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Atomic Energy Act

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (“Act”) is 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 U.S.

The purpose of the Act is to effectuate the policies set forth in the Act by providing for[i]:

  • a program of conducting, assisting, and fostering research and development in order to encourage maximum scientific and industrial progress;
  • a program for the dissemination of unclassified scientific and technical information and for the control, dissemination, and declassification of Restricted Data so as to encourage scientific and industrial progress;
  • a program for Government control of the possession, use, and production of atomic energy and special nuclear material and to provide continued assurance of the Government’s ability to enter into and enforce agreements with nations or groups of nations for the control of special nuclear materials and atomic weapons;
  • a program to encourage widespread participation in the development and utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public;
  • a program of international cooperation to promote the common defense and security and to make available to cooperating nations the benefits of peaceful applications of atomic energy as widely as expanding technology and considerations of the common defense and security will permit; and
  • a program of administration which will be consistent with the foregoing policies and programs, with international arrangements, and with agreements for cooperation, which will enable the Congress to be currently informed so as to take further legislative action as may be appropriate.


42 USCS § 2201 (i) gives the Atomic Energy Commission power to authorize private industry to participate in developing peaceful uses of atomic energy and to own or possess various nuclear materials and production facilities in so doing[ii].  The Act authorizes the Atomic Energy Commission to issue regulations[iii]:

  • to protect restricted data received by any person in connection with any activity authorized pursuant to this Act,
  • to guard against loss or diversion of any special nuclear material acquired by any person or produced by any person in connection with any activity authorized pursuant to this Act, and to prevent any use or disposition thereof which the commission may determine to be inimical to the common defense and security, and
  • to govern any activity authorized pursuant to this Act, including standards and restrictions governing design, location, and operation of facilities used in the conduct of such activity, in order to protect health and to minimize danger to life or property.


Pursuant to the Act, each state and Federal Government is responsible for disposal of low-level radioactive waste[iv].  The responsibilities of the Department of Energy include financial and technical assistance for purposes of carrying out this Act[v].

42 U.S.C.S. § 2131, authorizes the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license and regulate the use of a nuclear utilization facility[vi].  The Act further provides for hearings in any proceedings for the granting, suspending, revoking, or amending of any license or construction permit[vii].

The Act provides that any final order entered in any proceeding should be subject to judicial review in the manner prescribed in the Administrative Orders Review Act and the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act[viii].

The judicial review and enforcement provisions of the Atomic Energy Act preclude private judicial enforcement of the act.  The only avenue for private enforcement of the act is the opportunity to participate in agency proceedings granted by 10 CFR 2.206.  Further, appeal from this agency proceeding is exclusively to the U.S. Courts of Appeals[ix].

The Act provides that whenever in the judgment of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission any person has engaged or is about to engage in any acts or practices which constitute or will constitute a violation of any provision of this Act, or any regulation or order issued thereunder, the Attorney General on behalf of the U.S. may make application to the appropriate court for an order enjoining such acts or practices, or for an order enforcing compliance with such provision.  Upon a showing by the Commission that such person has engaged or is about to engage in any such acts or practices, a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order may be granted[x].

[i] 42 USCS § 2013.

[ii] Reynolds v. United States, 286 F.2d 433 (9th Cir. Haw. 1960).

[iii] 42 USCS § 2201 (i).

[iv] 42 USCS § 2021c.

[v] 42 USCS § 2021g.

[vi] Detroit Edison Co. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Com., 630 F.2d 450 (6th Cir. 1980).

[vii] 42 USCS § 2239 (a).

[viii] Susquehanna Valley Alliance v. Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor, 619 F.2d 231 (3d Cir. Pa. 1980).

[ix] Simmons v. Arkansas Power & Light Co., 655 F.2d 131 (8th Cir. Ark. 1981).

[x] 42 USCS § 2280.

Inside Atomic Energy Act