The NRC and Protecting the Environment: The NEPA Process

Larry Camper
Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection

sustainabilityAt the NRC, we think of ourselves as an environmental agency. This view is included in the NRC mission statement: “To license and regulate . . . to ensure the adequate protection of public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and to protect the environment.”

To fulfill the environmental protection part of our mission, we use the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, as implemented through NRC regulations. NEPA requires all federal agencies to evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment. NRC conducts environmental reviews on applications for a license to construct and operate a new facility; to renew or amend an existing license; or a plan to decommission an existing facility. Such facilities include commercial power reactors, as well as nuclear fuel fabrication plants, spent fuel storage installations, uranium conversion and deconversion plants, enrichment facilities, radioactive waste disposal sites, and uranium recovery operations.

The product of an NRC environmental review is typically an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, which publicly available and developed with input from the public. The EIS details the potential environmental impacts of a proposed action (such as construction and operation of a nuclear facility) and reasonable alternatives (such as other locations for a facility or not building it at all). It also identifies mitigation measures to reduce any adverse impacts to the environment. NRC reviewers analyze impacts to air, water, plants and animals, natural resources, and property of historic or cultural significance. They also evaluate economic, social, human health, cumulative and other impacts, and environmental justice. Impacts of potential accidents are also assessed.

sustainabilityPublic involvement is key to this process. NRC requests public input on the scope of the review and the draft conclusions, usually through public meetings held near the proposed facility. We consult with federal, state and local agencies, as well as Tribal governments. The draft EIS is critically reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other organizations, and the public. We address each comment received during the public comment period in the final EIS.

NRC’s NEPA process and our reviews of the safety aspects of facilities we regulate form the basis for the Commission’s regulatory decisions and help ensure that our mission goals are accomplished.

We are always trying to improve our NEPA process. One way is through the NRC’s NEPA Steering Committee. This committee helps ensure coordination and consistency among the agency’s offices that implement NEPA. It also analyzes emerging and complex NEPA issues and implements programmatic changes. The steering committee has focused recently on improving our implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process, enhancing our outreach to Native American Tribes, and reviewing guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality.

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