NRC declines call to suspend public proceedings

May 8, 2020, 12:20PMNuclear News

A request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it suspend all rulemakings and other activities involving public comment or participation has failed to receive the petitioners’ desired response from the agency.

In a letter dated April 8, representatives of 82 largely antinuclear organizations—including Beyond Nuclear, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club—argue that the public’s role in NRC rulemaking and licensing decisions is not being properly protected during the coronavirus pandemic.

The argument: "In the current COVID-19 crisis, there is no possibility of effective public participation in the NRC’s regulatory decision-making process,” the signatories write. “Many members of the public currently are living in self-enforced, strongly-recommended or mandated isolation, unable to leave their homes for work or travel. Public agencies and institutions are closed or short-staffed and focusing on the most immediate priorities raised by the pandemic. . . . Under these conditions, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conduct legal and factual research and prepare detailed comments on the often highly complex proposals made by the NRC and license applicants in rulemakings and interpretations, certifications, licensing including amendments, and adjudications.”

The request: The letter urges the NRC to postpone all of its public-involved proceedings until the COVID-19 emergency has been officially declared to have ended, plus a minimum of six additional months for “comment periods, in-person public meetings, and other procedural and adjudicatory steps.”

The response: John Lubinski, the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards director, replied to the letter on April 30, stating that the agency is aware of the challenges caused by the pandemic and is currently evaluating time frames for public engagement opportunities on a case-by-case basis. “When deciding whether to extend or suspend public engagement schedules, the NRC will consider the unique circumstances of each activity, the specific impacts caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency, and the significance of the activity in meeting the NRC’s mission objectives,” Lubinski said. “Changes in schedules for public comment opportunities will be noticed in the Federal Register under the associated Docket ID for the applicable item. . . .The NRC is also considering postponing public meetings or reorganizing them to take advantage of communication technology, such as teleconference, videoconference, webinars, and other means.”

Our take: Translation of the NRC’s language: “We’re denying the request.”

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