state Jan. 11 to 15 to visit the power plant and begin planning for future on-site review activities.

The NRC contacted a number of local city government officials, including San Luis Obispo Mayor Dave Romero, Pismo Beach Mayor Mary Ann Reiss, and Peters. Reiss said she’s looking forward to learning about the process, but has a few reservations.

“I think this is a good idea because Diablo safety is a huge issue in this area and the plant certainly employs a lot of people,” Reiss said. “But I suspect there will be some opposition, as well.”

“Morro Bay is within seven miles of Diablo, or within the second ring of disaster, so to speak, so it’s important for us to know about this process so our community knows what danger we’re in and for how long,” said Morro Bay City Councilwoman Betty Winholtz, who accepted the invitation. “We were guaranteed a certain length of time, and now they want to extend that time. And nuclear power is not getting any safer.”

Critics say that, despite these latest efforts, the NRC isn’t being open at all. As some contend, PG&E is jumping the gun by filing a license renewal application straight to the NRC before addressing concerns and recommendations by the state regulatory and safety agencies—the California Public Commission and the California Energy Commission. Others now accuse the NRC of doing the same thing by offering local officials answers to questions the public hasn’t had the chance to ask.

“Coming to our county and treating this process as if it is a ‘fait accompli’ is highly premature and frankly a waste of government money on the part of the NRC,” consumer watchdog group Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility said in a press release.

“Obviously, if the NRC has not held forums in the community, how can they presume to know the questions we will ask, and therefore, is it not mere propaganda for them to feed pre-digested answers to our elected officials?” the group asked.

“This effort of the federal regulators of nuclear facilities to so blatantly promote PG&E’s application to extend its operating license to 2045 while pretending to have not decided whether or not to accept that application is outrageous,” agreed Jane Swanson of SLO Mothers for Peace.

However, in an e-mail to New Times, NRC public affairs officer Victor Dricks said the NRC will soon hold those public forums aimed at members of the community, not just officials.

“The NRC will be holding four public meetings in the San Luis Obispo area in the near future during which we will describe how the agency’s review will be conducted, respond to questions from members of the community, and gather input on issues that people would like to see included in our review,” Dricks wrote.

On Dec. 11, the NRC issued a press release announcing it is “strengthening its commitment to openness and transparency” through a variety of initiatives reportedly aimed at enhancing public understanding of—and participation in—its processes. One such example is web conferencing, which the agency said it hopes will bring meetings about possible changes to emergency preparedness regulations to more people.

“The NRC has a long history of, and commitment to, openness with the public and transparency in its regulatory process,” NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said in the release. “I look forward to working with my commission colleagues to make our decision-making activities even more open.”

More information on the NRC’s use of web conferencing is available at whitehouse.gov/open/innovations.

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