Physical Protection

Physical protection (also called physical security) consists of a variety of measures to protect nuclear facilities and material against sabotage, theft, diversion, and other malicious acts. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and its licensees use a graded approach for physical protection, consistent with the significance of the facilities or material to be protected. In so doing, the NRC establishes the regulatory requirements and assesses compliance, and licensees are responsible for providing the protection.

For additional detail regarding the NRC's physical protection requirements, please see the following topics on this page:

Protection of Nuclear Facilities

Nuclear facilities that require physical protection include nuclear reactors, fuel cycle facilities, and spent fuel storage and disposal facilities. Physical protection programs for these facilities include the following key features:

  • Threat Assessment to determine how much physical protection is enough
  • Physical Protection Areas graded to provide defense-in-depth with barriers and controls for the Exclusion Area, Protected Area, Vital Area, and Material Access Area
  • Intrusion Detection to notify the site's security force of a potential intruder
  • Intrusion Alarm Assessment to distinguish between false or nuisance alarms and actual intrusions and to initiate response
  • Armed Response to protect public health and safety and the common defense and security, by defending nuclear material or a nuclear facility against an intrusion or attack
  • Regulatory Initiatives to ensure that the NRC's Domestic Safeguards Regulations, Guidance, and Communications continue to adequately protect the Nation's nuclear facilities and material in a changing threat environment

In addition, local, State, and Federal agencies may provide offsite assistance, as necessary.

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Protection of Nuclear Material in Transit

Transportation of spent nuclear fuel and other high activity shipments require physical protection. Key features of physical protection for transportation include:

  • Use of NRC-certified, structurally rugged, shipment overpacks and canisters. Fuel within canisters is dense and in solid form, not readily dispersible as respirable particles.
  • Advance planning and coordination with local law enforcement along approved routes.
  • Protection of information about schedules.
  • Regular communication between transports and control centers.
  • Armed escorts within heavily populated areas.
  • Vehicle immobility measures to protect against movement of a hijacked shipment before response forces arrive.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, March 11, 2020