Renewing Licenses for Nuclear Power Plants

The NRC issues licenses that allow nuclear power plants to operate for up to 40 years – a time frame originally chosen for economic and antitrust considerations, not technical limitations. The NRC allows plants to continue operation for an additional 20 years beyond the original 40-year period if licensees prove that there are appropriate aging-related programs in place to assure safe operation throughout this period.

Getting a license renewal from the NRC is no small feat for nuclear power plants. The renewal application is reviewed along two tracks: one for safety issues and another for environmental issues. The nuclear power plants must prove they have addressed the technical aspects of plant aging and must also evaluate the potential impact on the environment if the plant operates for another 20 years. The NRC closely reviews the application and conducts multiple inspections to verify what the plant reports.

There are several opportunities for the public to question environmental impacts or how aging will be managed during the additional years of operation. Additionally, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards independently reviews the licensee’s application and the NRC staff’s analyses prior to a final determination on a plant’s license renewal request.

Some are wondering why the NRC is continuing to relicense plants when our own task force hasn’t completed work on all the lessons learned from events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. What’s important to realize is that the NRC will apply the recommendations from this review, as appropriate, for any changes deemed necessary to improve the safety of operating plants, regardless of whether the plants have been issued renewed operating licenses. So issuing a renewed license now does not exempt the plants from any future requirements that may be issued.

And, of course, all nuclear power plants are subject to an ongoing systematic and thorough NRC oversight to ensure nuclear plant equipment continues to meet safety standards – whether the plants are brand new or 40 years old. This constant NRC oversight ensures a plant will operate safely throughout its life.

Brian Holian
Director of License Renewal