The NRC was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. A summary and a text of this law, as well as other key laws that govern our operations, are provided below. The texts of other laws may be found in Nuclear Regulatory Legislation (NUREG-0980).
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Fundamental Laws Governing Civilian Uses of Nuclear Materials and Facilities
- Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as Amended (summary below, full-text version)
- Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (summary below, full-text version)
- Reorganization Plans (summary below, full-text version)
- Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (summary below, full-text version)
- Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (summary below, full-text version)
- Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (summary below, full-text version)
Fundamental Laws Governing the Processes of Regulatory Agencies
- Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. Chapters 5 through 8) (summary below, full-text version)
- National Environmental Policy Act (summary below, full-text version)
Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as Amended in NUREG-0980
This Act is the fundamental U.S. law on both the civilian and the military uses of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, it provides for both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring the policy that "the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise." The Act requires that civilian uses of nuclear materials and facilities be licensed, and it empowers the NRC to establish by rule or order, and to enforce, such standards to govern these uses as "the Commission may deem necessary or desirable in order to protect health and safety and minimize danger to life or property." Commission action under the Act must conform to the Act's procedural requirements, which provide an opportunity for hearings and Federal judicial review in many instances.
Under section 274 of the Act, the NRC may enter into an agreement with a State for discontinuance of the NRC's regulatory authority over some materials licensees within the State. The State must first show that its regulatory program is compatible with the NRC's and adequate to protect public health and safety. The NRC retains authority over, among other things, nuclear power plants within the State and exports from the State.
A major amendment to the Act established compensation for, and limits on, licensee liability for injury to off-site persons or damage to property caused by nuclear accidents.
Energy Reorganization Act of 1974
This Act established the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, a single agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, had responsibility for the development and production of nuclear weapons and for both the development and the safety regulation of the civilian uses of nuclear materials. The Act of 1974 split these functions, assigning to one agency, now the Department of Energy, the responsibility for the development and production of nuclear weapons, promotion of nuclear power, and other energy-related work, and assigning to the NRC the regulatory work, which does not include regulation of defense nuclear facilities. The Act of 1974 gave the Commission its collegial structure and established its major offices. The later amendment to the Act also provided protections for employees who raise nuclear safety concerns.
Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and gave it a role in establishing "generally applicable environmental standards for the protection of the general environment from radioactive material."
Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1980 strengthened the executive and administrative roles of the NRC Chairman, particularly in emergencies, transferring to the Chairman "all the functions vested in the Commission pertaining to an emergency concerning a particular facility or materials ... regulated by the Commission." This Reorganization Plan also provided that all policy formulation, policy-related rulemaking, and orders and adjudications would remain vested with the full Commission.
Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as Amended
This Act establishes both the Federal government's responsibility to provide a place for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, and the generators' responsibility to bear the costs of permanent disposal. Amendments to the Act have focused the Federal government's efforts, through the Department of Energy, on studying a possible site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. If the Department and the President recommend to the Congress that a permanent repository be built there, and if the recommendation survives the special procedures that the Act establishes for Congressional review of the recommendation, the Department will apply to the NRC for authorization to construct the repository. The Act provides for extensive State, Tribal, and public participation in the planning and development of permanent repositories.
Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985
This Act gives States the responsibility to dispose of low-level radioactive waste generated within their borders and allows them to form compacts to locate facilities to serve a group of States. The Act provides that the facilities will be regulated by the NRC or by States that have entered into Agreements with the NRC under section 274 of the Atomic Energy Act. The Act also requires the NRC to establish standards for determining when radionuclides are present in waste streams in sufficiently low concentrations or quantities as to be "below regulatory concern."
Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978
This Act establishes programs for the stabilization and control of mill tailings at uranium or thorium mill sites, both active and inactive, in order to prevent or minimize, among other things, the diffusion of radon into the environment. Title II of the Act gives the NRC regulatory authority over mill tailing at sites under NRC license on or after January 1, 1978.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978
This Act seeks to limit the spread of nuclear weapons by, among other things, establishing criteria governing U.S. nuclear exports licensed by the NRC and taking steps to strengthen the international safeguards system.
Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. Chapters 5 through 8)
This Act is the fundamental law governing the processes of Federal administrative agencies. Its original focus was on rulemaking and adjudication. It requires, for example, that affected persons be given adequate notice of proposed rules and an opportunity to comment on the proposed rules and that, in cases in which another statute requires that the agency provide a hearing "on the record," the parties are given adequate opportunity to present facts and argument and the hearing officer is impartial. The Act gives interested persons the right to petition an agency for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule. It also provides standards for judicial review of agency actions.
The Act has been amended often and now incorporates several other acts that cover a great range of processes. Three of these incorporated acts deal with access to information. The Freedom of Information Act requires that agencies make public their rules, adjudicatory decisions, statements of policy, instructions to staff that affect a member of the public, and, upon request, such other material as does not fall into one of the Act's exceptions for material dealing with national security, trade secrets, and the like. The Government in the Sunshine Act requires that collegial bodies such as the Commission hold their meetings in public, with certain exceptions for meetings on matters such as, again, national security. The Privacy Act limits release of certain information about individuals.
Two of the acts incorporated into the Administrative Procedure Act provide for alternative mechanisms for resolving differences. The Negotiated Rulemaking Act allows agencies to develop rules in certain situations by negotiations among a limited number of parties, negotiations aimed at reaching a consensus on the proposed rule and avoiding litigation over the final rule. The Administrative Dispute Resolution Act urges agencies to use negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and related techniques in place of adjudication, enforcement, rulemaking, or court litigation.
Two other incorporated acts are noteworthy. The Regulatory Flexibility Act requires that agencies consider the special needs and concerns of small entities in conducting rulemaking. The Congressional Review Act requires that every agency rule be submitted to Congress before being made effective, and that every "major" rule sit before Congress for 60 days before being made effective, during which time the rule can be subjected to an accelerated process that can lead to a statutory modification or disapproval of the rule.
National Environmental Policy Act
Every proposal for a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment requires a detailed statement on, among other things, the environmental impact of the proposed action and alternatives to the proposed action. The statement is to accompany the proposal through the agency review process. The Act also established in the Executive Office of the President a Council on Environmental Quality, which has issued regulations on the preparation of environmental impact statements and on public participation in the preparation of the statements.