United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Physical Protection Areas

NRC requires licensees to take a graded approach to physical protection through the use of specifically defined areas with increasing levels of security.

These areas are discussed on this page:

Exclusion Area

The exclusion area is that area in which the licensee has the authority to determine all activities including exclusion or removal of personnel and property from the area.

  • Although the licensee may have fences and guard posts to limit access to an exclusion area, these are not required as long as the licensee controls the area.
  • This area may be traversed by a highway, railroad, or waterway, provided arrangements are made to control traffic on the highway, railroad, or waterway in case of emergency.
  • Homes are not normally permitted within the exclusion area.

(To top of page)

Protected Area

The protected area is an area within the exclusion area encompassed by physical barriers, such as one or more chain-link fences.

  • Access to a protected area is controlled at gates and entryways and attempts at access under, over, or through the barrier are detected by the perimeter intrusion detection system.
  • Authorization for unescorted access within the protected area is based on criminal history and other background and behavioral checks, such as fitness-for-duty programs.

(To top of page)

Vital Areas

Vital areas are located within protected areas and have additional barriers and alarms to protect vital equipment.

  • Additional authorization is required for unescorted access to vital areas.
  • Entry is through card-reader or security guard controlled doors.

(To top of page)

Material Access Areas

Material access areas are similar to vital areas but control access to forms of special nuclear material for which protection against theft and diversion is required. The physical protection for these areas is similar to that of vital areas with the additional conditions that:

  • No one is allowed to be alone in a material access area (two-person rule).
  • In addition to card-reader or security guard controlled doors, volumetric intrusion detection systems are used when the area is unoccupied.

(To top of page)

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, November 05, 2013