U.S. NRC Blog

Transparent, Participate, and Collaborate

A Monday Quiz — A Blue Glow

The Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory uses plate type fuel in a clover leaf arrangement. The blue glow around the core is known as Cherenkov radiation. Courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory.

This Advanced Test Reactor runs tests that determine how fuels and materials react when bombarded by streams of neutrons and gamma rays under a variety of pressure and temperature conditions. Information that would normally require years to gather from normal reactor operations can be obtained in a matter of weeks or months. The primary “customer” of the reactor is the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

The NRC licenses 31 research and test reactors in 21 states (as of 2014); eight research reactors are being decommissioned. We also license the operators and conduct some 50 inspections each year. DOE, however, regulates this particular test reactor.


Where is this test reactor located?
What scientist (and Nobel Prize winner) gave his name to the blue glow seen in this photo?


Keeping the NRC’s Rules Up to Date

Anthony de Jesus
Regulations Specialist

NRC’s regulations (found in 10 CFR, Code of Federal Regulations) are very important. They are how we do our job of protecting people and the environment.

10cfrtwopartjpgOur rules cover these three main areas:

  • 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.

To keep all these rules, on all these topics, up-to-date, we use a single process, called the Common Prioritization of Rulemaking, to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each year we identify the rules already under development and any new rules that need to be written. Using the same criteria, we rank by priority, every rule, regardless of the regulatory area. This way we ensure that we are focusing our resources on the high priority rules that most contribute to the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. Through this annual review we also monitor the progress of our rulemaking activities and develop budget estimates for preparing new rules.

rulemaking web 1Because the NRC is committed to transparency, participation, and collaboration in our regulatory activities, we created a new “Rulemaking Priorities” Web page. This page allows us to provide periodic updates concerning rulemaking developments, which responds to a recommendation proposed by the Administrative Conference of the United States.

Our new page provides the rulemaking activities identified and prioritized through our Common Prioritization of Rulemaking process. From this page you can access the methodology that NRC staff uses to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each rulemaking activity listed on this new Web page is linked to further information on that rulemaking, including:

  • an abstract that describes the rule
  • a prioritization score
  • a justification describing how the rule was prioritized
  • estimated target dates for completion of the rule

We plan to update the web page regularly so this information remains up to date. We hope this new page will help you understand how the NRC prioritizes its rulemaking activities. After all, our regulations are at the heart of what the NRC does for a living.

Throwback Thursday – The Commission Briefing

tbtjune25This grim 1970s NRC Commission Briefing includes (from left to right): John Ahearne, Richard T. Kennedy, Joseph M. Hendrie, Victor Gilinsky and Peter A. Bradford. What is your guess for the topic of the briefing?

Shedding Some Light On Tritium Illumination Devices

Shirley Xu
Health Physicist

Some radioactive materials are used to produce light. This is done by bombarding a special material known as a phosphor with the radiation (typically beta radiation) emitted by the radioactive material. Phosphor gets its name from the Greek words for “light” and “to bring.” The phenomenon is called “radioluminescence.”

Radioluminescence can be used to provide a low level light source to allow instruments or signs to be visible at night or for other situations where light is needed for long periods without electricity, such as emergency exit signs.

watchfacePaint with radium was the first radioluminescent product. Today, tritium is most commonly used, primarily on wristwatch faces and gun sights. Small tritium lights can be made by sealing tritium and a phosphor layer in small glass tubes. Such a tube is known as a “gaseous tritium light source” (GTLS), or more commonly, a beta light (since the tritium undergoes beta decay).

Tritium is a radioactive isotope with a half-life of about 12 years, which means the glass tube loses half its energy and some of its brightness in that period. So the types of GTLS used in watches generally have a useful life of 10 to 20 years. They give off a small amount of light: not enough to be seen in daylight, but enough to be visible in the dark. The more tritium that is initially placed in the tube, the brighter it is to begin with and the longer its useful life.

The NRC regulates devices that contain small amounts of tritium. Manufacturers and initial distributors of these devices need to have a distribution license issued by the NRC. They also need to have a separate license to possess and use the material. This license can be issued either by the NRC or the state. [There are 37 states that have agreements with us to regulate these types of radioactive materials. They are called Agreement States.] Anyone who initially buys one of these products from someone who has the proper licenses and subsequent owners of the product are exempt from the requirements for an NRC license.

Approval of these types of products would require extremely low risk of radiation exposures to members of the public from normal use, misuse or accidents. The NRC would also need to see the usefulness or benefits of the product. For example, items that could be mishandled, especially by children, will be approved only if they combine an unusual degree of utility and safety. Other countries have different regulatory requirements. That is why some tritium products available for sale internationally are not sold in the U.S.

These regulations can be found in 10 CFR Part 30 and Part 32.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,686 other followers

%d bloggers like this: