ANS webinar with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko a success

October 6, 2011, 6:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A collaborative effort between the American Nuclear Society and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission resulted in a successful 90-minute webinar on nuclear safety issues on October 4.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (right) talks to ANS moderator Dan Yurman (left) at the Oct 4 webinar. Photo: Clark Communications

More than 60 people signed on to the webinar session when it started at 11 a.m. (Eastern time), and more than 40 were still with it when the event ended 90 minutes later. According to the NRC, another 15 people listened in through a toll-free 800 telephone number.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko took questions during the live, unscripted session on a wide range of topics including Yucca mountain, new reactor design reviews, and the NRC's response to the Fukushima crisis.

Laura Scheele, ANS manager of Policy & Communication, noted that this was a first-of-a-kind effort by the two organizations. The project began last summer when NRC Public Affairs Chief Eliot Brenner approached ANS about the webinar idea.

"The ANS elected officers green-lighted the webinar as an opportunity for ANS to provide a virtual forum for ANS members and other nuclear professionals to ask NRC Chairman Jackzo about important nuclear energy issues," said Scheele.

Webinar challenges

As the project took shape, the NRC agreed with Scheele that two separate sessions were needed-one for pro-nuclear bloggers and one for anti-nuclear organizations.  Scheele also insisted, and the NRC agreed, that the moderator could ask follow-up questions. About a third of the questions asked were of the follow-up type.

While webinars are well-understood mechanisms in the high-tech industry, this was the NRC's first experience with the process. There were a fair number of questions facing the organizations sponsoring the event. For instance, would nuclear bloggers agree to send in questions ahead of time? Would enough people sign up for the webinar to make it worthwhile?

The NRC chairman has been a lightning rod for controversy over his actions regarding Yucca Mountain. It was thought that some people who disagreed with the chairman's actions might ask questions that went beyond the boundaries of civil discourse.

In the end, the print-out of questions submitted in advance was more than five pages long. Several overlapping questions were combined to make effective use of limited time.

While many of the questions were asked, and answered, many others-some highly technical-will be answered on the NRC blog. In addition, the NRC has posted a podcast of the webinar, a video, and a complete transcript (see links below).

Jaczko was pleasant, conversational, and well prepared for the session. He invested a lot of time in the event both before it and during the a 90-minute live, unscripted session. The result "exceeded all expectations," the NRC's Eliot Brenner told the New York Times.

Question highlights

In particular, Jaczko was asked about his congressional testimony on March 16 that Fukushima's spent fuel pool at reactor #4 had lost much of  its water and was a major source of high levels of radiation being released into the environment.

In response, he said, "The lesson we take from this is that we need adequate instrumentation to monitor the pools."

In response to another series of questions about management of spent fuel, he said that dry cask storage is good for at least 60 years. He dismissed the idea of creating a single interim storage site for spent fuel, saying that it was safe to continue to store at reactor sites until a permanent solution could be found. Asked if the NRC could license a spent fuel processing facility today, Jaczko said technically that the NRC isn't ready to review that kind of application.

On the subject of small modular reactors, Jaczko said that the NRC is comfortable reviewing designs based on conventional light water reactor technology.

Asked what keeps him awake at night, Jaczko said the fear is that there is some unknown factor that is being missed in the agency's safety analysis of a situation at a reactor or in a license application.

The webinar questions were moderated by Dan Yurman, a nuclear energy blogger. He is a member of ANS and serves on the ANS Public Information Committee.

Links to NRC Video, Audio, and Transcript

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