United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions About Options to Revise Radiation Protection Regulations and Guidance

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Which regulations apply to radiation protection?

Regulations issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are found in Chapter I of Title 10, "Energy," of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR). Chapter I is divided into Parts 1 through 199, which contain requirements that are binding for all individuals and entities that possess, use, or store nuclear materials or operate nuclear facilities under the NRC's jurisdiction. Of these, the regulations that are most relevant to radiation protection are contained in 10 CFR Part 20, "Standards for Protection Against Radiation," and 10 CFR Part 50, "Domestic Licensing of Production and Utilization Facilities." Additional requirements, specific to particular uses or classes of facilities, are found in other portions of the regulations. For example, Appendix I to 10 CFR Part 50, "Numerical Guides for Design Objectives and Limiting Conditions for Operation to Meet the Criterion 'As Low as is Reasonably Achievable' for Radioactive Material in Light-Water-Cooled Nuclear Power Reactor Effluents," contains additional requirements for effluents (discharges of gaseous or liquid waste) from power reactors. Similarly, 10 CFR Part 35, "Medical Use of Byproduct Material," contains requirements related to medical use of radioactive material. For additional detail, see Radiation Protection and Regulation of Radioactive Materials.

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When was the last update to the NRC's radiation protection regulations in 10 CFR Part 20?

The NRC last extensively revised its standards for protection against ionizing radiation, 10 CFR Part 20, in 1991 after a 12-year rulemaking process, and the revisions took effect in 1994. The revisions, which were primarily based on recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) from 1977, as detailed in ICRP Publications 26 and 30, included a complete revision of the NRC's regulations, modified the structure of the regulatory requirements, adjusted the limits for occupational and public exposure, and updated the available numerical values for demonstrating compliance. Since that time, the NRC has added other radiation protection amendments and periodically amended related regulations.

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Why has it been so long since the last update?

In 1991, at approximately the same time as the NRC promulgated the final rule revising 10 CFR Part 20, "Standards for Protection Against Radiation," the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) published revised recommendations in ICRP Publication 60. At that time, the NRC chose not to initiate a new rulemaking, because of the significance of the recently completed revisions of the agency's regulations, and the need to allow time for licensees to implement those revisions. However, 10 years later, in 2001, the NRC staff once again considered the possibility of further revising 10 CFR Part 20, but noted that the ICRP was also considering issuing a new set of recommendations. Consequently, the Commission agreed with the staff's recommendation to defer rulemaking until after the ICRP published its revised recommendations, which were ultimately issued in final form as ICRP Publication 103 in 2007. With that foundation, on December 18, 2008, the NRC staff submitted a Policy Issue Notation Vote Commission Paper, SECY-08-0197, requesting approval to revise the agency's radiation protection regulations and guidance to achieve greater alignment with the 2007 Recommendations of the ICRP, as detailed in ICRP Publication 103. [The NRC's Synopsis of ICRP Publication 103 discusses the broad implications of the new recommendations.] The Commission subsequently accepted the staff's recommendation through the related Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM-SECY-08-0197), dated April 2, 2009, instructing the staff to immediately begin engagement with stakeholders and interested parties to initiate development of the technical basis for possible revision of the NRC's radiation protection regulations, as appropriate and where scientifically justified.

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How can I obtain a full copy of the 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP)?

ICRP Publication 103 is available for purchase through the ICRP Web site or from Elsevier Health Sciences (the publisher). See Obtaining the 2007 Recommendations of the ICRP for guidance on how to obtain electronic or print copies.

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Why is it necessary to update the regulations?

The Commission believes that the NRC's current regulatory framework continues to adequately protect the health and safety of nuclear industry workers, the public, and the environment. Moreover, the staff has determined that ICRP Publication 103 proposes measures that exceed what is needed to provide adequate protection. Nonetheless, the NRC recognizes that other considerations may warrant a revision of the agency's regulatory requirements. For example, important issues identified thus far include inconsistency between the NRC's regulations and those of other Federal agencies, as well as international standards. Other considerations include certain implications of the NRC's requirements, such as the occupational dose limits for workers who may come to the United States from other countries, and the changes that have occurred in the scientific basis and modeling approaches for calculating dose from various sources.

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What are other countries doing?

The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP Publication 103) have sparked international reconsideration of radiation protection regulations and guidance, and most countries are considering revisions. For most countries that adopted the 1990 ICRP recommendations, the necessary changes may be insubstantial, because most countries (except the United States) have adopted the recommended lower occupational dose limit. Nonetheless, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is currently revising and updating the “International Basic Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources,” and the European Union is updating the related European Directive.

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What are some of the key issues?

The NRC staff has identified several key issues for initial discussion with stakeholders. These include dose limits for members of the public, occupational workers, and the embryo/fetus of an occupational worker; the application of constraints to the optimization process (As Low As Reasonably Achievable); and updates to various numerical values and terms. These and other issues are discussed in the Policy Issue Notation Vote Commission Paper (SECY-08-0197) that the NRC staff submitted on December 18, 2008, requesting approval to revise the agency's radiation protection regulations and guidance to achieve greater alignment with the 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), as detailed in ICRP Publication 103. [The NRC's Synopsis of ICRP Publication 103 discusses the broad implications of the new recommendations.] Given those issues, the Commission's related Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM-SECY-08-0197), dated April 2, 2009, instructed the staff to immediately begin engagement with stakeholders and interested parties to initiate development of the technical basis for possible revision of the NRC's radiation protection regulations, as appropriate and where scientifically justified. Toward that end, the staff has established a Web-based overview of Options to Revise Radiation Protection Regulations and Guidance, and will schedule public meetings to discuss the benefits and impacts of revising the agency's radiation protection regulations and guidance. In so doing, the staff hopes to identify potential conflicts and gain an understanding of any unintended consequences that may result from drafting and implementing related changes to the NRC's existing regulations.

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What are the anticipated impacts of updating the regulations?

The nature and extent of impacts will greatly depend on the options that might be used to resolve the key issues discussed above. Consequently, the NRC staff is actively engaging stakeholders and interested parties to ensure that we have sufficient knowledge of the potential benefits, burdens, and impacts associated with further alignment of the NRC's existing radiation protection regulations with the 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), as detailed in ICRP Publication 103. (As a starting point, the NRC's Synopsis of ICRP Publication 103 discusses the broad implications of the recommendations.) The NRC will utilize the feedback received from stakeholders and interested parties in drafting the appropriate technical basis and recommending rulemaking changes to the Commission.

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Will the NRC consider options proposed by the public and industry?

Yes. The NRC will provide opportunities, through public meetings and the Web-based overview of Options to Revise Radiation Protection Regulations and Guidance, for stakeholders and interested parties to introduce options, issues, and information for the NRC's consideration. In addition, members of the public and industry stakeholders should feel free to Contact Us with any related questions or comments.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, July 18, 2013