Digital Courtrooms Prep for Nuclear Waste Hearing

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is making available online a large and complex federal hearing about a license to store nuclear reactor waste in Nevada.

In preparation for what is expected to be the largest and most complex federal government hearing ever, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is upgrading its hearing rooms in Las Vegas and greater Washington to make the proceedings available online.

The hearing involves the U.S. Department of Energys application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to store nuclear reactor waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The NRC turned to Nortel three years ago to begin preparing for the proceedings, which could last as long as four years, said Paul Gwaltney, program manager at Nortel Government Solutions.

The NRC expects the hearing will generate approximately 300,000 documents and other pieces of evidence. The challenge for the agency was to create an online environment in which all parties—including the Energy Department, the State of Nevada and parties disputing the license application and the public—could have access to the controversial proceeding.

"They realized their current paper-based system was not going to hold up to the task," Gwaltney said. "We essentially customized all of the hearing management functions."

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Calling the NRCs digital courtroom the "first integrated electronic hearing room environment in the country," Gwaltney said the $6 million system will provide digital audio and video transcripts as well as electronic evidence presentation.

Most of the digital courtrooms technology components are already in use elsewhere online. For example, typically the public can watch a live U.S. Senate committee hearing online simply by going to the committees Web site and clicking on a link to the Webcast.

Links to documents from the hearing, such as senators statements and witnesses testimony, are usually available as well.

What is unique to the Nortel digital courtroom technology is a searchable text video transcript that allows parties to easily retrieve evidence in audio/video format, Gwaltney said.

"We take the text from their court reporting station and we time-sync it to the video thats being captured and create a searchable video text transcript," he said. "We use the video transcript as the centerpiece for all the information surrounding it."

The hardware in the hearing rooms includes personal computers, plasma monitors to display evidence, servers, routers, switches, microphones, cameras, speakers and audio/video production equipment.

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