Emergency Preparedness on a Smaller Scale: Research Reactors

Michael Norris
Reactor Licensing Team Leader
Emergency Preparedness Division

When you think of the NRC’s role in emergency preparedness, nuclear power plants probably come first to mind. While we certainly pay a lot of attention to commercial reactors, we also oversee emergency plans for plants that make nuclear fuel, permanently shut down plants and sites that store spent power plant fuel.

Yet another area of emergency preparedness we oversee involves research and test reactors.

rtrThese “non-power” reactors don’t generate electricity, but they contribute to almost every field of science. These small facilities play important roles in research, testing and education on college campuses, and at government agencies across the country.

The NRC requires research and test reactors to maintain the same sort of emergency plans that large commercial reactors do. The NRC requires that these plans include, among other things, how to assess and classify abnormal events, how to respond to events, and how to establish planning zones for environmental monitoring and protective actions if needed.

The plans are very simple for research and test reactors since they are relatively small compared to a commercial nuclear power reactor. In fact, the largest NRC-regulated research reactor is about 75 times smaller than the smallest commercial reactor. Research and test reactor planning zones range in size from the building the reactor sits in to only about a half-mile radius around the facility – much smaller than the 10-mile emergency zone for power reactors.

Research and test reactors are required to train personnel and hold emergency preparedness exercises, and the NRC routinely inspects the plans to make sure they meet our requirements.

Should anything ever occur at these small non-power reactors, the NRC makes sure the facility staff know what to do and how to react to make sure people living or working or attending school in the area are safe, and that the environment is not impacted. It’s just another facet of what the NRC does on a large scale every day.

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