Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector

Sector Overview

From the power reactors that provide electricity to millions of Americans, to the medical isotopes used to treat cancer patients, the Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector covers most aspects of America’s civilian nuclear infrastructure. The Nuclear Sector-Specific Agency within the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for coordinating the security and resilience of the Nuclear Sector.

The Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector includes:

99 Active and 18 Decommissioning Power Reactors in 30 states that generate nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. In the United States, there have been no civilian deaths associated with the operation of a nuclear power plant since the technology’s introduction over 60 years ago, making nuclear power one of the safest forms of energy in the country.

31 Research and Test Reactors located at universities and national labs. These reactors produce medical and industrial isotopes used to treat cancer and perform radiographic services, as well as to conduct academic research across multiple fields, including chemistry, physics, and material science.

8 Active Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities that are responsible for the production and reprocessing of nuclear reactor fuel. These facilities take natural uranium from the ground and enrich it to approximately 5 percent Uranium-235. This enriched uranium is turned into solid Uranium Dioxide fuel pellets for use in nuclear reactors.

More than 20,000 licensed users of radioactive sources. These radioactive sources are used for medical diagnostics and treatment in hospitals, depth measurements at oil and gas drilling sites, sterilization at food production facilities, research in academic institutions, and examining packages and cargo at security checkpoints.

Over 3 million yearly shipments of radioactive materials. Special security measures are taken when radioactive materials are shipped to ensure the safety of the transportation workers, and to prevent theft or sabotage of the radioactive material itself.

The sector is interdependent with other critical infrastructure sectors:

• Chemical Sector – Chemicals are used daily in the production of electricity.
• Emergency Services Sector – The Nuclear Sector’s uniquely hazardous characteristics require trained emergency responders during any incident.
• Energy Sector – Nuclear facilities both supply electricity and depend heavily on uninterrupted power for continuous safe operation.
• Healthcare and Public Health Sector – North America performs about 20 million medical procedures each year using radioactive materials.
• Transportation Systems Sector – Nuclear and radioactive materials are shipped worldwide via air, rail, highway, and water.
• Water and Wastewater Systems Sector – Nuclear power plants use large quantities of water for cooling. Interrupted water supply may require shut down.