Maintaining Radioactive Material Security Through Rules, Not Orders

Kim Lukes
Health Physicist
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards

The NRC’s rulemaking process can be lengthy. This ensures that members of the public and interested stakeholders have an opportunity to participate and provide feedback on new requirements as they are developed.

10cfrThere are occasions, though, when we need to move quickly. In these cases, the Commission can issue “orders” to any licensee to require them to address an issue promptly.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, we revised our approach to security for certain radioactive materials. The NRC issued new security requirements via “orders” to certain licensees requiring added protective measures when using and transporting certain types and amounts of radioactive material. The new requirements focused on materials the International Atomic Energy Agency designates as Category 1 and 2; which are the two most safety significant quantities.

The strongest restrictions were placed on these categories of radioactive material through the NRC orders due to their type and quantity, which can pose the greatest potential risk to health if used to do harm.

The requirements included background checks to ensure that people with access to radioactive materials are trustworthy and reliable. The orders also required access controls to areas where radioactive materials are stored and security barriers to prevent theft of portable devices.

Over the longer term, the NRC developed new regulations to formalize the requirements in the security orders. The creation of Part 37 to Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, published in 2013, was intended to replace the orders.  These rules ensure strong regulatory standards are maintained for the protection of certain types and quantities of radioactive material. NRC licensees were required to meet the new regulations in March 2014.

The NRC has agreements with 37 states allowing them to regulate radioactive materials. The Agreement States had to adopt compatible Part 37 security requirements, and their licensees had until March 19, 2016, to comply.

Because licensees are now in compliance with the new rules, the NRC has rescinded a series of material security orders. There is no change to security for these categories of radioactive material. These licensees have maintained the same higher level of security since we first issued the orders.

We are rescinding them because they are no longer needed. Licensees are complying with the Part 37 rules, instead of the orders. More details about the rescissions and our security requirements can be found here and in 10 CFR Part 37-Physical Protection of Category 1 and Category 2 Quantities of Radioactive Material.

Keeping the NRC’s Rules Up to Date

Anthony de Jesus
Regulations Specialist

NRC’s regulations (found in 10 CFR, Code of Federal Regulations) are very important. They are how we do our job of protecting people and the environment.

10cfrtwopartjpgOur rules cover these three main areas:

  • Commercial reactors for generating electric power and research and test reactors used for research, testing, and training.
  • Materials – Uses of nuclear materials in medical, industrial, and academic settings and facilities that produce nuclear fuel.
  • Waste – Transportation, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials and waste, and decommissioning of nuclear facilities from service.

To keep all these rules, on all these topics, up-to-date, we use a single process, called the Common Prioritization of Rulemaking, to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each year we identify the rules already under development and any new rules that need to be written. Using the same criteria, we rank by priority, every rule, regardless of the regulatory area. This way we ensure that we are focusing our resources on the high priority rules that most contribute to the NRC’s key strategic goals of safety and security. Through this annual review we also monitor the progress of our rulemaking activities and develop budget estimates for preparing new rules.

rulemaking web 1Because the NRC is committed to transparency, participation, and collaboration in our regulatory activities, we created a new “Rulemaking Priorities” Web page. This page allows us to provide periodic updates concerning rulemaking developments, which responds to a recommendation proposed by the Administrative Conference of the United States.

Our new page provides the rulemaking activities identified and prioritized through our Common Prioritization of Rulemaking process. From this page you can access the methodology that NRC staff uses to prioritize our rulemaking activities.

Each rulemaking activity listed on this new Web page is linked to further information on that rulemaking, including:

  • an abstract that describes the rule
  • a prioritization score
  • a justification describing how the rule was prioritized
  • estimated target dates for completion of the rule

We plan to update the web page regularly so this information remains up to date. We hope this new page will help you understand how the NRC prioritizes its rulemaking activities. After all, our regulations are at the heart of what the NRC does for a living.