Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Allison Macfarlane, second from right, tours a nuclear power plant. (Eliot Brenner/Photo courtesy NRC)

Irony alert!

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has long faced criticism by enviro-types that it doesn’t do enough to engage the public in its decision-making process. So, the commission does what seems to be the right thing and holds a public forum to discuss the matter. It invites testimony from its staff, industry representatives and advocates for the public to come and talk about the ways Joe and Jane Six-pack can get involved in the agency’s work.

Sounds like a good time. But here’s where the irony starts: the webcast, which was was supposed to beam the proceedings to a global audience, failed.

So the very public the agency was talking about engaging couldn’t, you know, engage. That wasn’t lost on the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has pushed for more transparency and engagement (in prepared testimony, they called the NRC “a medieval fortress, surrounded by a wide and deep moat of rules to keep unruly citizens at bay”).

“If you’re going to talk about public engagement, that’s something that people should be able to watch,” said NRDC spokesman Jake Thompson.

Nor did the irony escape NRC spokesman David McIntyre, who met our inquiry about the webcast failure with a sigh. “We make every effort to be open and transparent,” he said. “Unfortunately, the technology isn’t perfect.” He explained that the contractor who handles the streaming had a server failure. Finally, they were able to switch servers, but by then, the meeting was almost over.

The whole thing will be archived on the NRC’s Web site by Friday morning, he promised.

Let’s hope the NRC’s other contractors — ones who might be more directly involved with the nation’s nuclear safety, for instance — don’t have similar technical foul-ups.