United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

NRC Facts

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We really hope you enjoy these fun facts about the NRC and nuclear energy. You will learn more about what the agency does, see how historical events have helped shape our rules and find out the meanings of some terms.

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NRC Facts

  • The NRC only regulates commercial nuclear industries in the United States.

  • The NRC protects radioactive materials with the help of other organizations. They include the International Atomic Energy Agency, Federal agencies, licensees, and Agreement States.

  • About 3 million packages of radioactive materials are shipped each year in the United States. They are delivered by road, rail, air, or water. These packages are less than 1 percent of the Nation's yearly hazardous material shipments.

  • The NRC regulates the use of radioactive materials. It does not regulate X-ray machines or other devices that make radiation without using radioactive materials.

  • The NRC and the U.S. Department of Transportation regulate radioactive material shipments. They make sure that materials shipped in the United States are safe.

  • The NRC and Agreement States review radioactive materials used in medical, industrial, and academic settings. These reviews check on the employees, facilities, and equipment involved. They ensure the safety of people who might be exposed to radiation.

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1940s

  • December 2, 1942 – Chicago Pile-1 is the first nuclear reactor in the world to "go critical"—have a stable, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The reactor used uranium and graphite blocks as fuel. Chicago Pile-1 was part of the wider Manhattan Project. Nuclear power became an option for energy at this time.

  • September 26, 1944, 10:48 p.m. – The B Reactor at the Hanford Engineering Works in Washington State goes critical. Plutonium production for an atomic bomb begins.

  • August 1, 1946 – The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 is passed. It created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC was in charge of nuclear energy development and explored peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

  • February 18, 1949 – The AEC opts to establish a remote site at the Naval Proving Grounds near Idaho Falls, Idaho for testing new reactor designs. It is named the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS).

1950s

  • December 20, 1951, 1:23 p.m. – The NRTS Experimental Breeder Reactor is the first in the world to produce electricity when its turbine generator illuminates four light bulbs.

  • September 10, 1953 – North Carolina State College's research reactor goes critical for the first time. It is the world's first civilian-owned reactor.

  • December 8, 1953 – President Dwight Eisenhower delivers his "Atoms for Peace" speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

  • August 30, 1954 – Eisenhower signs the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. It amended the 1946 act to encourage civilian uses of atomic energy and create a regulatory system to ensure reactors and nuclear materials were kept adequately safe.

  • 1954 – The first Molten Salt Reactor, called the U.S. Aircraft Reactor Experiment, is built. It was made to power strategic bombers.

  • August 8-20, 1955 – Geneva, Switzerland, hosts the first United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.

  • July-August, 1955 – Pennsylvania State College starts up its "swimming pool" reactor after receiving the first license from the AEC under new regulations authorized by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

  • March 25, 1957 – The AEC presents to Congress Theoretical Possibilities and Consequences of Major Accidents in Large Nuclear Power Plants (WASH-740). The study provided a worst-case estimate for a reactor accident of three thousand dead and $7 billion in damages.

  • July 12, 1957 – The Sodium Reactor Experiment in Santa Susana, California becomes the first U.S. reactor to supply electric power for the commercial power grid.

  • August 3, 1957 – General Electric's Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor in Pleasanton, California became the first commercially licensed reactor to supply significant power to the commercial electric grid.

  • September 2, 1957 – The Price-Anderson Act is passed. The Act protects the public, licensees, and contractors financially if a major accident occurs at a nuclear power plant.

  • September 28, 1959 – The operating license for Dresden Unit 1 is issued. Dresden Unit 1 was the first commercial-sized nuclear power plant in the country to operate. The reactor went critical in October 1959. It began commercial operations in October 1960.

1960s

  • January 3, 1961 – The U.S. Army experimental reactor, the SL-1, suffered a significant power excursion killing three technicians at Idaho's National Reactor Testing Station.

  • January 1964 – New Jersey Central Power and Light announces its proposal to build a General Electric Boiling Water Reactor at Oyster Creek, New Jersey. The $68 million fixed-cost "turnkey" contract helps inaugurate a rush on orders for nuclear power plants.

  • July 1966 – The possibility of a core meltdown breaching a nuclear power plant containment building—the "China Syndrome"—is discussed for the first time regarding new reactor proposals at Indian Point, New York and Dresden, Illinois.

  • October 1967 – The AEC issues Emergency Core Cooling: Report of Advisory Task Force on Power Reactor Emergency Cooling ("Ergen Report"), which acknowledged the possibility of a core meltdown breaching containment. It recommended that emergency core cooling systems serve as the primary safety system.

  • December 1968 – The first Chairman of the NRC, Major General William A. Anders, USAFR (Retired), pilots the lunar module Apollo 8. Apollo 8 was the first lunar orbit mission.

1970s

  • June 1971 – In response to criticism by AEC scientists Arthur Tamplin and John Gofman, the AEC announces stricter criteria on radioactive effluent during normal nuclear power plant operations.

  • July 23, 1971 – In Calvert Cliffs Coordinating Committee, Inc. et al. v. United States Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the AEC's limited assessment of the environmental impact of new nuclear power plants undermined the objectives of the National Environmental Policy Act. It required the agency to take greater independent initiative to analyze the environmental impact of proposed plants.

  • January 1972 – The AEC opens rulemaking hearings to establish acceptance criteria for Emergency Core Cooling Systems (ECCS). It is one of the longest rulemaking hearings on U.S. history.

  • February 1973 – Dixie Lee Ray becomes the first woman appointed as Chairman to the AEC.

  • October 11, 1974 – The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 is passed.

  • January 19, 1975 – the AEC is split into the NRC and the Energy Research and Development Administration. The latter is later integrated into the Department of Energy.

  • March 22, 1975 – The most extensive fire in U.S. nuclear power history broke out at Unit 2 of the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant near Athens, Alabama. The fire burns for over seven hours before it is extinguished.

  • October 1975 – The NRC issues the Reactor Safety Study (WASH-1400). The first full-scale probabilistic risk assessment (PRA).

  • April 7, 1977 – President Jimmy Carter stops plans for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in the United States.

  • 1979 – Fort Saint Vrain begins operation in Colorado. It was one of the first helium-cooled High Temperature Gas Reactors. The reactor was fueled with microspheres that contained fissile Uranium-235 and fertile Thorium-232.

  • March 28, 1979 – The accident at the Three Mile Island, Unit 2 (TMI-2) nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania, was the most serious in the U.S. operating history.

1980s

  • 1980 – For the first time, nuclear energy generated more electricity than oil in the U. S.

  • 1986 – The NRC licenses the first dry storage installation. Surry Nuclear Power Plant in Virginia received the license.

  • April 26, 1986 – Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

  • June 19, 1986 – The NRC Commission approves a policy statement on the agency's safety goals.

  • March 31, 1987 – NRC orders an indefinite shutdown of Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3 due to operator misconduct.

1990s

  • July 10, 1991 – The NRC publishes the "Maintenance Rule," 10 CFR 50.65, require licensees monitor the performance of their plants against established goals to ensure that structures, systems, and components fulfill their intended safety functions.

  • August 24, 1992 – Hurricane Andrew hits Turkey Point Nuclear Plant south of Miami, FL. The safety-related parts of the plant were not badly damaged. Both nuclear units returned to service and still operate safely today.

  • 1992 — The Energy Policy Act of 1992 reformed the licensing process for nuclear power plants.

  • June 17, 1994 – The Convention on Nuclear Safety is adopted at an International Atomic Energy Agency diplomatic conference in Vienna Austria.

  • August 16, 1995 – The NRC issues "Use of Probabilistic Risk Assessment in Nuclear Regulatory Activities; Final Policy Statement."

  • February 6, 1996 –Watts Bar, Unit 1 nuclear power plant, received a full-power license from the NRC near Spring City, Tenn.

  • 1999 – The NRC launches the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) creating a more risk-informed inspection and oversight process of nuclear power plant operations.

2000s

  • 2000 – NRC issued first-ever license renewal for Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant allowing an additional 20 years of operation.

  • February 2002 – An inspection reveals "significant degradation" of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant reactor vessel lid.

  • April 2002 – In response to the 9/11 attacks, the NRC creates the Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response (NSIR).

  • March 2, 2006 – India and the United States seal a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation pact.

  • 2007 – NRC receives first full power plant application in 28 years.

  • January 2009 – The NRC sets up the National Source Tracking System (NSTS). NSTS monitors the manufacture, distribution, and ownership of the most high-risk sources. The NSTS tracks more than 80,000 high-risk sources. About 1,400 licensees hold these sources.

2010s

  • March 11, 2011 – A 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami strikes Japan, causing the
    Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to shut down. Emergency cooling systems fail, causing the plant to experience a melt-through of three reactors.

  • June 14, 2011 – NRC issues its Final Safety Culture Policy Statement.

  • November 7, 2013 – NRC issues revised U.S. National Report for Convention on Nuclear Safety.

  • April 25, 2014 – NRC issues license to Strata for Ross uranium recovery facility in Wyoming.

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Agreement State

A State that has signed an agreement with the NRC. The agreement lets States regulate radioactive material activity within their borders.

Brachytherapy

A type of cancer treatment that uses radioactive sources. The source is placed in or around tumors and can be permanent or temporary. When the source is in place, it attacks the tumor.

Commercial irradiators

Machines that expose products to radiation. Food, medical tools, and other items may be irradiated. The radiation kills things like bad bacteria and insects. The items do not become radioactive and are safe to eat and use.

Critical

The normal state of a nuclear reactor. A reactor is critical when nuclear fuel maintains a fission chain reaction.

Fission

When an atom splits and energy is released. The energy is usually in the form of heat. It can be used to produce electricity.

International Atomic Energy Agency

A global organization that promotes peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Molten Salt Reactor

A reactor that uses a molten salt mixture as its coolant or fuel.

Radiation

Energy given off by matter. This energy is in the form of particles or electromagnetic rays or waves.

Thorium

A radioactive element found in the earth's crust. It is a waste product made when certain materials are mined. It is four times as common as Uranium and doesn't need to be enriched. Thorium-232 can be used as a fuel source in Molten Salt Reactors.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, August 10, 2017