Backgrounder on Byproduct Materials
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's mission is to ensure radioactive materials are used safely. The NRC and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, have regulated the use of radioactive materials since 1946. "Byproduct material," one type that the NRC regulates, has commercial, medical and academic uses.
There are four categories of byproduct material:
Uses of Byproduct Materials
|Licensees use byproduct materials in civilian and military work. They are used in industrial radiography, gauging devices and well logging. The public also uses them in products such as smoke detectors, some exit signs, static eliminators and some luminous watch dials. Medical licensees use byproduct materials in more than 20 million procedures each year. They help diagnose and treat patients in hospitals, clinics or physicians' offices. Colleges, universities and other institutions use byproduct materials in course work and research.|
|Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the NRC increased security requirements for the most radioactive byproduct materials. First, the agency issued orders to licensees. It later formalized the requirements in a new regulation, 10 CFR Part 37, published in March 2013. Security measures include background checks, personnel access controls, security barriers, unauthorized access detection and an armed law enforcement response. The NRC and state regulators conduct periodic inspections to make sure licenses are meeting these requirements.|
Byproduct materials are regulated by the NRC and 37 states that have signed agreements with the NRC giving them that authority. Known as Agreement States, these states issue licenses and regulate about 18,000 materials licensees. The NRC also has authority over security, import and export, and exempt distribution of consumer products—allowing their use without requiring a specific NRC license.
The NRC conducts most of its materials licensing and inspection activities from its regional offices. At NRC headquarters, the Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs oversees that program and provides technical support and guidance. The office periodically evaluates the technical adequacy, consistency and timeliness of both the regional and state programs to ensure they protect health and safety.