Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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Author: David E. Newton
Date: 2011
Environmental Encyclopedia
From: Environmental Encyclopedia(Vol. 2. 4th ed.)
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Agency overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 1182

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The development of nuclear weapons during World War II raised a number of difficult nonmilitary questions for the United States. Most scientists and many politicians realized that the technology used in weapons research had the potential for use in a variety of peacetime applications. In fact, research on techniques for controlling nuclear fission for the production of electricity was well under way before the end of the war.

An intense congressional debate over the regulation of commercial nuclear power resulted in the creation in 1946 of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC had two major functions: to support and promote the development of nuclear power in the United States and to monitor and regulate the applications of nuclear power.

Some critics pointed out the contradictory nature of the commission. How could the AEC act as a vigorous protector of the public safety, they asked, if it also had to encourage industry growth? The validity of that argument did not become totally obvious for nearly two decades. It was not until the early 1970s that the suppression of information about safety hazards from existing plants by the AEC became public knowledge.

The release of this information prompted Congress and the president to rethink the government’s role in nuclear power issues. The result of that process was the Energy Reorganization Act of 1973 and Executive Order 11834 of January 15, 1975. These two actions established two new governmental agencies: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA). The NRC was assigned all of the AEC’s old regulatory responsibilities, while the ERDA assumed its energy development functions.

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The mission of the NRC is to ensure that the civilian uses of nuclear materials and facilities are conducted in a manner consistent with public health and safety, environmental quality, national security, and antitrust laws. The single most important task of the commission is to regulate the use of nuclear energy in the generation of electric power.

In order to carry out this mission, the commission has a number of specific functions. It is responsible for inspecting and licensing every aspect of nuclear power plant construction and operation, from initial plans through actual construction and operation to disposal of radioactive waste materials. The commission also contracts for research on issues involving the commercial use of nuclear power and holds public hearings on any topics involving the use of nuclear power. An important ongoing NRC effort is to establish safety standards for nuclear radiation exposure.

A fair amount of criticism is still directed at the NRC. Critics feel that the NRC has not been an effective watchdog for the public in the area of nuclear safety. For example, the investigation of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident found that the commission was either unaware of existing safety problems at the plant or failed to inform the public adequately about these problems.



U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC, USA, 20555-0001, (301) 415-8200, (800) 368-5642,,

David E. Newton

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1918701041