Radiation and National Security
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is committed to protecting the health and safety of the public and the environment in civilian uses of nuclear materials. This commitment is central to the agency's mission today, as it has been since Congress established the NRC in 1974. The following topics illustrate this commitment in action:
Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear security, under the oversight of the NRC, is achieved through effective regulation of the industry. In addition, it is a product of the private sector working in close partnership with Federal, State, and local authorities. Nonetheless, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, reaffirmed the need for collective vigilance, enhanced security, and improved emergency preparedness across the Nation's critical infrastructure, and the NRC was quick and effective in its response.
Since well before the terrorist attacks in 2001, the NRC has provided for the protection of public safety in this key aspect of our national infrastructure. Toward that end, nuclear power plants are well-protected by physical barriers, armed guards, intrusion detection systems, area surveillance systems, access controls, and access authorization requirements for employees working inside the plants. As a result, nuclear power plants continue to be among the best-protected private sector facilities in the Nation.
The NRC has long-standing regulatory programs to ensure the security of agency-licensed radioactive materials, with a particular focus on those materials that could be used malevolently in an improvised nuclear device or a radiological dispersal device. Recent enhancements in this are include security improvements for high-risk sources, enhanced tracking of these materials, and increased export and import controls. In addition, research and test reactors have implemented the highest level of security to protect against radiological sabotage and theft of certain nuclear fuel.
Another important responsibility involves ensuring the security of radioactive materials that the NRC licenses for medical, industrial, and academic uses. The NRC also works with Agreement States, which administer regulatory programs to ensure the safe use and handling of these radioactive materials within their respective State borders.
In addition to its domestic responsibilities for radiation protection and nuclear security, the NRC conducts international safeguards activities to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to nonproliferation of nuclear materials. In so doing, the NRC strengthens the capability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify a State's commitments regarding the peaceful use of nuclear materials, and to prevent the spread of nuclear explosives capability. In addition, the NRC helps to strengthen the IAEA safeguards program through participation in interagency groups, as well as activities that directly support the IAEA.