The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is an independent agencies of the United States government that was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 from the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and was first opened January 19, 1975. The NRC oversees reactor safety and security, reactor licensing and renewal, radioactive material safety, security and licensing, and spent fuel management (storage, security, recycling, and disposal). It has been seen as an example of regulatory capture[1][2][3] and has been accused by the Union of Concerned Scientists as doing an inadequate job.[4]

Mission edit

The NRC's mission is to regulate the nation's civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials to ensure adequate protection of public health and safety, to promote the common defense and security, and to protect the environment. The NRC's regulatory mission covers three main areas:

  • Reactors - Commercial reactors for generating electric power and research and test reactors used for research, testing, and training
  • Materials - Uses of nuclear materials in medical, industrial, and academic settings and facilities that produce nuclear fuel
  • Waste - Transportation, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials and waste, and decommissioning of nuclear facilities from service

The NRC is headed by five Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate for five-year terms. One of them is designated by the President to be the Chairman and official spokesperson of the Commission. The current chairman is Gregory B. Jaczko. He was first sworn in as a Commissioner on Jan. 21, 2005, and his term runs through June 2013. He was designated Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by President Barack Obama on May 13, 2009.

History edit

The NRC was one component of the United States Atomic Energy Commission prior to 1975. When the U.S. AEC became the Energy Research and Development Administration in 1975, the NRC was formed as an independent commission to take over the role of oversight of nuclear energy matters, oversight of nuclear medicine, and nuclear safety. The development and oversight of nuclear weapons was transferred to the National Nuclear Security Administration, a subcomponent of ERDA. Research and promotion of civil uses of radioactive materials, such as for nuclear non-destructive testing, nuclear medicine, and nuclear power, was split into the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science & Technology within ERDA by the same act. (In 1977, ERDA became the United States Department of Energy).

Regions edit

Currently Headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, the NRC previously had five regions. In the late 1990s, the Region V office in Walnut Creek, California was absorbed into Region IV and Region V was dissolved. The NRC is broken down into 4 regions:

Map of the NRC Regions

These four regions oversee the operation of 104 power-producing reactors, and 36 non-power-producing reactors. This oversight is done on several levels, for example:

  • Each power-producing reactor site has Resident Inspectors, who monitor day to day operations
  • Numerous special inspection teams, with many different specialties, routinely conduct inspections at each site
  • Whistleblower reports are investigated by the Office of Enforcement, specifically the Allegations branch [5]

Training and accreditation edit

Commission headquarters

The NRC recognizes the industry's training and accreditation through the Training Rule,[6] which was issued in 1993. The NRC observes the National Nuclear Accrediting Board accrediting board meetings, and conducts audits and training inspections. In addition, the NRC nominates some members of the National Nuclear Accrediting Board. The National Nuclear Accrediting Board is not a government body, but related to the National Academy for Nuclear Training, created in 1985, which integrates and standardizes the training efforts of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and all U.S. nuclear power plants.

Terrorism threats edit

NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland

Terrorist attacks such as those executed by Al-Qaeda in New York on September 11, 2001 and in London on July 7, 2005 have prompted fears that extremist groups might use radioactive dirty bombs in further attacks in the United States and elsewhere.[7][8][9] In March 2007, undercover investigators from the Government Accountability Office set up a false company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a dirty bomb. According to the GAO report, NRC officials did not visit the company or attempt to personally interview its executives. Instead, within 28 days, the NRC mailed the license to the West Virginia postal box. Upon receipt of the license, GAO officials were able to easily modify its stipulations, and remove a limit on the amount of radioactive material they could buy. A spokesman for the NRC said that the agency considered the radioactive devices a "lower-level threat"; a bomb built with the materials could have contaminated an area about the length of a city block, but would not have presented an immediate health hazard.[9]

Criticism edit

In 2007, Barack Obama, then running for president, said that the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission had become "captive of the industries that it regulates"[3] and a nuclear policy analyst at Greenpeace USA has called the agency approval process a "rubber stamp".[10] In Vermont, the day before the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that damaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the NRC approved a 20-year extension for the license of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, although the Vermont state legislature voted overwhelmingly to deny an extension.[10] The plant had been found to be leaking radioactive materials through a network of underground pipes, which Entergy had denied under oath even existed. Tony Klein, chairman of the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee asked the NRC about the pipes at a hearing in 2009 and the NRC didn't even know they existed.[10] On March 17, 2011, the Fukushima Aftermath: Diablo Nuclear Redux?/Union of Concerned Scientists/Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a study critical of the NRC's 2010 performance as a regulator. The UCS said that over the years, it had found the NRC's enforcement of safety rules has not been “timely, consistent, or effective" and it cited 14 "near-misses" at U.S. plants in 2010 alone.[11]

Post-Fukushima edit

A total of 45 groups and individuals from across the nation are formally asking the NRC to immediately suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until the NRC completes a thorough post-Fukushima reactor crisis examination:[12][13]

The petition seeks suspension of six existing reactor license renewal decisions (Columbia, Davis-Besse, Diablo Canyon, Indian Point, Pilgrim, and Seabrook); 13 new reactor combined construction permit and operating license decisions (Bellefonte Units 3 and 4, Bell Bend, Callaway, Calvert Cliffs, Comanche Peak,Fermi, Levy County, North Anna, Shearon Harris, South Texas, Turkey Point, Vogtle, and William States Lee);a construction permit decision (Bellefonte Units 1 and 2); and an operating license decision (Watts Bar). In addition, the petition asks the NRC to halt proceedings to approve the standardized AP1000 and ESBWR reactor designs.[12]

The petitioners also are asking the NRC to supplement its own investigation by establishing an independent commission comparable to that set up in the wake of the serious, though less severe, 1979 Three Mile Island accident. The petitioners include Public Citizen, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.[12]

References edit

  1. Daniel Kaufmann (April 1, 2011). "Preventing Nuclear Meltdown: Assessing Regulatory Failure in Japan and the United States". Brookings.
  2. Ben Berkowitz and Roberta Rampton (April 18, 2011). "Exclusive: U.S. nuclear regulator a policeman or salesman?". Reuters.
  3. a b Justin Elliott, "Ex-regulator flacking for pro-nuke lobby" (March 17, 2011). Retrieved March 18, 2011
  4. Hannah Northey (March 28, 2011). "Japanese Nuclear Reactors, U.S. Safety to Take Center Stage on Capitol Hill This Week". New York Times.
  5. Allegations
  6. NRC - Related Documents and Other Resources
  7. After A Nuclear 9/11
  8. Averting Catastrophe p. 338.
  9. a b A Nuclear 9/11 Invalid <ref> tag; name "nyt" defined multiple times with different content
  10. a b c Kate Sheppard, "Is the Government's Nuclear Regulator Up to the Job?" Mother Jones (March 17, 2011). Retrieved March 18, 2011
  11. Jia Lynn Yang, "Democrats step up pressure on nuclear regulators over disaster preparedness" The Washington Post (March 18, 2011). Retrieved March 19, 2011
  12. a b c "Fukushima Fallout: 45 Groups and Individuals Petition NRC to Suspend All Nuclear Reactor Licensing and Conduct a "Credible" Three Mile Island-Style Review". Nuclear Power News Today. April 14, 2011.
  13. Carly Nairn (14 April 2011). "Anti nuclear movement gears up". San Francisco Bay Guardian.

External links edit