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

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

12 thoughts on “Renewing Licenses for Nuclear Power Plants”

  1. Nuke Power Plant Life Extensions
    Three-quarters of all US nuclear plants have applied for and subsequently received life extensions from the NRC. The NRC has only denied those life extensions which have not been requested by the nuclear industry. Now most aging nukes can operate 60 years instead of 40 years. There is talk now in the industry of extending those lives to 80 years, called “life after 60”.
    The NRC, though, did require applicants for these life extensions to identify safety improvements at their plants. The NRC wanted the industry to take every reasonable step to lower nuclear plant risks if these plants were to be operated beyond their original design life. But look what happened.
    Plant owners seeking license renewal identified numerous cost-beneficial safety updates by performing so-called Severe Accident Mitigating Alternative (SAMA) evaluations. Incredibly, the NRC did not require that owners implement these risk-reducing measures.
    Furthermore, the NRC does not even currently require that plant owners pursuing subsequent license renewal go through the charade of using SAMA evaluations to identify risk-reducing measures that don’t have to be taken.
    Our NRC is falling down on its purported sole mission of protecting the health and safety of the public. This is just one of the examples.

  2. The older the nuclear power plant, the more spent fuel rods piled up. That means that these 40+ year old nuclear power plants have a LOT more radiation involved than younger ones. And those spent fuel rods are sitting in water. With several nuclear power plants located on major fault lines in the U.S., is the NRC aware that it is just a matter of time before another Fukushima happens here?
    NRC, why have you turned a blind eye on all those spent fuel rods that are associated with these aging nuclear power plants. Why is that issue not addressed? They should have been placed in permanent storage all these years and instead, are sitting in storage with much, much more radiation than we care to know about – those storage facilities for the spent fuel rod were only intended to store them for a few years and not for 20 more years.
    A response will be appreciated.

  3. @ anonymous AKA Kevin Muggleston, senior consultant
    Don’t you think it is a little disingenuous calling the AP report a hack job, then putting the NEI forward as an unbiased(or “correct”) source? That reeks of the pot calling the kettle black to me.

    The investigation for the AP report began well before the nuclear industry blessed us with the catastrophe at Fukushima. It found among other things that when a plant can no longer meet the historically accepted safety regulations the NRC simply relaxes the regulations until the plant can pass. I can cite examples if you wish. This is similar to what happened in Japan, school children could no longer go to school without exceeding the previous “safe” radiation limit, so the government simply raised what was deemed “safe” ,problem solved.
    The NEI is a blatant pro-nuclear energy front group. They barely even try to deny this. They are against any safety improvements that will cost their corporate paymasters any money. To put them forward as a reliable source is insulting to the intelligence of the people who actually pay attention to this issue.
    Case in point, there was a petition filed with the NRC this year, PRM-50-96, that would have made the nuclear industry implement technology to cool their spent fuel pools in the event of long term damage to the US electrical grid. That it is possible for the grid to be destroyed for years is not debatable. But if anyone wishes to contradict this statement feel free, however realize that I can document what I say, can you? The fixes that would have prevented spent fuel fires a numerous nuclear plant simultaneously are available now and are low cost as far as a corporation is concerned. The NRC received 97 comments on this petition from nuclear industry workers, members of the public living in the kill zone of US plants, and citizens of other countries that would be affected if there was a melt down at a US plant. OF THE 97 COMMENTS 96 WERE POSITIVE, CAN YOU GUESS WHERE THE NEGATIVE COMMENT CAME FROM, THAT’S RIGHT IT CAME FROM THE CORPORATE FRONT GROUP KNOWN AS THE NEI.

    So now members of the public let’s see what the NRC will do. Will it address the serious danger of long-term black out and all the positive comments by citizens and stakeholders or will it follow the advice of the corporate front group known as the NEI. Is the NRC a “captured” agency that is controlled by the industry it is suppose to regulate or does it really serve the “people”? The proof will be in the pudding as they say. We are waiting NRC what say you about the petition PRM-50-96? Will you do what is best for the people or the corporations?

  4. So the NRC spends over 16 hours per day in inspection efforts, 365 days per year, per reactor?

  5. If you have been involved in reactor license renewal for any length of time, you would know that there has been significant research into how brittle reactor vessel materials become over time. For an accurate review of the AP hatchet piece you reference as if it was a scientific study, see the NEI website.

    Kevin Muggleston
    Senior Consultant

  6. On average, the NRC spends more than 6,000 hours of inspection effort at each operating reactor site per year.

  7. It’s comforting to see that there is a good amount of regulation involved in the re-licensing process of these plants. I am curious though…how often are these plants inspected by safety officials once they are licensed?

  8. undoubtedly the key issue is the supervision of the plants at all times, beyond having to renew your license eventually.

  9. The NRC is simply “rubber-stamping” 20-year license extensions without any rigorous inspection activity to determine exactly how brittle nuclear reactor vessels have become after 40-years of neutron bombardment. The agency is recklessly endangering public health and safety with this unwarranted nuclear experiment. A recent investigation by Associated Press found that nuclear reactors were only designed to operate safely for a 40-year time period. Thus, the NRC’s assertion otherwise is simply disingenuous and not true.

    Thomas Saporito
    Senior Consultant

  10. Historical meteorlogical data used by a nuclear power plant to compute radiation doses is archaic in a climate changing environment particularly when empirical on going data is available or can be required to be available.

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