The Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Ben Baggett
March 15, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: The NRC building, located in Rockville, Maryland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the mid 1960's, nuclear power transitioned from a research phase to the production and application of objects using nuclear power. The Atomic Energy Commission had to adjust with the future quickly approaching. Rather than continuing to focus its regulations on advanced reactor designs, it had to begin to regulate the building and production of commercial nuclear projects as well as the licensing for these commercial groups. "Between 1965 and 1975, the nuclear industry was booming, with a growth rate of installed capacity that made it possibly the fastest growing major industry in the U.S. economy during this time span." [1] Because of this growth, the US government needed to get on top of the industry and regulation in order to ensure the safety of the country and the globe.

The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; it was used to replace the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Originally the Atomic Energy Act had a single agency to regulate the use of nuclear projects for both the construction of nuclear weapons and civilian usage of nuclear materials; however, in 1974, these duties were divided into two divisions: the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, headquarters pictured in Fig. 1. [3] "The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 directed the Atomic Energy Commission to provide for the development and promotion of peaceful uses for nuclear energy, including the use of nuclear power in the generation of electricity". [1]

A Commission?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a commission is a group of people who have been formally chosen to discover information about a problem or examine the reason why the problem exists. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was created in 1974 to do just that. With such rapid growth in the nuclear industry, the United States felt as though it needed two separate entities to oversee all the different issues pertaining to this sector. The NRC was established to discover issues and problems involving nuclear reactor and materials safety as well as providing nuclear licenses and adjudicating legal issues brought before it.

What They Do?

When thinking of nuclear energy, many people strictly think of nuclear weapons and its dangers. However, over 20 percent of the electricity in the US is supplied by nuclear energy. They are also important in the use of medicine for cancer treatment as well as industry materials such as radiography devices, flow measurement devices, and density gauges. There is also radioactive material in items such as exit signs smoke detectors, and some watches. So who is responsible for overseeing all of the issues that could come from these uses of nuclear energy? That is exactly what the NRC is there for.

The NRC consists of five commissioners that are determined by the President of the United States. As of June 2016, the Chairman of the Commission is Kristine Svinicki, and there are only two other Commissionersn: Jeff Baran and Stephen Burns. [4] Svinicki has a background in nuclear engineering and held a previous job in the Department of Engineering in the office of nuclear energy. [5] Historically, the chair members of the commission have either a background involving nuclear energy and physics or a background in law and public policy. This is important because you are merging two different sectors, so you need people to have skill sets to be successful in government and public policy as well as understand nuclear engineering and certain applications and effects.

They regulate the radioactive materials for medical, industrial, and academic use. The prosperity of nuclear power will hinge on the secure operation of our nation's nuclear power plants as well as the American people having faith in the nuclear industry and those who regulate it. This confidence can only come through a strong and diligent regulation of our country's nuclear energy. [2] While the NRC might not be a well-known organization, by effectively regulating America's nuclear development.

© Ben Baggett. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Quirk and K. Terasawa. "Nuclear Regulation: A Historical Perspective," Nat. Resour. J. 21, 833 (1981).

[2] J. Byrne and S. M. Hoffman, Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk (Routledge, 1995).

[3] "NRC Coziness with Industry," U.S. House of Representatives, 100th Cong., 1st Sess., December 1987.

[4] A. Larson, "Nuclear Regulatory Commission Down to Three Actdive Commissioners," Power Magazine, 30 Jun 16.

[5] K. Newman, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Kristine Svinicki," U.S. News and World Report, 16 Jun 17.