INFOGRAPHIC: Overview of the U.S. Nuclear Safety Regulation Landscape


A new Forum on Energy infographic provides an overview of the key stakeholder organizations that play pivotal roles in regulating nuclear power safety—and how each of those organizations interact with each other. View the infographic below for an at-a-glance depiction of how government, industry and interest groups, and research institutions all work together to ensure that appropriate safety standards are set and enforced.

The organizations are described in greater depth below the graphic. Feel free to save and use this image as part of your online resources, with a link back to this post. CLICK HERE to see a larger version.

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The NRC is an independent federal agency that oversees nuclear safety regulation on all civil nuclear projects. The NRC is the central figure in U.S. nuclear safety regulations. All other actors seek to influence it, but it is not beholden to any other group.

Mission:
The NRC regulates the civilian use of nuclear materials to promote health & safety, defense & security, to protect the environment. Their purview covers nuclear reactors, materials and waste. The NRC safety regulations address the effects of external events such as earthquakes and floods, equipment failure such as breaks in coolant pipes, and other problems that could lead to radioactive releases into the environment.

Membership:
Chairman, Commissioners, thousands of professional staff

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Commissioners are nominated by President.
  • Chairman must be from same political party as President.
  • Commissioners are approved by Congress.
  • Receives funding from Congress on annual basis.
  • NRC does not answer to any agency—it works for the public good. But it must justify its budget to the Congress every year. Its regulations are subject to public review and commentary before finalization, much like the new Japanese system.
  • Because the NRC is independent, criticism does not affect its actions. It can choose to respond to criticism, but it does not need to heed it.
  • Note: Politics can influence the process, such as who is nominated for Commissioner.

Criticism:
Critics of nuclear power contend that NRC is often reluctant to impose necessary safety requirements that would be costly or disruptive to the nuclear industry. However, the industry has frequently contended that costly safety proposals are unnecessary and would not significantly increase large existing safety margins. (Mark Holt (2012), CRS writer)

Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO)

Institute for Nuclear Power Operations

Institute for Nuclear Power Operations

INPO is a private advisory group that is funded and composed of industry members. Inspections are useful because U.S. reactors are not uniform, and many have site-specific adjustments made to enhance performance.

Mission:
INPO sets industry performance objectives, criteria, and guidelines for power plant operations—beyond the level required by NRC. INPO conducts plant evaluations and the results are shared within the industry membership.

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Funded by nuclear industry.
  • Sets more stringent safety guidelines than NRC.
  • Can receive NRC endorsement for its programs.
  • INPO’s performance inspections impact a plant’s insurance rates.

National Laboratories

National Labs

National Labs

National Laboratories, such as Idaho National Lab, are government-funded research institutions that conduct nuclear technology research. Some are closely aligned with DoE, whereas others are more closely aligned with universities (ex: Livermore).

Advocacy, Watchdog Groups

Advocacy and Watchdog Groups

Advocacy and Watchdog Groups

Advocacy groups use various forms of advocacy to influence nuclear policy. Watchdog groups monitor and provide an external check on government agencies, including reporting out on perceived fraud, waste, mismanagement or abuse of power. One example in the nuclear field in the U.S. is the Union of Concerned Scientists, which tracks ongoing safety issues at operating nuclear plants.

Mission:
There are many different advocacy and watchdog groups, each with a specific mission.

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Release reports and other updates and recommendations, but these are peripheral to the decision-making process.

Congress

Congress

Congress

Congress supervises the regulatory system as a whole.

Members:
Elected U.S. citizens that have responsibility to their home districts.

Mission:
Congress members represent the interests of their home districts and weigh in on national policy in order to protect the public interest.

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Confirm White House nominations and funding recommendations for the NRC.
  • Write general policy regulations that can create incentives/disincentives for the nuclear industry.
  • Lobby the NRC. If members are politically powerful, they might be able to attract a response from the NRC.
  • Individual members are be lobbied by industry, watchdogs, advocacy groups and others.

White House

White House

White House

The White House plays many roles, but one is to signal a nuclear regulation policy direction through its actions.

Members:
Elected President, selected specialists from various agencies

Mission:
The White House mission as it relates to nuclear safety regulation is to signal policy focus through appointments, funding recommendations, and legislative bills.

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Designates funding for Department of Energy, and others.
  • Nominates DOE Secretary, NRC Commissioners.
  • Issues executive orders.

Department of Energy (DoE)

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Department of Energy

The Office of Nuclear Energy within the DoE has an assistant secretary level position. Its budget includes grant funding for universities to research technology improvements.

More recently the DoE has been engaged in a design campaign to identify best SMR designs. The winners of the contest have received additional funding to build a prototype.

Mission:
The mission of the DoE is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through science-based and technology solutions.

Interaction with other agencies:

  • Provides funding to universities to develop science-based technology and identify best practices.

Universities

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Universities

Universities launch research and development contracts related to new technology, and improved safety inspections.

Mission:
The mission of research universities is to employ scientific methods to design and test new nuclear technology, and explore best practices.