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Radiation Protection

Radiation Regulations and Laws

Congress and the president assign radiation protection responsibilities to EPA through laws (also known as statutes). Specific statutes make EPA responsible for writing regulations that explain what must be done to obey the law. Regulations are requirements that can apply to individuals, businesses, states, local governments, or other institutions. Many environmental regulations set standards that limit the amount of a hazardous material allowed in the environment. Read about how regulations are developed on EPA's Laws and Regulations web page.

On this page:

Regulations for Specific Radiation Sources

Nuclear Power Operations

Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations (40 CFR Part 190)

These standards limit radiation releases and doses to the public from the normal operation (non-emergency) of nuclear power plants and other uranium fuel cycle facilities. Learn more about Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations (40 CFR Part 190).

Spent Nuclear Fuel, High Level, and Transuranic Wastes

Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Management and Disposal of Spent Fuel, High Level and Transuranic Wastes (40 CFR Part 191)

This regulation sets environmental standards for the disposal of spent nuclear fuelHelpspent nuclear fuelFuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor after use. It is still highly radioactive., high-level wastes and transuranicHelptransuranicElements with atomic numbers higher than uranium (92). For example, plutonium and americium are transuranics. radioactive wastes. Learn more about Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Management and Disposal of Spent Fuel, High Level and Transuranic Wastes (40 CFR Part 191).

Uranium Mill Wastes

Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings (40 CFR Part 192)

This regulation sets standards for the protection of the public health, safety and the environment from radiological and non-radiological hazards associated with uranium and thorium ore processing, and disposal of associated wastes.  Learn more about Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings (40 CFR Part 192).

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

Criteria for the Certification and Recertification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s Compliance with the 40 CFR Part 191 Disposal Regulations (40 CFR 194)

These criteria apply to the certification and recertification of compliance with the radioactive waste disposal standards at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. WIPP is a deep geologic repository operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for permanent disposal of a specific type of waste from the nation's nuclear defense program. Learn more about Criteria for the Certification and Recertification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s Compliance with the 40 CFR Part 191 Disposal Regulations (40 CFR 194).

Yucca Mountain

Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197)

These regulations, promulgated in 2008, establish public health and environmental standards for storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel at the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would implement these regulations at Yucca Mountain if a repository were to be established there. Learn more about Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197).

40 CFR Part 197 Resources

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Air Standards

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate airborne emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from a specific list of industrial sources called "source categories." Standards known as the "National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants" (NESHAPs) dictate specific regulatory limits for source categories that emit radionuclides. 

View compliance software for radiation laws and regulations.

40 CFR Part 61: National Emission Standards For Hazardous Air Pollutants: Subpart

B: Radon Emissions from Underground Uranium Mines

H: Emissions of Radionuclides Other than Radon from Department of Energy Facilities

I: Radionuclide Emissions from Federal Facilities Other than Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensees and Not Covered by Subpart H

K: Radionuclide Emissions from Elemental Phosphorus Plants

Q: Radon Emissions from Department of Energy Facilities

R: Radon Emissions from Phosphogypsum Stacks

T: Radon Emissions from the Disposal of Uranium Mill Tailings

W: Radon Emissions from Operating Mill Tailings

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Drinking Water Standards

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets legal limits on the levels of certain radionuclides in drinking water.

Radionuclides in Drinking Water

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Laws We Use

The Clean Air Act

December 17, 1963
The Clean Air Act gives the federal government authority to limit air pollution. Later revisions of the Act give EPA authority to limit hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Some HAPs are radionuclides. Learn more about the Clean Air Act (CAA).

The Clean Water Act

October 18, 1972
The Clean Water Act regulates the discharges of pollutants, including some radionuclides, into the waters of the United States. It authorizes EPA and states to set and enforce quality standards for surface waters.

Learn more about the Clean Water Act

The Energy Policy Act

October 24, 1992
The Energy Policy Act requires EPA to promulgate standards to ensure protection of public health from high-level radioactive wastes in a deep geologic repository that might be built under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Learn more about the Energy Policy Act.

Low Level Waste

December 22, 1980
The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act, as amended in 1985, requires each state to be responsible for providing disposal capacity for its commercial low-level waste and encourages regional compacts to develop new disposal facilities. The Act requires the Department of Energy to manage its own low-level waste as well as commercial waste deemed not generally suitable for near-surface disposal.

Read the full text of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act (LLRWPA) (PDF) (543 pp, 3.72 MB).

MPRSA

October 23, 1972
The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) authorizes EPA to issue permits and regulations for disposing of materials into U.S. waters. Ocean disposal of low-level waste requires approval of both houses of Congress. MPRSA specifically prohibits ocean disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

Learn more about the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA).

Nuclear Waste

January 7, 1983
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act establishes procedures to select deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive wastes. It directs EPA to develop environmental standards. Later amendments directed DOE to consider Yucca Mountain for the first geologic repository for high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Learn more about the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and Amendments.

Reorganization Plan No. 3

July 9, 1970
Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 transferred to EPA certain authorities from the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) and the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). This includes the authority to measure environmental radiation levels, develop protective action guides, and provide assistance to the states.

Read more about Reorganization Plan No. 3.

Read the full text of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) (PDF)(1,585 pp, 3.81 MB).

Learn more about the Atomic Energy Act (AEA).

The Safe Drinking Water Act

December 16, 1974
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires EPA to promulgate and enforce primary standards for contaminants in public water systems, including radionuclides. The SDWA also provides EPA with emergency response authority to protect public drinking water supplies.

Learn more about the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Superfund

December 11, 1980
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as CERCLA or Superfund, allows EPA to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances. CERCLA applies to radionuclides that are listed as hazardous substances in other environmental laws.

Learn more about CERCLA.

Uranium Mill Tailings

November 8, 1978
The Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act amended the Atomic Energy Act by directing EPA to set health and environmental standards at both active and inactive mill tailings sites.

Read the full text of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA).

WIPP

October 30, 1992
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act sets aside the land for developing and building a transuranic radioactive waste repository. It makes EPA responsible for development of environmental standards at WIPP and for certifying that the facility is complying with them.

Read the full text of The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act (PDF) (20 pp, 316 MB).