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.

Projected End Date for Indian Point Plant Comes into Clearer Focus

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

April 30th will mark a decade since Entergy submitted a license renewal application to the NRC for the Indian Point nuclear power plant. During the intervening years, thorough NRC staff reviews and a complex hearing on the proposal by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the quasi-judicial arm of the NRC, have moved steadily forward.

indianpointBut then came an announcement on Jan. 9 by Entergy, the plant’s owner, and New York state. Under an agreement reached between the two parties, Indian Point Unit 2 would permanently shut down by April 30, 2020, and Indian Point Unit 3 by April 30, 2021. (Indian Point Unit 1 ceased operations in 1974).

This represents an earlier retirement of the reactors than proposed in the company’s license renewal application, which sought an extension of Unit 2’s operating license to April 2033 and Unit 3’s to April 2035.

Entergy cited the low cost of natural gas and rising operating costs as primary factors in its decision. The company said it would instead pursue a license renewal for Unit 2 to 2024 and for Unit 3 to 2025 to allow operation until then in the event the plant’s power output is still needed.

Company officials offered assurances that there would be continued adherence to safety requirements for the remainder of the plant’s operational life. NRC inspectors will be on hand to independently verify that all safety commitments are being met.

The NRC has three full-time Resident Inspectors assigned to Indian Point. We also send specialist inspectors to the facility to assess such areas as security, radiation safety and reactor operator training.

Agency staff will also have to complete their license renewal reviews and the hearing process will have to be brought to a conclusion. With respect to the latter, a motion to withdraw the remaining contentions in the hearing process is expected today.

It will be essential for Indian Point employees to maintain a strong focus on safety no matter the plant’s eventual end date. It will be incumbent upon the NRC to ensure that is occurring.