Moments in NRC History: The Founding of the NRC

Thomas Wellock
NRC Historian

In October 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the landmark Energy Reorganization Act splitting the Atomic Energy Commission into two agencies effective January 19, 1975.

President Gerald Ford signs the legislation that created the NRC.
President Gerald Ford signs the legislation that created the NRC.

Today, almost 40 years later, some still confuse the Department of Energy and the NRC. But the independence of the NRC from DOE was – and is – no small matter. By separating the regulator from the promoter, the U.S. led the way in ensuring credible oversight of the nuclear industry.

This evolution is explored in my latest “Moments in NRC History” video, found on the agency’s YouTube channel. This video explores how the AEC — a storied and powerful federal agency – began “falling apart” in the words of one Congressman.

The video has archival photos to illustrate the change from a Cold War mentality to the fall-out over radioactive fallout from weapons testing in the 1950s to the controversy over nuclear power plant sites in the 1960s and ‘70s.

The 1974 legislation sought to ensure NRC’s independence with a five-member commission, bipartisan commissioner appointments, an office of regulatory research, and a substantial research budget. The NRC staff also gained greater independence than the AEC staff had on regulatory decisions.

The new agency was met with enthusiasm from both the nuclear industry and antinuclear activists – although for different reasons. While the NRC was born out of a consensus that independent regulation was essential, how could it satisfy the divergent expectations? Many decades later, that question still confronts the NRC.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch this latest video. I’ll explore how the new agency responded to the challenge in a future installment of “Moments in NRC History.”

Author: Moderator

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

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