National Environmental Policy Act at the NRC
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires Federal agencies to evaluate the impacts of proposed federal actions on the human environment. The NRC complies with NEPA through its regulations in 10 CFR Part 51. The regulations form the basis for the NRC's NEPA compliance and direct the staff in how to perform environmental reviews.
The Environmental Center of Expertise (EnvCOE) in the NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards conducts environmental reviews in support of NRC regulatory and licensing actions. The EnvCOE conducts NEPA reviews required for new licenses, license renewals, license amendments, and exemptions and for rulemakings. The EnvCOE also reviews and develops environmental guidance.
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NEPA Activities at the NRC
As a Federal agency, the NRC must assess the environmental effects of proposed actions prior to making decisions. The environmental review of a proposed action can involve one of three different levels of analysis, depending on the significance of a proposed action's potential effects on the environment. As stated in 10 CFR 51.21, all licensing and regulatory actions subject to Part 51 [or "NEPA"] require an Environmental Assessment (EA), except those actions that require an EIS at 10 CFR 51.20(b), those identified as eligible for a categorical exclusion (CATEX) at 10 CFR 51.22(c), and those identified as not requiring a NEPA review at 10 CFR 51.22(d).
- Categorical Exclusion (CATEX)
An NRC action may be "categorically excluded" from a detailed environmental review if the action does not "individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment" (10 CFR 51.14).
The NRC has determined that certain licensing, regulatory, and administrative actions are eligible for CATEX as specified at 10 CFR 51.22. For such actions, the NRC typically documents the CATEX in the safety evaluation related to the licensing action.
- Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI)
The NRC typically prepares an EA for actions that are not those identified as requiring an EIS per 10 CFR 51.20 and that do not meet the CATEX criteria at 10 CFR 51.22.
The EA, which must satisfy the requirements of 10 CFR 51.30, documents whether the action is a major Federal action that requires preparation of an EIS. If the NRC determines on the basis of the EA that the action will not have a significant impact on the environment, the NRC prepares a FONSI as specified at 10 CFR 51.32. Otherwise, if the NRC determines that the proposed action has the potential to significantly impact the environment, the NRC prepares an EIS.
- Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision (EIS/ROD)
The NRC prepares an EIS for "major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment" or for proposed actions that the Commission, as a matter of discretion, determines should be covered by an EIS. The NRC's regulations at 10 CFR 51.20 identify categories of actions requiring preparation of an EIS. For example, licensing the construction or operation of a nuclear power facility and the licensing of a uranium enrichment facility are considered major Federal actions that require an EIS. The EIS documents the potential environmental impacts of the action. The NRC also prepares a ROD when an EIS is prepared per the requirements of 10 CFR 51.102 and 51.103. The ROD documents the decision on the action and identifies the alternatives considered.
During an environmental review, the NRC staff analyzes the potential impacts of a proposed action on different aspects of the human environment, such as land use, visual resources, air quality, noise levels, aesthetics, geology and soils, surface and groundwater, terrestrial and aquatic ecology, human health, historic and cultural resources, socioeconomics, transportation, environmental justice, postulated accidents, decommissioning, and waste management. The staff also evaluates alternatives to the proposed action.
See the NRC webpages for material reviews, reactor license renewal, subsequent license renewal, and new reactors for more information about specific projects.
Rulemaking Activities Related to NEPA Reviews
There are several rulemakings that are related to the NRC’s regulations in 10 CFR Part 51 that are proposed or in process.
See the NRC webpages for rules and petitions for more information about specific rulemakings.
NRC Guidance for NEPA Reviews
The NRC complies with NEPA through its regulations in 10 CFR Part 51. In doing so, NRC staff uses guidance documents to complete NEPA reviews for various program areas at the NRC. These guidance documents include:
- LIC-203 – Procedural Guidance for Preparing Categorical Exclusions, Environmental Assessments, and Considering Environmental Issues
- NUREG-1748 – Environmental Review Guidance for Licensing Actions Associated with NMSS Programs
- NUREG-1555 – Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants: Environmental Standard Review Plan
The NRC provides guidance to applicants and licensees related to 10 CFR Part 51 requirements through regulatory guides and interim staff guidance, among others.
Generic NEPA Reviews
The NRC has prepared generic NEPA analyses that document the environmental impacts of certain regulatory and licensing activities. Those analyses are documented in generic environmental impact statements (GEISs). The NRC has developed GEISs for various activities such as:
Consultations and Coordination
The NRC conducts consultations under related environmental laws such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, and Section 305(b) of the Magnuson–Stevens Act. These consultations are typically conducted during the NEPA review and documented in an EIS or an EA. The NRC may also contact state and Federal agencies regarding other environmental statutes such as Coastal Zone Management Act, Clean Air Act, or Clean Water Act. Consistent with the Council on Environmental Quality final rule, the NRC's Executive Director for Operations currently acts as the senior agency official responsible for overall agency NEPA compliance, including resolving implementation issues.
National Historic Preservation Act Consultation
The NRC must assess the effects of any proposed action ("undertaking") on historic properties under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended. This involves consulting with the State Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, other federal agencies, and local governments, Tribal governments, other interested parties, and the public. The NRC conducts the Section 106 process as part of its NEPA review. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has issued regulations for such consultations at 36 CFR 800.
Endangered Species Act Consultation
Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, the NRC consults the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about endangered or threatened species or their critical habitats that might be affected by a proposed action. The Services have issued regulations for such consultation at 50 CFR 402.
Magnuson–Stevens Act Consultation
Section 305(b) of the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, as amended, requires the NRC to consult the National Marine Fisheries Service about potential adverse effects any proposed action may have on essential fish habitats. The Service has issued regulations for such consultation at 50 CFR 600.
The NRC welcomes public input to its environmental reviews under NEPA. The staff actively seeks the public's views on what should be covered in its EISs (called the "scoping process"). All draft EISs are made available for public comment. A draft EA and FONSI may be made available for public comment before becoming final. See Documents for Comment for NRC NEPA documents currently available for comment. In addition, the NRC provides notices of major licensing applications to inform the public about hearings and opportunities to intervene.
Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, February 18, 2021