Taking a Long-Term View on New Reactor Licenses

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Since 2012, the NRC has licensed 11 new reactors in the United States. The first four of those are under construction, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina.

The other seven? Their licenses are ready to go whenever the companies involved choose to start building them, and here’s why.

These new reactors are authorized through the NRC’s Combined License process. Under this approach the license includes permission to both build a reactor and operate it later, as long as a detailed list of completion requirements are met.

A Combined License includes the same 40-year operating period as the licenses for today’s reactors. Those 40 years start when the NRC concludes the reactor has been built according to its license and can operate safely. The construction portion, on the other hand, is set up without a definitive expiration date.

We base our permission to build the reactor on our review of technical and environmental information the applicant provided. Issuing a license means we found all that information acceptable.

Let’s imagine Company X receives a Combined License and waits 10 years before deciding to start construction. If the original information is still valid, the project could get underway. Most categories of information won’t change in that time. The license includes provisions where the company must account for new information when it decides to start construction.

All of this means that companies with a Combined License can therefore take additional time to consider those issues affecting the business decision to construct or not that fall outside the NRC’s jurisdiction. For example, a state’s utility agencies can create or revise policies on how the state obtains and pays for electricity. Changes in interest rates, prices for other electricity sources and even the makeup of regional electricity markets can affect the company’s overall business case.

Once a company concludes conditions are right for using a Combined License, the utility will give the NRC advance notice of its intent to start construction. The NRC will inspect construction activities and otherwise ensure the company meets relevant requirements for protecting the public.

Five Questions With Michael Weber

Michael Weber is the head of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

  1. How would you briefly describe your role at the NRC?

I lead NRC’s scientists, engineers and administrative professionals in confirming safety and security through research on nuclear power plants and uses of nuclear materials, including transportation and disposal. I also help develop our people, computer codes, standards, and experiments to meet our mission well into the future

  1. What is your foremost responsibility at work?

Keeping our people focused on the nuclear safety and security mission of the agency.

  1. What is your most significant challenge in the workplace

Competition for time and attention. There are many issues that compete for our attention from the urgent to the strategic. With our focus on nuclear safety and security, we seek balance in how we use our resources to accomplish our mission in a manner consistent with our vision as a trusted, independent, transparent and effective regulator.

  1. What do you consider one of your most notable accomplishments at the NRC?

Actually protecting the public and ensuring the security of nuclear facilities and material. It is what we do and why we regulate. Because our regulatory program is highly successful in protecting the public, it can be difficult to see the outcomes that we seek to achieve. However, occasionally when we are responding to real safety or security incidents, we glimpse the benefits of nuclear regulation where the actions that we take or the controls we require prevent theft of radioactive material, avoid significant radioactive contamination following a transportation accident, or reduce radiation doses to workers or members of the public.

  1. What is one quality of the NRC that more people should know?

How talented and dedicated NRC people are throughout the agency. I am honored to be part of such a team working daily to protect the nation and to strengthen nuclear and radiological safety and security around the world.

Five Questions is an occasional series in which we pose the same questions to different NRC staff members.