The NRC is responsible for regulating domestic nuclear facilities and materials. So why does the agency have an Office of International Programs? One reason is that we are tasked with licensing the import and export of nuclear materials. Keeping careful track of where nuclear materials are going to, and coming from, is an essential part of U.S. nonproliferation activities. Put simply, the NRC’s licensing activities help keep nuclear materials out of the hands of malicious actors so that people can benefit as much as possible from these materials’ many peaceful uses.
But the NRC’s international activities extend far beyond licensing. The United States has the largest nuclear power program in the world, and its nuclear regulatory program is one of the longest-established and most experienced. Because of this, a lot of countries seek out our expertise. Some countries have well-established programs of their own. Here, we share ideas on a variety of technical matters: what are we doing, how are we doing it and what can we be doing better?
Other countries are exploring the possibility of adding nuclear power to their energy mix or seeking to strengthen their ability to control radioactive sources. When we work with these countries, our expertise can help them build a regulatory structure. In some cases, the NRC has helped countries create a regulatory program from the ground up. Since the goal of these actions is strengthening nuclear safety and security worldwide, successes on that front, even small ones, are extremely gratifying.
The NRC also has a lot to learn from its foreign counterparts. The U.S. hasn’t built a nuclear power plant in several decades, but France, Finland, China, India, Russia, Japan, Korea and others have done so. As the U.S. potentially looks to expand its nuclear fleet in the future, we’re not only looking to recruit and train new experts in this country, but also working closely with our counterparts overseas to learn from their more recent experiences. This is especially important because multiple countries will likely use the same nuclear reactor designs, which means the NRC and its fellow regulators will be licensing and regulating the same things. It’s very important that we learn from one another. It will help us do our job better by finding common approaches to tackle common issues, rather than reinventing the wheel in every hemisphere.
To accomplish our goals, the NRC Commissioners and technical staff travel around the world to meet with representatives from other countries, as well as multilateral organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and the Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris. We also welcome a lot of visitors to the NRC, at our headquarters and regional offices.
Our agency derives great benefit from our international work. The staff of the Office of International Programs is proud to represent the NRC – its expertise, its values, and its quest to learn more – on a global level.Eric Stahl International Programs staffer