Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NRC Briefing on Fujushima

Yesterday afternoon a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) meeting-notice was posted on the Federal Register ‘pre-view’ web site about a public briefing on the “NRC Response to Recent Nuclear Events in Japan”. While that subject is not of direct concern to the chemical security community (though everyone should have some concerns about the issue) I am mentioning this here because of some administrative problems this notice underlines in the communications tools available to the Federal Government.

The problem with this notice is that it was posted to the preview site at 4:15 pm EDT yesterday for actual publication in the Federal Register scheduled for March 23rd. Now that isn’t too unusual until you consider when the public meeting is (actually was) scheduled; March 21, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. EDT. In other words the public notice was ‘published’ (still not yet legally published, but actually published) seven hours after the start of the meeting.

Now, I don’t think that the NRC was attempting to hide anything, and I even think that I briefly saw a clip from this briefing on the late news last night (it was short, and it was late, and I wasn’t completely awake), but this isn’t what we really want to see when dealing with critical information like this. We want to see as much advance notice as is practical.

I do have two questions. The notice states that the NRC voted on 3-15-11 to hold the meeting without giving the ‘required’ one-week notice; I understand and approve of that. But why wasn’t the notice given to the Federal Register folks until Monday afternoon? And then why was the announcement delayed until Thursday instead of on Tuesday? I would have been able to type up the meeting notice provided on the 15th and it could have been to the Federal Register folks on the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th and still provided some public notice of the meeting.

I suspect that it was held up for bureaucratic reasons, waiting for release authority before it was sent out. If that’s the case, then someone needs to answer for that delay because this long a delay for the release of time sensitive information is inexcusable. If there was some other reason, legitimate or otherwise, that also needs to be shared.

The government has a responsibility to provide timely information to the public and notice of public meetings is one important type of timely information. When circumstances limit the time available for providing notice, extraordinary efforts must be taken to provide as much notice as possible. Finally, there is never any excuse for providing notice of a meeting after the meeting is over.

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