A career in nuclear power is a fascinating and challenging one, but it’s also gratifying for those willing to go the extra mile. Nuclear energy is a cornerstone of our country’s (and the world’s) clean energy strategy. So if you’re looking to make a tangible impact in your community, this is a great industry to be in. Given the importance of this industry, it makes sense that some very important regulations and policies govern it. Knowledge and understanding of those common government regulations of nuclear power are important to success within the industry.
This blog covers a high-level overview of some key government regulations of nuclear power that employers should be aware of and follow.
Nuclear Regulation and the Historical Context
The nuclear energy policy of the United States developed mostly across two main periods, from 1954–1992 and 2005–2010. The first period saw the ongoing building of nuclear power plants, the enactment of numerous pieces of legislation such as the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, and the implementation of countless policies which have guided the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy in the regulation and growth of nuclear energy companies. This includes, but is not limited to, regulations of nuclear facilities, waste storage, decommissioning of weapons-grade materials, uranium mining, and funding for nuclear companies, along with an increase in power plant building.
In the United States, there have been numerous legislative actions and policies implemented on a federal and state level to regulate atomic energy and promote its expansion. The growth of nuclear power in the US ended in the 1980s; however, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed in 2005, aiming to jump-start the nuclear industry through financial loan-guarantees for expansion re-outfitting of nuclear plants. This legislation’s success is still a work in progress since all 17 companies that applied for funding are still in the planning phases on their 26 proposed building applications.
In 2008, the Energy Information Administration projected almost 17 gigawatts of new nuclear power reactors by 2030, but in its 2011 projections, it scaled back the 2030 projection to just five. Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, public support for building nuclear power plants in the U.S. dropped substantially. Still, a survey sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, conducted in September 2011, found that “62 percent of respondents said they favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States, with 35 percent opposed”.
Key Legislation and Regulations Impacting the Industry
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was written such that its focus was to provide funding and tax breaks to energy producers and consumers alike. Although it provided many incentives to individual consumers and green energy technology, nuclear energy gained the most concessions.
The House passed the Advanced Nuclear Technology Act of 2017 on January 23, 2017. The Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program will help build two new prototype small modular reactors, with up to $4 billion of government funding support.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection, and enforcement of its requirements. The NRC licenses and regulates the Nation’s civilian use of radioactive materials to provide reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety, promote common defense and security, and protect the environment. Their regulatory mission covers three main areas:
- Reactors – Commercial reactors for generating electric power and research and test reactors used for research, testing, and training.
- Materials – Uses of nuclear materials in medical, industrial, and academic settings and facilities that produce nuclear fuel.
- Waste – Transportation, storage, disposal of nuclear materials and waste, and decommissioning nuclear facilities from service.