Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, United States

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, United States

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) is an independent agency of the federal government charged with overseeing the disposition of defense nuclear materials controlled by the Department of Energy (DOE). Created by Congress in 1988, DNFSB as of 2003 consisted of three members responsible for advising, and providing recommendations to, the secretary of energy.

Today there are a dozen DOE defense nuclear sites around the nation, including facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. From the time of the development of nuclear weapons by the United States in World War II until the 1980s, the operation of these facilities had taken place without benefit of external over-sight, a situation that continued even as DOE replaced the old Atomic Energy Commission in the 1970s. By the late 1980s, public health and safety concerns raised by the accumulation of hazardous materials at the increasingly aged facilities of the defense nuclear complex prompted action on the part of Congress. The latter in 1988 passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which established DNFSB.

Activities and powers of DNFSB. An independent agency within the executive branch of government, DNFSB provides oversight with regard to all activities within DOE's nuclear weapons complex that affect, or potentially affect, public safety. Up until the end of the cold war, the nuclear weapons complex was concerned with designing and testing weapons, and with maintaining the nation's nuclear arsenal. With the end of the cold war, and hence of the arms race it spawned, the mission of the nuclear weapons complex changed. Thenceforth, its resources were committed to cleaning up contaminated sites, dismantling nuclear weapons, storing and disposing of excess materials, and maintaining the now-reduced nuclear stockpile.

To ensure that these activities are undertaken with the strictest concern for public health and safety, DNFSB continually reviews and evaluates activities at defense nuclear facilities. The board then makes recommendations to the secretary of energy regarding specific measures it deems necessary to protect the public. DNFSB also reviews, and if necessary recommends changes to, designs for new facilities, as well as modifications to old ones. The board also has the power to undertake investigations, issue subpoenas, hold public hearings, gather data, conduct studies, and establish requirements for DOE reporting. DNFSB is in turn required to report to Congress at least once a year.



Nuclear Safety: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's First Year of Operation: Report to Congressional Requesters. Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, 1991.

Plans, Progress, and Experience to Date of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Nuclear Deterrence of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, One Hundred First Congress, Second Session, March 28, 1990. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.


Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. < > (February 22, 2003).


DOE (United States Department of Energy)
Nuclear Power Plants, Security
Nuclear Reactors
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), United States

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