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Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Responsibilities

Photos of Exercise ParticipantsThe Three Mile Island accident in 1979 demonstrated the need for better coordination between nuclear power plant operators and Federal, State and local government emergency response organizations. Following the accident, the NRC updated emergency preparedness regulations [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 emergency planning zone (EPZ).

Federal, State, and local agencies all have responsibilities during a nuclear power plant emergency:

Federal

The NRC and the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations lay out their respective roles and responsibilities for onsite and offsite emergency planning at nuclear power plants. The NRC and FEMA have also established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), December 10, 2015 (ADAMS ML15344A371).

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.

FEMA 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 develop two-year evaluated emergency preparedness exercise requirements for nuclear power plant operators and State and local governments. This ensures both onsite and offsite emergency preparedness capabilities are adequately evaluated. The NRC's Biennial Evaluated Exercise Schedule is available as a Microsoft Excel dataset with an associated data dictionary (variable list). This projected schedule includes a list of full-scale NRC/FEMA evaluated exercises. The list identifies 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, Tribal, 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 are responsible for deciding on and implementing appropriate public protective actions during a nuclear power plant radiological emergency. They are responsible for directing the public to carry out protective actions such as evacuation, sheltering in place or taking potassium iodide pills. State and local officials base their decisions on recommendations from plant personnel and their own radiological or health organizations. The NRC advises, guides and supports State and local government officials. Neither the nuclear power plant operator nor the NRC can order the public to take protective actions.

State emergency management agency information is available from FEMA's State Offices and Agencies of Emergency Management.

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Federal, State, and Tribal Liaison Programs

The NRC works with Federal, State, and local governments, interstate organizations, and Native American tribes. This cooperation ensures effective NRC relations and communications with these organizations. It also promotes greater awareness and mutual understanding of the policies, activities, and concerns of all parties involved, as they relate to radiological safety at NRC-licensed facilities.

The NRC's State Liaison Officer Program works with governor-appointed State Liaison Officers to improve cooperation and two-way communication between the NRC and the States.

The NRC fosters effective interaction with Native American tribes through the Federal, State, and Tribal Liaison Program, using the Tribal Protocol Manual. For additional information, see Emergency Preparedness and Response.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, October 29, 2020