In the wake of recent events in Japan, we received a lot of questions about how we plan for and would respond to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities in the U.S. People wanted to know:
What happens if there’s an emergency? What would the NRC do? What should I do?
Every day at the NRC, there are teams of people working to address these very questions. Our emergency preparedness and incident response programs ensure that the NRC and licensees are prepared to respond in the unlikely event of an emergency involving NRC-licensed facilities or materials.
We maintain equipment, policies, and procedures for response activities and we regularly test, evaluate, and update them. We have trained personnel who continuously monitor licensee activities to make sure they are in compliance with regulations. We also have specially trained NRC responders who are on-call at all times to be able to respond quickly should an incident occur.
We require licensees to have plans in place to respond to incidents, protect against radiological releases, and reduce the impact of incidents. Licensees are required to review these plans on a regular basis. Plans are also tested through regularly scheduled comprehensive exercises.
In the event of an emergency at a licensed facility, the NRC would independently assess the licensee’s response. If necessary, the NRC has the authority to, and would, order actions to mitigate the potential release of radiation. The NRC’s role with licensees is very clear and the incident response program ensures rapid actions by licensees and the NRC in order for the agency to make needed assessments.
Under the National Response Framework, the NRC coordinates the federal technical response to an incident that involves one of our licensees. We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate response efforts and to understand when the response would shift from being coordinated by the NRC to being coordinated by DHS. We have worked out the details of this in several tabletop exercises.
We also work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local governments to support their needs in planning and preparing to respond to incidents.
In response to questions about NRC’s incident response program, we updated the Incident Response Backgrounder. In it you’ll find more information about how the NRC responds to emergencies involving licensed materials and facilities.
I will be using this blog to address your questions and concerns about emergency preparedness and incident response, so please let me know what you’d like to hear about.
Emergency Preparedness Specialist