History of Emergency Preparedness

Over the years, the combined efforts of the NRC, FEMA, nuclear power plant operators, State and local officials, as well as thousands of volunteers and first responders (such as police, firefighters, and medical response personnel), have produced comprehensive emergency preparedness programs that assure the adequate protection of the public in the event of a radiological emergency. The following chronology outlines significant nuclear power events that led to the maturity and success story of today's emergency preparedness programs.

Photo of First full-scale atomic electric power plant1957 – Shippingport Atomic Power Station construction is completed at a cost of $72,500,000. The country's first large-scale civilian atomic power plant started generating electricity for commercial use on December 18, 1957. The plant, on the Ohio River twenty-five miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was built in thirty-two months. It is "the world's first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses."

1958 – The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) requires applicants for nuclear power plant operating licenses to outline procedures for dealing with radiological emergencies. Emergency plans are vague and sketchy.

1960 – Dresden Nuclear Generating Station, located in rural Grundy County in Northern Illinois, is the home to the nation's first full-scale, privately financed nuclear power plant; the first U.S. nuclear power plant built without government funding.

Mid-Late 1960s – A dramatic growth in the size of electrical generation of a nuclear power plant increases attention to emergency preparedness.

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1966 – The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) first raises the question of emergency preparedness and recommends that the AEC take a new look at the regulations.

1970 – The AEC staff proposes a new Appendix E to 10 CFR Part 50 that lists items that emergency plans should contain.

1973 – OPEC cuts oil production by 25% and imposes oil embargo on oil shipments to U.S.

1973 – U.S. utilities order 41 nuclear power plants to be constructed – a 1-year record.

1974 - Congress decides to abolish the AEC. Supporters and critics of nuclear power agree that the promotional and regulatory duties of the AEC should be assigned to different agencies. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; it began operations on January 19, 1975.

1977 – The NRC publishes Regulatory Guide 1.101 which gives more detailed information on what should be included in emergency plans.

1978 – The NRC publishes NUREG-0396, "Planning Basis for the Development of State and Local Government Radiological Emergency Response Plans in Support of Light Water Nuclear Power Plants." This report concludes that a "spectrum of accidents (not the source term from a single accident sequence) should be considered in developing a basis for emergency planning." Additionally, NUREG-0396 introduced the concept of two Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs): the short-term 10-mile plume exposure pathway and the long-term 50-mile ingestion exposure pathway.

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Photo - Three Mile Island (TMI)1979 – On March 28, 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant in Pennsylvania transforms the hypothetical into reality. The TMI accident ends without the need for a general evacuation, but it is made clear that existing emergency planning requirements are unsatisfactory. A few weeks after the accident, then NRC Chairman Joseph M. Hendrie tells a congressional committee, "I don't think that anyone needs to be persuaded that thorough emergency preparedness is an essential component in the regulatory structure." The Commission requests immediate rulemaking on emergency planning. On December 7, 1979, in accordance with the Kemeny Commission (which investigated the TMI accident), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is designated as the lead agency for dealing with offsite nuclear power plant emergencies.

1980 – An emergency planning rule is issued stipulating that the NRC will not issue a new operating license without a satisfactory emergency plan and that existing nuclear power plant owners have until April 1981 to develop an adequate emergency plan.Photo Nuclear Plant


1986 - On April 26, 1986, a major nuclear power station accident occurred at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the former USSR. The accident destroyed the reactor and released massive amounts of radioactivity into the environment. The assessment of Chernobyl raised questions as to whether changes were needed to NRC regulations or guidance regarding reactivity accidents (accidents at low or zero power), operator training, and emergency planning.

1987 – The NRC issues a rule labeled the "realism doctrine" (10 CFR 50.47(c)(1)). It addresses the question of what the NRC should do when a State or local government declines to cooperate in the development or implementation of an offsite emergency plan. The rule recognizes the reality that in an actual emergency, State and local government officials will exercise their best efforts to protect the health and safety of the public.

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Graphic - Hurricane Andrew1992 – Hurricane Andrew strikes the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Southern Florida. Several onsite emergency preparedness resources are damaged. FEMA mobilizes a response team to assess offsite radiological emergency preparedness capabilities. NRC Inspection Manual Chapter 1601, "Communication Protocol for Assessing Offsite Emergency Preparedness Following a Natural Disaster," is created to address nuclear plant restart plans and establishes restart criteria for plants shutdown after significant events. In addition, the NRC/FEMA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is revised to address recovery from natural disasters affecting offsite emergency preparedness.

2000 – The new Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) is launched. ROP is firmly anchored in the NRC's mission to ensure public health and safety in the operation of commercial power plants. Emergency preparedness is identified as one of the seven cornerstones of safety.

2001 – NRC amends rule 10 CFR 50.47(b)(10) requiring that States with a population within the 10-mile emergency planning zone of commercial nuclear power plants consider including potassium iodide (KI) as a protective measure for the general public to supplement sheltering and evacuation in the unlikely event of a severe nuclear power plant accident.

September 11, 2001 - Promptly after the terroristic events on September 11, 2001, the NRC activates its Incident Response Center (IRC) at NRC Headquarters and in the Regional (IRC) offices, staffs the centers with teams of top officials and technical experts, and maintains this staffing for several months. The NRC advises its licensees to go to the highest level of security and the agency establishes communications with the FBI, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others.

2002 – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues Orders to all 104 commercial nuclear power plants to implement interim compensatory measures for the high-level terrorist threat environment. Included in these Orders are items addressing Emergency Preparedness in the post-9/11 environment.

2004 – Following the events of September 11, 2001, the NRC identifies the need for increased communication of its emergency preparedness activities with internal and external stakeholders, including the public, industry, the international nuclear community, and Federal, State and local government agencies. As a result of this increased awareness of the importance of emergency preparedness, the NRC creates the Emergency Preparedness Directorate (EPD). The function of the newly created directorate is to develop emergency preparedness policies, regulations, programs, and guidelines for both currently licensed nuclear reactors and potential new nuclear reactors.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, June 08, 2021