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Federal, State, and Local Responsibilities

Photos of Exercise ParticipantsThe Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in 1979 revealed that better coordination between nuclear power plant operators and Federal, State and local government emergency response organizations was needed. Following the accident, the NRC's emergency preparedness regulations were changed [10 CFR 50.33(g) and 50.54(s)] to require each nuclear power plant operator to submit the radiological emergency response plans of State and local governments that are within the 10-mile plume exposure pathway Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ), as well as the plans of State governments within the 50-mile ingestion pathway EPZs.

This section contains the following information regarding Federal, State, and local responsibilities during a nuclear power plant emergency.

Federal

The roles and responsibilities of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) with regard to emergency preparedness are found in their respective regulations and in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), June 17, 1993 (58 FR 47996) between the two agencies relating to nuclear power plant emergency preparedness.

NRC Roles and Responsibilities:

  • Evaluate if nuclear power plant emergency plans are adequate to protect public health and safety.
  • Evaluate if nuclear power plant emergency plans can be used by emergency response personnel and ensure the plans provide for sufficient resources and equipment during an emergency.
  • Review FEMA evaluations of offsite emergency preparedness.
  • Make decisions on the overall state of emergency preparedness, such as issuing of nuclear power plant operating licenses or taking enforcement actions (e.g., violations, civil penalties, orders, or shutdown of operating reactors).
  • Recognize FEMA as the federal interface with State and local governments with regard to emergency preparedness for nuclear power plants. NRC provides assistance in offsite preparedness through its membership on the Regional Assistance Committees (RAC), which is coordinated by FEMA.

DHS Roles and Responsibilities:

  • Evaluate if State and local emergency plans are adequate to protect public health and safety.
  • Evaluate if State and local emergency plans can be used by emergency response personnel and provide for sufficient resources and equipment during an emergency.
  • Evaluate the alert and notification system for nuclear power plants, including outdoor warning sirens, as applicable.
  • Assume responsibility for emergency preparedness training of State and local officials as a supplement to State, local, and utility efforts.
  • Oversee the development of the coordinated response of federal agencies to a nuclear power plant radiological emergency.
  • Review the adequacy of emergency preparedness plans related to nuclear power plants, fuel facilities, and materials licensees as requested by the NRC.

Together, NRC and FEMA will determine the two-year evaluated emergency preparedness exercise requirements for nuclear power plant operators and State and local governments. In this manner, both onsite and offsite emergency preparedness capabilities are adequately evaluated. The NRC’s Biennial Evaluated Exercise Schedule is available as a dataset in open format (Microsoft Excel) with an associated data dictionary (variable list). This projected schedule includes a list of full-scale Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NRC evaluated exercises required of nuclear facilities is provided. The list includes identification of the date and type of exercise (e.g., plume, ingestion, partial), and the participants. NRC Headquarters and Regional staff members typically participate in four full-scale emergency response plume exercises each year and also participate in select ingestion exposure exercises. Exercise participants may include licensee, State, county and local governmental and emergency response agencies, NRC, FEMA and other appropriate Federal agencies.

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State and Local

State and local government officials have the overall responsibility of deciding and implementing the appropriate protective actions for the public during a nuclear power plant radiological emergency. They are responsible for notifying the public to take protective actions, such as evacuation, sheltering in place or taking potassium iodide pills as a supplement. State and local officials base their decisions on the protective action recommendations by the nuclear power plant operator and their own radiological or health organizations. The NRC provides advice, guidance, and support to the State and local government officials. Neither the nuclear power plant operator nor the NRC can order the public to take protective actions.

For links to the State Emergency Management agencies, see FEMA's State Offices and Agencies of Emergency Management.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, October 20, 2014