The NRC Rulemaking Process

The process of developing regulations is called rulemaking. The NRC initiates a new rule or a change to an existing rule when there is a need to do so to protect the public health and safety. Additionally, any member of the public may petition the NRC to develop, change, or rescind a rule. The Commission directs staff to begin work on a new rulemaking activity through approval of a staff rulemaking plan. Of note, the NRC considers other processes before entering rulemaking (as described in our rulemaking decision guidance tool). If rulemaking has been determined to be the best approach, then the NRC proceeds with rulemaking (as shown in our rulemaking approach tool).

The process is informally divided into two phases—pre-rulemaking and rulemaking—with a goal of maximizing public participation.

A Typical Rulemaking Process Schematic


The pre-rulemaking phase enlists the public in the early stages of rulemaking. The NRC staff tailors this phase to the complexity and potential impact of the rulemaking as well as the needs of licensees and the public. Public views and comments received during pre-rulemaking outreach can influence the agency’s decision on whether to continue a rulemaking. The NRC may hold one or more public meetings as part of its pre-rulemaking outreach.

Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

For especially important or complex rules, the NRC may engage the public at the beginning of the pre-rulemaking phase to define the scope and content of the rule. An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) describes the need for the proposed action but discusses only broad concepts.

Regulatory Basis

A regulatory basis document is an analysis that describes the technical, legal, and policy information that supports changes to the NRC’s regulations. It describes why the current regulation needs to be updated, explains how a change in the regulations will resolve the problem, and discusses other regulatory options to potentially address the problem. It provides a high-level discussion of the costs and benefits of each option and identifies any backfitting and forward fitting considerations. For each rulemaking, the NRC determines whether development of a regulatory basis is necessary based on the regulatory issues involved. If development of a regulatory basis is warranted, it is generally published for public comment. Any comments received on the regulatory basis or other means of early stakeholder engagement are considered in the development of the proposed rule.

Preliminary Proposed Rule Language

The agency will sometimes issue preliminary proposed rule language to provide the public opportunity to comment on the NRC staff’s proposal and to prepare for detailed discussions during a public meeting.


Proposed Rule

NRC regulations (rules) provide licensees with requirements that, if met, will result in adequate protection of workers, the public, and the environment. The impetus for a proposed rule could be a direction from the Commission to the NRC staff or a petition for rulemaking submitted by a member of the public.

In this phase, the NRC staff drafts the actual regulation. Each proposed rule involving significant matters of policy is sent to the NRC Commission for approval. Less significant rules may, with Commission approval, be signed by an NRC staff manager. If approved, the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register and usually contains the following items: (1) the background information about the proposed rule, (2) an address for submitting comments, (3) the date by which comments must be submitted to ensure consideration by the NRC, (4) an explanation indicating why the rule change is thought to be needed, and (5) the proposed text to be changed. Usually, the public is given 30 to 90 days to provide written comments. Not all rules are issued for public comment.

Generally, the agency does not collect comments on rules that concern agency organization, procedure, or practice; are interpretive rules (e.g., guidance interpreting current regulations); or rules for which delaying their publication to receive comments would be contrary to the public interest and not practical. (See Section 553, "Rulemaking" of the Administrative Procedures Act.)

Final Rule

Once the public comment period has closed for the proposed rule, the staff analyzes the comments, makes any needed changes, and prepares a final rule for approval by the Commission or delegated NRC manager. Once approved, the final rule is published in the Federal Register and usually becomes effective 30 days later.

Direct Final Rule

When appropriate, the NRC can shorten the traditional rulemaking process by using a 'direct final' rulemaking process. This process is only used for regulatory changes that the NRC believes are noncontroversial.

In a direct final rule, a companion proposed rule is published at the same time as the direct final rule. If there are no significant and adverse comments on the proposed rule, the direct final rule becomes effective. If there are significant and adverse comments, the direct final rule is withdrawn and the rulemaking proceeds with the preparation of a typical final rule addressing public comment.

For more information, see Direct Final Rule.

Rulemaking Information

The public can access a centralized, web-based tracking and reporting system, which provides near-real-time updates on all NRC rulemaking activities.

For more information, see Planned Rulemaking Activities.