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Radiation in Medicine: A Need for Regulatory Reform
The NRC Agreement State Program
The NRC Agreement State Program provides an opportunity for the NRC to "discontinue" its regulatory authority over byproducts; it allows states to assume responsibility to license and regulate byproduct material, source material, and small quantities of special nuclear material. The NRC's authority regarding radiological health and safety aspects of nuclear materials is transferred to the states through a formal agreement between the governor of the state and the NRC. 5 Currently, there are 29 Agreement States, and 4 other states are exploring agreement status.
An Agreement State arrangement requires that the NRC conclude that a state's radiation control program "is compatible with the Commission's, meets the applicable parts of Section 274 [of the AEA] and … is adequate to protect the public health and safety." Once the state has passed enabling legislation to establish its authority to enter into the agreement, and after its radiation control program is found to be both adequate and compatible with NRC requirements, state assumption of authority becomes effective on the date the agreement is signed.
Section 274j of the AEA stipulates, however, that the NRC may terminate or suspend all or part of an agreement with a state if it deems that such action is necessary to protect public health and safety. Although Agreement States administer their own programs and regulate licensees, the NRC maintains significant authority over the states. Biennially, the NRC's Management Review Board reviews each state's performance to determine whether its program is "adequate" and to ensure that its regulatory requirements do not significantly deviate from the NRC's.
Despite these reviews, NRC oversight of the Agreement State Program has been criticized for lacking data adequate for comparing the regulatory performance of the NRC (for the 21 states it regulates) with that of Agreement States. In April 1993, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the NRC lacks common performance indicators for inspection backlogs, radiation overexposures, and numbers of violations. Because the programs of NRC-regulated states and Agreement States use different indicators to measure effectiveness, the GAO report asserts that the NRC cannot determine whether people in each state are receiving the same minimum level of protection.
Partly in response to such criticism, the NRC amended and clarified its policies for overseeing the Agreement State Program. As of 1995, Agreement States are required to report data on misadministrations in the same form and using the same definitions as those used by the NRC for the Non-Agreement States. In May 1995, a new "Final Statement of Principles and Policy for the
Public Law 83-703 (68 Stat. 919) (1954) as amended by Public Law 86-373 (73 Stat. 688) (1959), sec. 1, added sec. 274, Cooperation with States, which includes the criteria for these agreements.