NRC’s Transparency: Glasnost or Half-Glasnost?

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project | January 13, 2015, 6:00 am EST
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Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit #46

The NRC’s words about openness:

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.

The NRC’s actions about openness:

(Source: NRC response to FOIA/PA-2014-0210)

(Source: NRC response to FOIA/PA-2014-0210)

NRC Form 659 is titled “NRC Public Meeting Feedback” and is distributed at public meetings conducted by the NRC staff to solicit opinions from the attendees on issues like how well the meeting was noticed and conducted.

This specific form was for a public meeting conducted by the NRC on August 18, 2010, about the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska. It is blank, containing no additional information other than the meeting subject and date.

The NRC classified this document as being “NOT FOR PUBLIC DISCLOSURE” and withheld it from the public until September 15, 2014, when it was released in the second—not the first—response to request FOIA/PA-2014-0210 submitted under the Freedom of Information Act. It took four years and two tries for this non-public Public Meeting Feedback form to reach the public.

Bottom Line

The NRC’s glasnost appears to be half-glasnost, at best. The NRC has federal regulations and internal procedures covering when to withhold security, trade-secret, and personal identify information from public disclosure. But none of those requirements and criteria remotely justified withholding a blank public meeting feedback form.

And yet withhold it they did.

Whatever the excuses, an agency purporting openness as a core value is definitely in trouble when it can learn transparency lessons from the former Soviet Union.


The UCS Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit (NEAT) is a series of post intended to help citizens understand nuclear technology and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes for overseeing nuclear plant safety.

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  • Garry Morgan

    One of the largest problems relating to security of documents is the inappropriate classification of documents. It is contrary to an efficient documents security program, plus it is expensive to classify documents as restricted when in fact they should never have been classified with a restricted marking. This diminishes trust in an agency such as the NRC whose purpose is to protect the public.

    Another problem with the civilian nuclear industry and OUR regulator is the inappropriate use of the “proprietary” restriction for safety reports from EPRI, INPO and WANO. In reviewing the actions of the NRC and the TVA it is my observations the “proprietary” restriction is often utilized to cover up safety defects in nuclear reactor systems and how humans interact with the reactor systems.

    This was the case with the 2010 “Red Flag” finding regarding the stuck valve situation at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Reactor.

    Reading the NRC findings about the problem one was lead to believe that this “stuck valve” problem involved one reactor and was an isolated instance. It was not, and there was a much larger problem involving multiple Human Reliability failures on the part of management at Browns Ferry and TVA Nuclear Operations going back more than 4 years prior to the 2010 “Red Flag” finding; there were many valve problems, and management personnel ignoring multiple failures and Corrective Actions Programs requirements.

    The multiple failures disclosed in the 2010 INPO Report on Browns Ferry was not disclosed by the NRC as it relates to the extent of the management and multiple systems failures indicated in the INPO Report.

    Summary – Inappropriate documents control and classification is a symptom of Human Reliability, Safety and Security failures. This reflects an inappropriate organizational cultural attitude which protects the nuclear industry instead of protecting the public, which is the sole mission of the NRC.