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Contact Us About Research and Test Reactors

New Facility Licensing

Program Management

Regulatory Oversight

The NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) has oversight responsibility for the regulation and licensing of operating research and test reactors. These efforts take facilities from initial licensing through transition to decommissioning. The Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS) has project management and inspection oversight for decommissioning research and test reactors. There are three major oversight responsibilities for operating research and test reactors: Program Management, Inspection, and Operator Licensing.

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Since the 1970's, the NRC has required security at research and test reactors in accordance with NRC regulations (10 CFR Part 73). The NRC requires research and test reactors to maintain security plans or procedures that are designed to detect, deter, assess and respond to unauthorized activities. Research and test reactor security uses a graded approach with increasing requirements depending on the type of fuel or amount of radiological materials (i.e., higher licensed power level). Research and test reactor security follows a defense-in-depth philosophy similar to that employed at nuclear power plants.

Since September 11, 2001, all NRC-licensed facilities including research and test reactors have received increased security attention. On 9/11, the NRC advised all research and test reactor licensees to go to a pre-established heightened level of alert. During the remainder of 2001 and in 2002, research and test reactor licensees implemented additional security precautions based on NRC advisories and onsite evaluations. Between 2002 and 2004, NRC gained commitments from the research and test reactor licensees with nuclear fuel to implement additional security measures (ASMs), which enhanced protection against radiological sabotage or theft. Between 2003 and 2006, the NRC conducted security assessments that considered potential sabotage or theft scenarios.

The NRC continuously monitors the current threat environment and regularly reviews the security of all of its licensees, including research and test reactors. If the NRC determines any regulated facility needs additional security requirements in order to protect public health and safety, the NRC will take action.

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The NRC staff inspect each facility periodically to ensure licensees safely conduct regulated activities. The NRC maintains two types of inspections programs for operating research and test reactors. For research and test reactors licensed to operate at power levels of 2 megawatts (2,000,000 watts) or greater, the inspection program is completed annually. For reactors licensed to operate at power levels below 2 megawatts, the inspection program is completed biennially (every two years).

Inspection programs for operating research and test reactors include: organizational structure, qualifications and responsibilities, operational activities, design and design control, review and audit functions, radiation and environmental protection, operator requalification, maintenance and surveillance activities, fuel handling, experiments, procedures, emergency preparedness, and safeguards and security.

Research and test reactors that are in a long-term shutdown status or with possession-only license have an abbreviated inspection program completed triennially. The NRC inspects decommissioning research and test reactors as required for their condition to verify safe conduct of dismantlement and decontamination.

The NRC Inspection Manual Chapter 2545, contains the guidance which the NRC uses to administer the Research and Test Reactor Inspection Process.

For information on Inspection Procedures IP 69001 through 69013, see the table below. See also, our complete collection of Inspection Procedures.


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Document Description
IP 69001 Class II Research and Test Reactors
IP 69002 Class III Research and Test Reactors
IP 69003 Class I Research and Test Reactor Operator Licenses, Requalification, and Medical Activities
IP 69004 Class I Research and Test Reactor Effluent and Environmental Monitoring
IP 69005 Class I Research and Test Reactor Experiments
IP 69006 Class I Research and Test Reactors Organization and Operations and Maintenance Activities
IP 69007 Class I Research and Test Reactor Review and Audit and Design Change Functions
IP 69008 Class I Research and Test Reactor Procedures
IP 69009 Class I Research and Test Reactor Fuel Movement
IP 69010 Class I Research and Test Reactor Surveillance
IP 69011 Class I Research and Test Reactor Emergency Preparedness
IP 69012 Class I Research and Test Reactors Radiation Protection
IP 69013 Research and Test Reactor Decommissioning

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Operator Licensing

The Commission's regulations in 10 CFR Part 55 require personnel who operate a reactor to have either a Reactor Operator or a Senior Operator license issued by the NRC. Reactor Operators are licensed to operate the reactor under most routine conditions without supervision. However, a Senior Operator must be present to supervise operation of the reactor during some non-routine plant conditions. In addition, Senior Operators are usually responsible for plant conditions during emergencies.

To ensure that these operators have the required knowledge, skills and abilities to control the reactor during both routine evolutions and emergencies, the NRC staff prepares and administers both a comprehensive written examination and a hands-on operating test to all candidates for a new reactor operator or senior operator license. These examinations are designed to measure the candidate's qualifications to operate the reactor and are based on the requirements of Commission's regulations. The NRC issues licenses for six-year period.

Once licensed, operators and senior operators are required to maintain their expertise. Each facility is required to maintain a Operator Training and Requalification Program, covering both refresher training (material covered during initial licensing) and training on systems recently changed. The training program is divided into two-year cycle and requires a comprehensive written examination, and annual operating tests. These examinations are administered by the facility staff. At the end of the six-year period, operators and senior operators are required to submit a renewal application to keep their license. As part of the application, the applicant must certify satisfactory participation in the Operator Training and Requalification Program.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, July 25, 2023