Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Regulatory Comparison:

FCC versus NRC

In a recent blog on NRC's Principles of Good Regulation, someone commented that they wished that someday, nuclear power could be less controversial and regulation could be more like that at FAA and FCC.  This comment was particularly interesting to me, as I am quite familiar with the FCC (see below), so I responded that the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, but that many issues at FCC were at least equally contentious and divisive.  In return, the commenter pointed out that FCC doesn't regulate the technology that led to, for example, the iPhone.

It was interesting that he chose the FCC as a point of comparison, because my husband worked for the FCC for many years, and for much of that time, we were both in regulatory agencies--he at FCC and me at NRC.  (And, in fact, if I may be allowed a small brag, he was responsible for the regulatory changes at FCC that allowed for the development of what became Wi-Fi.)  Furthermore, we both had postings in Japan involving our regulatory counterparts there, both working in their offices and observing them from other perspectives.

So we have had a lot of opportunity to compare and contrast FCC, NRC, and other regulatory entities--their philosophies, their operations, their staffs and management, etc.  (While my husband also had some familiarity with FAA, as telecommunications is important for the FAA, I have less, so I will leave FAA out of the discussion, and just make my points based on a comparison of FCC and NRC.)

There are many ways in which I could compare and contrast FCC and NRC regulations, but let me focus in this blog post on the particular point raised in the comment on my previous blog--that the controversies at FCC are not at the level where they significantly delay technology development.  The commenter cites as his example that no license submittal is required for the next model iPhone.  

That is technically true.  However, one must consider the whole situation.  The original iPhone was in the eyes of FCC a package of several radio systems--each of which had been previously approved for general use. Hence it was only subject to routine staff approvals. As a result of several decades of deregulation, FCC allows many types of radio technologies "permissionless innovation".  However, this allowance is spotty and all new radio technology above 95 GHz needs nonroutine approvals that could take as long as approving a reactor design.

In fact, at present, there are a number of start-ups developing various telecommunications-related technologies, some of which do require changes in FCC regulations for them to be implemented.  My husband has seen some of these companies fold because of foot-dragging by FCC, mainly to cater to entrenched interests.  In these cases, there is not even a rationale that we need to be move slowly to be sure of the safety.  The delays and roadblocks are strictly about competing economic interests. 

By pointing this out, I am not implying that NRC regulations are perfect or that NRC gets a pass because of the focus on safety.  I just want to be sure that people who compare regulatory agencies--particularly these two--see the whole picture.  



  1. An interesting comparison. Perhaps part of the nuclear problem is that, unlike telecoms, there is no big all nuclear companies such as Apple or Samsung to drive the regulations. Nuclear is more a collection of side businesses.

    Also, if airplanes or cell phones are banned everyone would quickly notice. Nuclear unfortunately is seen as making electricity which is considered mundane.

    Still, it would be nice if the NRC would have a list of permission less innovations for reactor designers to combine. ;-)

  2. Hey,

    Great post here you have created.
    NRC has career opportunities for the bright and motivated, for the experienced and dedicated, for the professional or the recent graduate. We offer careers that make a difference everyday, around the country and around
    the world, protecting people and the environment. Really this post is usefull for us.

    1. Frank,

      Thank you for your compliments, Frank, and for your thoughts on careers in NRC. I could not find you in the NRC online directory, and you did not give readers information on how to apply to NRC if they are interested, so I am following up on your note.

      I would agree that NRC is a great place for people who are committed to helping assure safety in the nuclear industry. As my bio shows, a substantial portion of my own career was at NRC, in a variety of positions, so I can personally attest to the fact that it was a great place to work, and that I felt I played a small, but significant, role in protecting people and the environment. NRC's official role is really focused on U.S. nuclear facilities, but the NRC has attained a reputation internationally as the “gold standard,” so the decisions NRC makes do have implications around the world.

      For anyone who is interested, I would suggest NRC’s web page on Career Opportunities: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/employment.html.

      Thanks for writing,

      Gail Marcus