Nuclear Regulatory Commission Essay, Research Paper
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Nuclear physicist Alvin M. Weinberg told the Senate’s Special Committee on Atomic Energy in December 1945:
“Atomic power can cure as well as kill. It can fertilize and enrich a region as well as devastate it. It can widen man’s horizons as well as force him back into the cave.”
The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was passed with the intention of using potential peaceful benefits of atomic power. However, the act emphasized the military aspects of nuclear energy and further emphasized the need for secrecy of raw materials and production of new weapons. The 1946 law did not allow for private or commercial handling of atomic energy. Rather, it created a virtual “government monopoly” of the nuclear energy technology (Walker, pg. 4). To manage the nation’s atomic energy programs, the act established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC was created for two purposes. It controlled the development and production of nuclear weapons, and it directed the research and development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy (Britannica.com).
In 1954, Congress passed new legislation that (for the first time) permitted the wide use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The 1954 Atomic Energy Act ended the government monopoly and made the growth of a private commercial nuclear industry an urgent national goal. The measure directed the AEC “to encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.” (Walker, pg. 5) At the same time, it instructed the agency to make regulations that would protect public health and safety from radiation hazards and concerns. Therefore, the 1954 act assigned the AEC three major roles: to continue its weapons program, to promote the private use of atomic energy for peaceful applications, and to protect public health and safety from the hazards of commercial nuclear power. Those functions were in many respects inseparable and incompatible, especially when combined in a single agency (Walker, pg. 5). Thus, the AEC had the dual responsibility of production & development and regulation. This led to controversy among members of Congress.
Because these roles conflicted with each other, Congress passed the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. This Act redirected federal energy efforts that had been going nowhere under the administration of Richard Nixon. Congress, and President Ford specifically, determined that the public interest would best be served by separating the licensing and related functions of the Atomic Energy Commission from energy development and related functions. To achieve this Congress replaced the AEC with the NRC and a second agency called the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). This agency later became the Department of Energy under the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 (Encarta Online, 1999-2000).
According to its homepage, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s mission is to “ensure adequate protection of the public health and safety, the common defense and security, and the environment in the use of nuclear materials in the United States. The NRC’s scope of responsibility includes regulation of commercial nuclear power reactors; nonpower research, test, and training reactors; fuel cycle facilities; medical, academic, and industrial uses of nuclear materials; and the transport, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials and waste (www.nrc.gov).” In essence, then, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plays an important role in almost every aspect of the use of nuclear energy technology in the United States.
The NRC fulfills its responsibilities through a system of licensing and regulatory activities that include:
+ Licensing the construction and operation of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities, such as nuclear fuel cycle facilities and nonpower test and research reactors, and overseeing their decommissioning
+ Licensing the possession, use, processing, handling, and export of nuclear material
+ Licensing the siting, design, construction, operation, and closure of low-level radioactive waste disposal sites under NRC jurisdiction and the construction, operation, and closure of the geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste
+ Licensing the operators of nuclear power and nonpower test and research reactors
+ Inspecting licensed facilities and activities
+ Conducting the principal U.S. Government research program on light-water reactor safety
+ Conducting research to provide independent expertise and information for making timely regulatory judgments and for anticipating problems of potential safety significance
+ Developing and implementing rules and regulations that govern licensed nuclear activities
+ Investigating nuclear incidents and allegations concerning any matter regulated by the NRC
+ Enforcing NRC regulations and the conditions of NRC licenses
+ Conducting public hearings on matters of nuclear and radiological safety, environmental concern, common defense and security, and antitrust matters
+ Developing effective working relationships with the States regarding reactor operations and the regulation of nuclear material
+ Maintaining the NRC Incident Response Program, including the NRC Operations Center
+ Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information about the operational safety of commercial nuclear power reactors and certain nonreactor activities (www.nrc.gov).
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is headed five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year terms. One of them is designated by the President to be the Chairman, serving as the principal executive officer and official spokesperson of the Commission. Currently, The NRC’s Chairman is Richard A. Meserve. Serving alongside him are Commissioner Greta J. Dicus, Commissioner Nils J. Diaz, Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, Jr., and Commissioner Jeffrey S. Merrifield. The staff is headed by the Executive Director for Operations, who carries out the policies and decisions made by the Commission. The current Executive Director for Operations is Dr. William Travers (www.nrc.gov).
Walker, Dr. J. Samuel, “A Short History of Nuclear Regulation, 1946-1999″, NUREG/BR-0175 Rev. 1, Office of the Secreatary, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Homepage, www.nrc.gov.
Internet site, www.britannica.com, Atomic Energy Commission
Internet site, www.osti.gov/html/doe. Department of Energy
Internet site, www.tis-nt.eh.doe.gov/oepa/law. Atomic Energy Act and Related Legislation
Internet site, www.library.thinkquest.org/politics/energy_reorganization . Energy Reoganization Act