Spotlight: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Which federal agency oversees the operation of the nation’s 100+ power-producing nuclear reactors, as well as about 36 research and test reactors? Created by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) began operations on January 19, 1975. Its mission is “to license and regulate the nation’s civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials in order to ensure the adequate protection of public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and to protect the environment.” Its regulatory mission covers three main areas: reactors (including both commercial and test reactors), materials (including those used in medical, industrial and academic facilities) and waste (including its transportation, storage and disposal). The agency is headed by five presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed commissioners; a chairman is designated by the President.

Before 1975, nuclear regulation was the responsibility of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which Congress established with the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Eight years later, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 made possible the development of commercial nuclear power and assigned the AEC the dual functions of encouraging the use of nuclear power and regulating its safety. Congress abolished the agency in 1974, after it had become clear that its promotional and regulatory duties could not be fulfilled by a single agency.

Today, the NRC has about 3,000 employees, roughly two-thirds of whom work in the agency’s six-building headquarters complex in Rockville, Md., on Rockville Pike, Executive Blvd., Wisconsin Ave., Twinbrook Pkwy. and Church St. The others are based at one of four regional offices that oversee regulatory activities in those regions—the Region I office in King of Prussia, Pa. (for the Northeast), the Region II office in Atlanta (for the Southeast), the Region III office in Lisle, Ill. (for the northern Midwest) and the Region IV office in Arlington, Texas (for the West and southern Midwest)—or at resident inspector offices at each commercial nuclear power plant and some fuel cycle facilities. In addition, the NRC Technical Training Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., provides training for staff in various technical disciplines.

President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request for the NRC is $1.053 billion, a $15 million increase from FY 2012. Approximately $925 million of the FY 2013 budget will be recovered from fees assessed to NRC licensees, resulting in a net appropriation of $128 million, a decrease of $0.1 million in net appropriations compared to the FY 2012 enacted budget.