REFRESH — Astounding and (Perhaps) Little Known Facts about the NRC and Radioactive Materials

Brenda Akstulewicz
Regulatory Information Conference Assistant

refresh leafNuclear and radiation-related trivia is anything but trivial. It can be unexpectedly interesting – and you may find some of it surprising. This is a REFRESH of some little known “factoids” compiled from folks throughout the NRC.

* In the 1930s, a failed experiment by a Swiss physicist for detecting gas using a radioactive source led to the discovery of smoke detectors when the scientist lit a cigarette and the detector registered a reaction. The NRC approved 70 different smoke detector designs in 2012.

* It is estimated if only one NRC technical reviewer did each design certification application review, it would take 32 years to complete the review.

astronaut2* Some lightning rods contain Radium-226 to make them more effective.

* The NRC’s first Chairman, Bill Anders, was an astronaut on Apollo 8’s mission to the moon.

* NRC Inspectors from Region IV get a lot of frequent flier miles. They review activities in remote locations such as Guam, Saipan and the northern reaches of Alaska, among other locations.

* The NRC was the first federal agency to give the public electronic access to all of its public documents through the groundbreaking system known as ADAMS (Agencywide Documents Access and Management System).

* The final safety evaluation report for the ESBWR design certification document contains about 3,800 pages.

vet* The fastest growing use of nuclear materials in medicine is for diagnostic and cancer treatment procedures in veterinary medicine.

* The indicator lights in early appliances ─ such as clothes washers and dryers, coffeemakers, and stereos ─ used Krypton–85, a radioactive isotope.

* The NRC performs classified reviews of new Naval Reactor submarine and aircraft carrier reactor plants and provides advice to the Navy on the designs. This practice was initiated by President Kennedy in the 1960s.

* Three women have held the title of Chairman — Allison Macfarlane, Shirley Jackson and Greta Dicus.

* In 1992 Hurricane Andrew struck the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Southern Florida, which prompted the NRC and FEMA to enter into a “Memorandum of Understanding” regarding emergency preparedness.

checklist* NRC’s longest serving commissioner was Commissioner Edward McGaffigan. He served 11 years (from 1996-2007) after appointments twice by President Clinton and once by President Bush. He died while still serving on the Commission.

* On average, NRC expends 6,160 hours of inspection effort at each operating reactor site each year.

This post originally ran in Summer 2013.

Author: Moderator

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

9 thoughts on “REFRESH — Astounding and (Perhaps) Little Known Facts about the NRC and Radioactive Materials”

  1. Very cool, I didn’t realize how active the NRC was. I’ve been doing some research on the nuclear industry.

  2. Yes, Dixy Lee Ray was Chairman of the AEC. In this blog post, we are highlighting those who’ve held the position at the NRC.

  3. As one who has worked in the clinical nuclear medicine field, your statement that veterinary medicine is heavily into employing such diagnostic and therapeutic agents is intriguing. From diagnostic bone scans in humans to those in racehorses is minimal stretch, except for accommodating patient mass, which is very do-able with today’s technology. Thanks for the info!

  4. Source material for what, and how would anyone use it?

    I looked at the cost of a license to possess a small sample.  As I recall, it was over a thousand dollars and had a limited term.  For a sometime-lecturer who likes to have samples of things to pass around a room full of people, such costs are prohibitive; this amounts to an effective ban.  This is probably why there are no suppliers any longer.

  5. Thorium is source material, regulated under Part 40. There are exemptions (40.18) for “unimportant quantities” contained in certain products (gas mantles, optical lenses, dosimeters), and “small quantities” (1.5kg) for commercial and industrial firms, research and educational institutions and government agencies (40.22). Also, anyone is allowed to possess unrefined and unprocessed ore in which the source material is less than 1/20 of 1% by weight, provided they don’t process it.

    David McIntyre

  6. I would like to know why thorium, which has no uses in e.g. nuclear weapons, requires a highly restrictive and expensive NRC license even for possession of a sample of a few hundred grams.

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