October 21, 2022

Rep. Mike Levin Introduces Legislation to Improve Public Engagement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Oceanside, CA – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Levin (D-CA) introduced the NRC Office of Public Engagement and Participation Act. The bill will establish an Office of Public Engagement and Participation at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to help members of the public understand and participate in NRC proceedings.

The NRC considers public opinion in their nuclear regulatory decisions, but far too often, the public does not understand how best to engage with the Commission. The new independent Office of Public Engagement and Participation will help bridge this gap by creating opportunities for the public to engage with the Commission. The office will support public participation in NRC proceedings by providing educational, legal, and technical guidance and assistance to members of the public and coordinate assistance for members of the public seeking to participate in NRC proceedings.

“The public deserves to have their voice heard by the regulatory agency in charge of handling spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre. But oftentimes, there is a lack of clear communication between the public and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on this important issue,” said Rep. Mike Levin. “That's why I am proud to introduce this bill to create an Office of Public Engagement and Participation within the NRC to bridge the gap in communication with the public and ensure all voices are heard in the regulatory process. As we continue to advance the consent-based siting process for spent nuclear fuel, I also believe that an Office of Public Engagement and Participation will be a key tool in ensuring that all interested communities can fully understand the regulatory process at NRC and ultimately foster greater confidence between communities and the Commission.”

“For far too long the communities most affected by the rulings of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been deliberately and dangerously cut off from participating in its decision-making,” said Caroline Reiser, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This bill would go a long way toward correcting that historical injustice and ensuring that everyone has a say in these important decisions.”

“Transparency and accessibility are critical to good governance. Establishing an Office of Public Engagement and Participation at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would ensure the NRC can help communities understand how the agency meets its mandate to protect public health and the environment. It’s crucial as we continue to generate power from nuclear energy that our government makes information and resources available to interested and affected members of the public,” said Jackie Toth, Deputy Director of Good Energy Collective. “Last year, we were excited to see another independent energy regulator—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—establish its long-awaited Office of Public Participation and want to see that effort replicated at the NRC. We appreciate Rep. Mike Levin’s commitment to making sure our country’s nuclear regulators can be a supportive community partner going forward.” 

“Surfrider Foundation stands in strong support of increased community outreach and participation regarding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s activities, including the management, storage and transportation of radioactive waste. Increasing public understanding and community engagement is critical to find equitable and just solutions to our nation’s spent nuclear fuel problem,” said Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation’s Senior Legal Director.

Representative Levin has been a longtime advocate for increased transparency, accountability, and oversight at SONGS and for solutions to move the hazardous waste at San Onofre out of the region. In March 2020, Rep. Levin called on the House Appropriations Committee to fund a consolidated interim storage program at the DOE. Further, the letter stated that DOE’s program should initially focus on accepting fuel from closed nuclear plants while accounting for site-specific environmental factors. Both of these criteria favor removing fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and align with Rep. Levin’s Spent Fuel Prioritization Act. In December 2020, Rep. Levin voted for bipartisan government funding legislation that included the $20 million for the interim storage of spent nuclear fuel, as was requested in Rep. Levin’s letter. That legislation was subsequently signed into law, and funding under the law enabled the DOE to restart the consent-based siting process last November.

In September 2022, the Department of Energy announced it was awarding $16 million Rep. Levin helped secure to communities that may be willing to host spent nuclear fuel, including the waste at San Onofre. At least six communities will receive funding to facilitate information gathering and public engagement on the potential to host spent nuclear fuel.

Rep. Levin also reintroduced his Increasing Nuclear Safety Protocols for Extended Canister Transfers (INSPECT) Act to require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to keep a resident inspector at decommissioning nuclear power plants until all spent fuel is transferred from its spent fuel pools to canisters.

One of Representative Levin’s first actions as a Member of Congress was to launch a task force made up of local stakeholders and experts to address the safety challenges at SONGS and formulate federal policy recommendations to address the hazardous waste. The task force report is available here. Rep. Levin also formed a bipartisan Congressional Spent Nuclear Fuel Solutions Caucus to address the challenges associated with stranded commercial spent fuel across the country.