Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 24 No. 23
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence
Article 12 of 13
June 05, 2020

ECA Warns Defense Board Could Lose Credibility With Locals Over Recommendation Language

By Dan Leone

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) might lose credibility in the eyes of Department of Energy site host communities if it does not explain its opposition to proposed changes to federal nuclear safety standards in plain words, a community interest group said.

“It would be in the best interest for sites and communities to fully comprehend the Board’s Recommendation,” Energy Communities Alliance Chair Ron Wooody wrote in a June 2 letter to DNFSB Chairman Bruce Hamilton. “If the recommendation is not understood, the Board will be discounted as an organization and any challenge by [the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)] would likely be supported locally since the Board recommendation would not be understood.”

The Energy Communities Alliance represents communities near NNSA and DOE facilities. In April, the DNFSB agreed to meet representatives of the organization to discuss a plain-language summary of the board’s recommendation that the Energy Department reconsider changes to federal rules, found in Title 10, Part 830 of the Code of Federal Regulations, about nuclear safety management and procedures at defense-nuclear sites.

Hamilton alone of the three active DNFSB members voted against doing so, saying such a meeting is outside of the board’s mission and a waste of taxpayer money.

“Likewise, providing educational services to a public interest group sets a precedent that the Board would be well-served to avoid,” Hamilton wrote at the time.

In its letter to DNFSB this week, Woody said the Energy Communities Alliance specifically wants “explanations of the technical components and recommendations delivered by the Board for the communities that would be impacted most directly by the proposed changes,” not a broad layperson’s primer on the recommendation.

“[W]e believe it is an appropriate use of funds to communicate clearly the Board’s recommendations in a manner that allows the public to understand the recommendations,” Woody wrote.

Reached by email Wednesday, the Energy Communities Alliance also noted a strategic goal from the DNFSB’s 2020 budget request, which said the board will strive to “[c]ommunicate effectively and transparently with the Board’s stakeholders on Board safety issues in DOE’s defense nuclear complex, on the Board’s operations, and all Board Member views.”

The organization said it had not yet scheduled a meeting with the board.

The DNFSB issued Recommendation 2020-1, its third of the Donald Trump administration, in February. In it, the board said DOE’s drive to revise the primary nuclear safety management regulation “would actually erode the regulatory framework.”

Among other things, the Energy Department has proposed to eliminate hazard categorization of nuclear facilities from federal regulations, retaining categorization internally but effectively removing the weight of federal law from the categories that differentiate the nuclear dangers of a given site.

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