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Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Laws and Regulations Report

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Updated: Aug 27th, 2021

Agreement State Program

NRC provides assistance to States expressing interest in establishing programs to assume NRC regulatory authority under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended. Section 274 of the Act provides a statutory basis under which NRC relinquishes to the States portions of its regulatory authority to license and regulate byproduct materials (radioisotopes); source materials (uranium and thorium); and certain quantities of special nuclear materials. The mechanism for the transfer of NRC’s authority to a State is an agreement signed by the Governor of the State and the Chairman of the Commission, in accordance with section 274b of the Act.

NRC assistance to States entering into Agreements includes a review of requests from States for 274b Agreements, or amendments to existing agreements, meetings with States to discuss and resolve NRC review comments, and recommendations for Commission approval of proposed 274b agreements. Additionally, NRC conducts training courses and workshops; evaluates technical licensing and inspection issues from the Agreement States; evaluates State rule changes; participates in activities conducted by the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors, Inc.; and provides early and substantive involvement of the States in NRC rulemaking and other regulatory efforts. The NRC also coordinates with the Agreement States the reporting of event information and responses to allegations reported to NRC involving the Agreement States.

On March 26, 1962, the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the first Agreement State. In December 1964, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission hosted the first annual joint meeting with a group of these States. Today, 34 States have entered into Agreements with NRC, and others are being evaluated.

Atomic Energy Act of 1946

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, informally known as the McMahon Act, determined how the United States government would control and manage the nuclear technology it had developed. Most significantly it ruled that nuclear weapon development and nuclear power management would be under civilian, rather than military, control, and established the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for this purpose. It was sponsored by Senator Brien McMahon, a Democrat from Connecticut, the chair of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy whose hearings led to the fine-tuning and passing of the Act.

The Act passed through both houses of Congress and was signed by President Harry Truman on August 1, 1946, and it went into effect on January 1, 1947.

One of the provisions of the Act was a strict ban on the release of atomic technology to other powers, even to allies. This served to galvanize countries such as the United Kingdom, which had supplied personnel and information to the Manhattan Project team into constructing their own nuclear weapons.

The provisions of the Act were substantially modified by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

Born Secret

The McMahon Bill was submitted to Congress on December 20, 1945. Under the heading “Purpose of Act,” the second item was “(2) A program for the free dissemination of basic scientific information and for maximum liberality in the dissemination of related technical information.”

Section 9 of the bill was titled “Dissemination of Information.” It called for the release of nuclear technology information “with the utmost liberality as freely as may be consistent with the foreign and domestic policies established by the President.”

However, by August 1, 1946, when the Atomic Energy Act reached President Truman for signature, the new second purpose was “(2) A program for the control of scientific and technical information…,” and Section 9 was gone, replaced by a new Section 10, “Control of Information.” This new section contained the novel doctrine later described as “born secret” or “classified at birth.” It defined a new legal term “restricted data” as “all data concerning the manufacture or utilization of atomic weapons, the production of fissionable material, or the use of fissionable material in the production of power,” unless the information has been declassified. The phrase “all data” included every suggestion, speculation, scenario, or rumor—past, present, or future, regardless of its source, or even of its accuracy—unless it was specifically declassified.

This restriction on free speech, covering an entire subject matter, is unique in American law. It is still in force.

Atomic Energy Act of 1954

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 42 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq., is a United States federal law that is, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “the fundamental U.S. law on both the civilian and the military uses of nuclear materials”. It covers the laws for the “development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States.”

It was an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and substantially refined certain aspects of the law, including increased support for the possibility of the civilian nuclear industry.

This Act is the fundamental U.S. law on both the civilian and the military uses of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, it provides for both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring the policy that “the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise.”

The Act requires that civilian uses of nuclear materials and facilities be licensed, and it empowers the NRC to establish by rule or order and to enforce, such standards to govern these uses as “the Commission may deem necessary or desirable in order to protect health and safety and minimize danger to life or property.” Commission action under the Act must conform to the Act’s procedural requirements, which provide an opportunity for hearings and Federal judicial review in many instances.

Under section 274 of the Act, the NRC may enter into an agreement with a State for discontinuance of the NRC’s regulatory authority over some materials licensees within the State. The State must first show that its regulatory program is compatible with the NRC’s and adequate to protect public health and safety. The NRC retains authority over, among other things, nuclear power plants within the State and exports from the State.

A major amendment to the Act established compensation for, and limits on, licensee liability for injury to off-site persons or damage to property caused by nuclear accidents.

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