Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brazilian nuclear experts get well-rounded education in Richland

By Dieter Bohrmann, Communications Consultant, Nuclear Waste Program

A group of five nuclear experts from Brazil had a lot of serious questions when they visited Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program in Richland last month. One less serious – but no less important – question was: “How is the quality of your wine?”

A team of high-ranking officials in the Brazilian government’s nuclear energy sector traveled to the U.S. in August to learn how our country’s nuclear regulations and oversight system works, explore best practices for improving public perceptions of nuclear issues, and experience American culture and society. For some of them, it was their first trip to the U.S.

The team spent nearly three weeks talking with various groups in Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and Nevada, in addition to their swing through the Pacific Northwest. The tour was part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

In Washington, the group was particularly interested in the state’s role in overseeing and regulating the byproducts of nuclear programs to ensure community health and safety. The group was also interested in understanding the purpose of the Northwest Interstate Compact, and how it provides a regional framework for securing nuclear materials. The compact oversees the management and disposal of commercial low-level waste within its region that includes eight Western states.

The Nuclear Waste Program got involved when the World Affairs Council in Seattle contacted Ecology’s headquarters office in Lacey to request a meeting with the Richland office. But it quickly became apparent that the scope of the group’s interests went beyond our program’s expertise. So reinforcements — in the form of our partners at the Department of Health and the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) — were called in to provide all the information the experts were seeking.

Pictured from left to right: Guilherme Carmargo (Superintendent of Quality Management, Eletronuclear); Paulo Viegas (Legislative Advisor in Economics & Energy, Federal Senate); Wagner Tavares (Legislative Counsel, Federal Chamber of Deputies); Leonam Guimares (Special Assistant to the CEO, Eletronuclear); Marcelo Suano (Advisor to the Presidency, Federal House of Representatives)
The multi-agency effort proved to be effective in covering a lot of ground. Ron Skinnarland went over the Nuclear Waste Program’s role in regulating environmental cleanup at Hanford. Ecology’s Mike Garner provided an overview of commercial low-level radioactive waste laws and interstate compacts. Earl Fordham, Mike Priddy, and Tom Rogers from Health’s Office of Radiation Protection discussed radiation monitoring and emergency preparedness at the Columbia Generating Station, the state’s only operating nuclear power plant. And Stephen Posner from EFSEC came to the rescue to talk about the state’s role in licensing and siting energy facilities, including the nuclear plant.

The meeting was a great opportunity for the agencies to be ambassadors for our work in protecting Washington’s environment. We were also left with an appreciation for the regulatory structure that ensures those protections are effective and efficient. Something that’s easy to take for granted.

Wrapping up with us on a Friday afternoon after a busy week of meetings and a long East Coast flight, our visitors were looking forward to a chance to relax and play tourist over the weekend. I hope they got a chance to sample some of the highest quality wine in the world made right here in the Columbia Basin.

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