U.S. NRC Blog

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Category Archives: General

REFRESH — Who Sets National Nuclear Energy Policy?


refresh leafWho decides if the U.S. is going to use nuclear energy to meet this country’s electric needs? It’s a question we get here at the NRC not infrequently. The short answer: Congress and the President. Together they make the nation’s laws and policies directing civilian nuclear activity – for both nuclear energy and nuclear materials used in science, academia, and industry.

Federal laws, like the Atomic Energy Act, set out our national nuclear policy. For example, in the Atomic Energy Act, Congress provided that the nation will “encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.” Other federal laws, like the Energy Policy Act of 2005, call for the federal government to provide support of, research into, and development of nuclear technologies and nuclear energy. The President, as the head of the executive branch, is responsible for implementing these policies.

But sometimes, things get confusing as to who does what when it comes to putting these laws into practice! Although the NRC is a federal government agency with the word “nuclear” in its name, the NRC plays no role in making national nuclear policy. Instead, the NRC’s sole mission is to regulate civilian use of nuclear materials, ensuring that the public health, safety, and the environment are adequately protected.

The NRC’s absence from nuclear policymaking is no oversight, but a deliberate choice. Before there was an NRC, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was responsible for both developing and regulating nuclear activities. In 1974, Congress disbanded the AEC, and assigned all of the AEC’s responsibilities for developing and supporting nuclear activities to what is now the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). At the same time, Congress created the NRC as an independent regulatory agency, isolating it from executive branch direction and giving it just one task – regulating the safety of civilian nuclear activities.

Today, the DOE, under the direction of the President, supports federal research and development of nuclear technologies and nuclear energy in accordance with federal laws and policy goals. At the DOE, the Office of Nuclear Energy takes the lead on these programs.

Since its creation  four decades ago, the NRC’s only mission has been to regulate the safe civilian use of nuclear material. For that reason, the most important word here in the NRC’s name is not “Nuclear,” but “Regulatory.” Because the NRC has no stake in nuclear policymaking, the NRC can focus on its task of protecting public health and safety from radioactive hazards through regulation and enforcement.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we revisit previous posts. This originally ran in August 2012.


The Open Forum is Open for Business

Holly Harrington
Blog Moderator

communicationwordcloudWe created the Open Forum section of the NRC blog more than four years ago. It was not part of our original plan, but our blog comment guidelines stipulated that comments needed to be related to the topic of the post to which they are submitted. We quickly realized there were a number of comments being submitted that didn’t adhere to this guideline and would have therefore not been posted, but otherwise met the comment criteria. And we wanted to be able to post them. So we decided we needed a place where anyone could bring up any topic they wish (related to the NRC).

And so the Open Forum section was created.

Since its creation there have been more than 300 submitted comments on a wide range of topics including climate change, nuclear power’s future and solar storms.

Comments on the Open Forum (as with the rest of the blog) are moderated and must adhere to the Comment Guidelines. Otherwise, the platform is open for any NRC-related topic you’d like to bring up or to comment on. It’s important to note that blog comments are not considered formal communication with the NRC. Questions and concerns can always be submitted in a variety of formal ways. Safety or security allegations should not be submitted via the blog, and will not be posted if submitted. For more information, go here.

You can easily find the Open Forum section listed on left side of every page of the blog. You can also sign up to receive notice of new comments to the section by clicking on “Reply” at the bottom of the comments and then clicking the “Notify me of new comments via email” box.

Something Old, Something New – The Information Digest

Allison Balik
Media Assistant

Today’s Information Digest is filled with infographics and photos, depicting the work of the NRC and its licensees. Anyone who wants to know anything about nuclear security, materials, waste and reactors can open up the Information Digest – in print or online – and find the answer. But, the book hasn’t always been this way. Over time, the Information Digest has evolved to fit the changing needs of the public, the media, the industry and the NRC.infodigetstcover

Our journey begins in January 1982 when the Office of the Controller issued the first quarterly Summary Information. Most people knew it as the Brown Book, aptly named for the document’s cover. Unlike the current Information Digest, the Brown Book had white pages covered in black text with no photos or diagrams.

The purpose of the Brown Book was to have a consistent source of industry data for budget justification. NRC staff needed a reliable source of information to which they could quickly refer when needed. There were no descriptions of processes or technology in the Brown Book. It was simply an aggregation of graphs, charts and data.

Despite the differences, there are quite a few similarities between the old and new versions. Like the current Information Digest, the Brown Book had a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Organization Chart, a map of the Agreement States and charts of operating reactors.

The Brown Book evolved into the Information Digest in the late ‘80s. It was still the same size, but blue instead of brown.  This new version was divided into two parts: an overview of the NRC and industry data. NRC staff began carrying copies of the book when briefing Congress and the public or when recruiting employees. Smaller, “pocket editions” of the Information Digest were also produced.

Karen Olive, (now retired), remembers working on the Digest during her time in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. There was a much less formal process of collecting information. She would call around the agency, asking employees if they had any information that needed to be included. Soon, people were contacting her with their own suggestions.

The Information Digest continued expanding its audience during the ‘90s. Instead of being solely focused on data, the Digest became an educational tool for the public. The graphs and charts were now accompanied by text. A glossary was also added to explain terms used in the nuclear industry. Although the book shrank from 11 x 8½in. to 5 x 3in., it grew thicker as more information was added.

After spending several years in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Information Digest ended up in the hands of the Office of Public Affairs. There, Beth Hayden, former Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs (now retired), helped craft the document into a more user-friendly publication that was easier to read for a wider audience. To make the document even more accessible, Public Affairs started posting printable versions online. All of the maps, infographics, photographs, and data sets became available on the NRC Website.

The 27th edition of the Information Digest, which came out today, is much like its predecessors – with changes too.  Visual changes include an indigo cover with icons and a new layout. The online Digest is also more user-friendly. Maps are now more visible when printing in black and white, and you can also upload the PDF version to your smartphone.

The Info Digest will continue to evolve as publishing practices and audience preferences change. But no matter what, the publication will remain a quality source of information about the NRC.

September 11th — National Day of Service and Remembrance

Back to School – The Student Corner

TheStudentCorner_screengrabAllison Balik
Summer Media Assistant

While students have been out on summer break, the NRC has been hard at work updating its Student Corner website – launching today. The Student Corner includes educator resources, basic information about the NRC and nuclear subjects and fun activities. Although the site was intended for students and educators, its resources are useful for anyone interested in the NRC and nuclear basics.

Opening the Student Corner reveals a vibrant dashboard filled with buttons and banners. Users can click on these icons to easily navigate between different sections. Some sections feature accordion-style menus, which makes it easier to get information without having to open up several new pages. Complete, printable versions of these pages can be downloaded as PDFs.

Teachers can use the full lesson plans available on the For Educators page. Each lesson plan has objectives, questions and classroom activities designed to engage students who can, for example, find the footprints of radiation in a cloud chamber. Educators can also create their own lesson plans using the additional resources provided.

The Student Corner also has resources for those who want to learn more about the agency and nuclear related concepts. Sections contain photos of nuclear power plants, diagrams of reactors or other graphics to make information easier to visualize. Information about the NRC’s role in the nuclear industry and the history of nuclear power are available on the NRC Facts page.

For more in-depth information, students can check out the Science 101 Series written by NRC experts. Science 101 covers topics such as Geiger counters, nuclear chain reactions, how a nuclear power plant works and more. Students can test their knowledge with the “What do You Know?” quiz.

The Careers page introduces career paths in the nuclear industry and at the NRC. Available links to video interviews with NRC employees, such as health physicists and thermal engineers, give students a look at potential jobs. Middle and high school students can use the A Journey to Your Future: Make Discovering Your Career an Adventure guide to learn about different career tracks. High school and college students interested in working for the NRC can also visit the page to learn more about NRC internships.

Additional links to photos, videos, schematics and other diagrams are located on the Multimedia page. The Resource page also contains an extensive list of links to educational websites of other organizations and federal agencies.

We launched the Student Corner just in time for the start of the school year. We’ll be adding additional activities and resources later in the school year.



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