RELEASE: New Breakthrough Institute Report Details Pathway for Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Improve Public Engagement

Berkeley, CA - March 7, 2024 — A new report from the Breakthrough Institute identifies key challenges the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) faces in engaging the public and provides detailed recommendations for improvement. Despite recent statements by the NRC that improving public engagement is a priority, substantial barriers remain. The NRC prioritizes technical jargon and complex procedures, rather than clear, accessible communication, which alienates the interested public, including community members and other stakeholders, and fosters misconceptions.

The report, titled “Improving Nuclear Regulatory Commission Public Engagement,” provides a well-informed starting point for NRC to better engage the public.

Challenges and Recommendations from the report:

  • Collaboration with External Stakeholders: The NRC should reassess its approach to decision-making, prioritizing external input to ensure transparency and inclusivity. Recommendations include seeking feedback through stakeholder surveys and strengthening relationships with environmental justice communities, and U.S. Tribes.

  • Use Meaningful Two-Way Communication: Facilitating dialogue with stakeholders, including industry, is essential for collaborative problem-solving. The NRC should set a standard to provide clear answers during public interactions and invest in internal training of its staff to enhance communication skills.

  • Communicating with the Public and Managing Information: The NRC needs to make it easier for the public to access information that the agency intends to be public. Databases and other on-line information should be more usable. Recommendations include updating web platforms, increasing staff capacity for engagement, and implementing standardized procedures for meetings, including notifications and access.

  • Presenting Technical Information in More Accessible Formats: To bridge the knowledge gap, the NRC should present technical documents and meeting materials in more accessible formats. Enhancements to the Agency-wide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS) and the introduction of project dashboards are recommended.

  • Providing Adequate Resources and Oversight: Congress should provide adequate funding to support NRC efforts in public engagement and oversee the NRC’s efforts in this area. Off-fee funding and improved Congressional oversight are necessary for sustained progress.

“Many of the recommendations in the report can be adopted by the NRC under existing law,” said BTI”s Nuclear Energy Analyst and report co-author, Leigh Anne Lloveras, J.D. “In many cases, these recommendations are to apply current best practices agency-wide.”

The Breakthrough Institute’s Director of Nuclear Energy Innovation, Adam Stein commented: “Addressing the challenges in public engagement at the NRC is imperative. The NRC must identify and address the problems, in addition to the symptoms.” And continued, “It is difficult for a member of the public to engage with the NRC and almost impossible for them to identify how to solve the problem. The NRC staff do not use the public engagement information and systems and therefore do not know where the barriers are. That is why the detailed feedback in this report, based on substantial engagement with the NRC, is so valuable.”

To read the full report, click here.


Media Contact:

Adam Stein, Director of Nuclear Energy Innovation