Nuclear power is a complex industry with a wide variety of local, regional and national influences. Understanding how different regulating bodies make decisions around nuclear power can have a significant impact on your overall success within the industry. Here’s a breakdown of how both the feds and state governments regulate nuclear power.
Understanding the Federal Role
On a national level, the nuclear power industry is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (known as the NRC). The NRC has the authority to establish rules and regulations for the country as a whole, along with the responsibility of providing licensing requirements, oversight and incident response for commercial nuclear reactors. The NRC is also responsible for licensing, certification and decommissioning of individual nuclear facilities within the U.S.
One of the chief missions of the agency is to ensure the safe operation of the nation’s nuclear plants. They track performance through a variety of reports which categorize the performance of reactors in the country. Recent NRC reports placed all but three of the nation’s operating reactors in the top two performance categories, with 85 reactors in the top category. The NRC also reassesses safety based on new information and releases operational and safety mandates to nuclear plants as needed. For example, as a result of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan, the NRC has required a number of additional safety enhancements, most of which were completed by the end of 2016.
The NRC also works closely in collaboration with other governmental agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) whereby the two agree to regulate the interstate transmission of electricity and wholesale interstate electricity markets in which nuclear power plants compete. FERC acts as a regulatory body insofar as they regulate wholesale power markets and authorize regional entities to act as grid operators and sell electricity at market-based rates.
Understanding the State Role
State lawmakers, including legislators, governors and other state executive agencies, can enact policies that either work to support or hinder the development of nuclear power within their region. States work to establish a diverse energy portfolio through integrated resource plans which prepare for future energy demands of the local communities they represent. Given that states have a more localized perspective of the needs and resources of their community, it’s important that states have some power over how their energy portfolio is built.
For example, as some states have worked hard to build a renewable energy portfolio that require a certain percentage of a state’s electricity to be derived from renewable resources, they can work toward balancing the goals of clean energy and reliable energy by supporting and restricting different power sources within their community. In this way, they can exert authority over the siting and taxation of nuclear plants, conduct independent environmental impact reviews and influence the siting of these facilities.
It’s important to understand there is a careful balance of power involved between both national and regional governments in how the nuclear power industry is regulated. Each governing body has their own agendas and controls, but inevitably no facility is immune to the influence of either regulatory agency.
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