Based on insights gained from public meetings and webinars, as well as feedback from a 2019 questionnaire, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is recommending that community advisory boards be formed to foster communication between local communities and licensees of nuclear power plants undergoing decommissioning. The recommendation comes in a report the NRC submitted to Congress on July 1 identifying best practices for establishing local community advisory boards, also known as community engagement panels, following the shutdown of nuclear power reactors.
Mandated by the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, the report includes the findings from 11 public meetings that the NRC’s staff conducted from August through October 2019. During those meetings, the NRC gathered comments from host states, communities near nuclear power plants, and existing community advisory boards. The NRC also conducted two webinars and published a questionnaire in September 2019 to gather insight into the creation and operation of community advisory boards.
Best practices: Through its outreach efforts, the NRC received 1,235 oral and written comments from 216 commenters. In response to those comments, and to aid in the formation of community advisory boards, the NRC included the following best practices in its report to Congress:
1. Form advisory boards early in the decommissioning process
“Due to the complex issues involved in decommissioning, and the time needed for the CAB [community advisory board] members and public to become informed of the various issues involved in the process, CAB formation prior to the shutdown of a reactor is likely to improve its overall effectiveness in working with the community and licensee,” the report states.
2. Develop a charter or guiding document to formalize the board purpose, organizational structure, and general operations
The NRC noted that charters can vary widely among advisory boards, and that the purview of a board will be driven in part by its purpose.
3. Consider local preferences for engagement and opening board meetings to the public whenever possible
Most commenters agreed that communities should have significant role in establishing and operating an advisory board, and that the board should reflect the concerns and level of engagement of each community, the NRC said.
4. Maintain diversity in the membership of advisory boards
A majority of commenters also said that advisory boards should reflect the community surrounding the nuclear power plant.
5. Base the board meeting frequencies and discussion topics on the site status, ongoing activities, and level of stakeholder interest
According to the NRC, members of currently active community advisory boards said that more meetings were required early in the planning phase of decommissioning and throughout the initial decommissioning phases.
6. Assign specific funding sources to support board operations and activities
While there was a consensus that advisory boards have dedicated funding, the NRC noted that opinions varied on the sources of that funding, with some feeling that it should be provided by licensees, and others preferring state or community funding. Others indicated that funding should come from the NRC or other federal agency.
7. Provide access to technical experts or specific training to better inform board discussions with the public.
According to the NRC, a board’s ability to select and retain its own technical experts on certain topics provides better support to the community on important site-specific decommissioning issues. Opinions varied, however, on who should provide access to experts and training.