The 1954 Atomic Energy Act explicitly incorporated a goal of minimum regulation for the new nuclear industry. Subsequently, the AEC developed regulations and regulatory organizations, which implemented the national policy, i.e., minimum regulations that would protect national security and public health and safety. The rule that the AEC finally adapted in 1962 was based on (1) experience with the government owned reactors, (2) case-by-case evaluations of several reactor applications in the demonstration program (see Table 1.1 of Chapter 1), (3) the demand for guidance from nuclear industry and the congressional committee, and (4) collective knowledge about elements of nuclear technology. The discussion of site adequacy of the reactors resulted in a position that each reactor must have an essentially leak tight barrier, i.e., a containment structure, that would enclose the reactor vessel, and nuclear steam supply system components. Thus, the containment structure was defined as one of the vital engineered safety features of a power reactor.

The AEC’s regulatory staff, which was created soon after the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, confronted the task of writing regulations and devising licensing procedures rigorous enough to ensure safety but flexible enough to allow for new findings and rapid changes in nuclear technology. Within a short period of time, the staff drafted rules and definitions on radiation protection standards, the distribution and safeguarding of fissionable materials, and the qualifications of reactor operators.

Between 1954 and 1962, the AEC initiated a regulatory organization and developed a regulatory process to evaluate safety issues, published regulations, reviewed license applications, and verified that its rules and license conditions were being followed. Agency officials believed that the regulatory framework they had established was sufficiently rigorous to ensure that the reactors are operated safely, but not so inflexible that it discouraged the growth of the technology. Striking a balance between those objectives was s difficult task, and it became more so after the surge in reactor applications in mid-1960s. Also, the size of the plants under review dramatically increased.

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