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.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

4 thoughts on “The NRC and Protecting the Environment: The NEPA Process”

  1. I disagree, the NRC has proven itself little more than an industry cheerleader, caught too often rubber stamping suggestions from the very industry it is charged with regulating! Great example are the bowing to SCE instead of shutting down San Onofre and the EPA now wanting to increase radiation limitations to make it easier for the nuclear industry to “justify” ineffective evacuation plans…
    More here on why the nuclear industry feel threatened by Solar (of all flavors)
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  2. There are several opportunities for the public to participate in the NEPA process, as described in the post above. However, our NEPA reviews examine the potential environmental impacts of proposed licensing actions. Monitoring radiological releases falls under our Reactor Oversight Process in the course of our day-to-day regulatory oversight of the nuclear power plants. The NRC requires all plants to submit annual reports detailing their radioactive releases and the effects, if any, on the environment. These reports are not proprietary or sensitive, and they are posted on the NRC website here:

    Larry Camper

  3. There appears to be interest in consideration of changing the hierarchical leadership structure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into one more like that of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Environmental decisions by the U.S.E.P.A. often appear to be political, couched in language implying only scientific and technical analysis. A commission of both political appointees and a chairperson appears capable of impartiality in scientific and technical decisions, which often appears absent from an agency with a sole administrator.

  4. Larry,
    How can the public take part in the EIR process and more importantly determine if a Utility complies with its pollution standards, since they do not have to notify the public of radioactive releases either into the atmosphere and/or the cooling water (ocean or river) they use?

    Public oversight demands access to information and/or data, much of which is now either restricted or labeled “proprietary” in order to keep it from public scrutiny by the NRC.

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