United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Reactor License Renewal Process

The license renewal process requires that both a technical review of safety issues and an environmental review be performed for each application. NRC regulations, 10 CFR Part 51 and 10 CFR Part 54, contain the requirements for these reviews and various other publications provide general process guidance to both the applicant and the reviewer.

On this page:

License Renewal Principles

The license renewal process and application requirements for commercial power reactors are based on two key principles:

  1. The regulatory process, continued into the extended period of operation, is adequate to ensure that the current licensing basis of all currently operating plants provides an acceptable level of safety, with the possible exception of the detrimental effects of aging on certain systems, structures, and components, and possibly a few other issues related to safety only during the period of extended operation, and

  2. Each plant's current licensing basis is required to be maintained during the renewal term.

To top of page


Before submission of a renewal application, an applicant should have analyzed the management of aging effects in sufficient detail to conclude that the plant can be operated safely during the period of extended operation. The renewal application is the principal document in which the applicant provides the information needed to understand the basis upon which this conclusion has been reached.

The license renewal application includes general information and technical information in compliance with 10 CFR Part 54. The license renewal application must contain technical information and evaluations about the different types of plant aging that might be encountered in the specific plant and how the licensee will manage or mitigate those aging effects. This information must be sufficiently detailed to permit the NRC staff to determine whether the effects of aging will be managed such that the plant can be operated during the period of extended operation without undue risk to health and safety of the public. The NRC staff performs a safety review of the information provided in the application, requesting additional information from the applicant as necessary, and draws conclusions about whether the plant can be operated during the period of extended operation without undue risk to health and safety of the public.

The general information contained in the license renewal application is much the same as that provided with the initial operating license application. For more information, please refer to 10 CFR 54.17 and 54.19.

The Commission's regulations at 10 CFR 54.21 require that each application for a renewal license for a nuclear plant include information related to the following:

To top of page

Technical Information (10 CFR 54.21)

The applicant has to provide the NRC an evaluation that addresses the technical aspects of plant aging and describes the ways those effects will be managed over the life of the nuclear plant (see 10 CFR 54.21 for more information). This includes the following information:

To top of page

Integrated Plant Assessment

An Integrated Plant Assessment identifies and lists structures and components subject to an aging management review (AMR). These include "passive" structures and components that perform their intended function without moving parts or without a change in configuration or properties. These include such components as the reactor vessel, the steam generators, piping, component supports, seismic Category I structures, etc. To be in scope, the item must also be "long-lived" to be considered during the license renewal process. Long-lived means the item is not subject to replacement based on a qualified life or specified time period.

To top of page

Current Licensing Basis

Current Licensing Basis (CLB) changes during NRC review of the application. Each year following submittal of the license renewal application and at least three months before scheduled completion of the NRC review, an amendment to the renewal application must be submitted that identifies any change to the CLB of the facility that materially affects the contents of the license renewal application, including the Final Safety Analysis Report supplement.

To top of page

Time Limited Aging Analyses

An evaluation of Time Limited Aging Analyses (TLAAs), which are calculations or analyses that involve systems, structures, and components within scope of the rule, consider the effects of aging and involve assumptions based on the original 40-year operating term. For license renewal, TLAAs must be (a) verified to bound the renewal period; (b) reanalyzed (recalculated) to determine if it will bound the renewal period; or (c) the applicant must show that the aging effects encompassed by the calculation will be managed.

To top of page

Final Safety Analysis Report

A supplement to the Final Safety Analysis Report, which provides a summary description of the programs and activities for managing the effects of aging and evaluation of TLAAs for the period of extended operation.

To top of page

Technical Specifications (10 CFR 54.22)

Technical specification changes or additions, with justification, necessary to manage the effects of aging during the period of extended operation must be included in the license renewal application. See 10 CFR 54.22 for more information.

To top of page

Standard Review Plan, Generic Aging Lessons Learned (GALL) Report and Regulatory Guide

The NRC issued Regulatory Guide 1.188, "Standard Format and Content for Applications To Renew Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licenses"; a Standard Review Plan for License Renewal (SRP-LR), "Standard Review Plan for the Review of License Renewal Applications for Nuclear Power Plants"; and a Generic Aging Lessons Learned (GALL) report July 2001. These documents describe methods acceptable to the NRC staff for implementing the license renewal rule (10 CFR Part 54), as well as techniques used by the NRC staff in evaluating applications for license renewals.

Regulatory Guide (RG) 1.188 was issued as part of the implementation of the license renewal rule. This regulatory guide was developed to provide a uniform format and content acceptable to the staff for structuring and presenting the information to be compiled and submitted in an application for renewal of a nuclear power plant operating license. RG 1.188 endorses Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) guidance document NEI 95-10, "Industry Guideline for Implementing the Requirements of 10 CFR Part 54 -- The License Renewal Rule," Revision 3, as an acceptable method for complying with the requirements of the license renewal rule. RG 1.188 supersedes Draft Regulatory Guide DG-1104, which was issued for public comment in August 2000.

The SRP-LR, NUREG-1800, has been revised to incorporate information from the GALL report and lessons learned from the staff review of the initial license renewal applications. The SRP-LR provides guidance to the NRC staff for reviewing applications for license renewal. The principal purpose of the SRP-LR is to assure quality and uniformity of staff reviews and to present a well-defined base from which to evaluate applicants programs and activities for the period of extended operation.

The GALL report, NUREG-1801, represents an evaluation that documents which generic existing programs should be augmented for license renewal and which generic programs adequately manage aging effects without change. The GALL report builds on a previous report, NUREG/CR-6490, "Nuclear Power Plant Generic Aging Lessons Learned (GALL)," dated December 1996, which is a systematic compilation of plant aging information. The NRC staff held a public workshop on December 6, 1999, to invite early public participation in the development of license renewal guidance documents. The GALL report is a technical basis document for the SRP-LR. The GALL report should be treated in the same manner as an approved topical report that is applicable generically.

To top of page

Environmental Review

In addition to its mission of protecting public health and safety under the Atomic Energy Act, the NRC is charged with protection of the environment in the use of nuclear materials. Each license renewal applicant must include a supplement to the environmental report that contains an analysis of the plant's impact on the environment if allowed to continue operation beyond the initial license. The NRC performs plant-specific reviews of environmental impacts of operating life extension in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the requirements of 10 CFR Part 51, "Environmental Protection Regulations for Domestic Licensing and Related Regulatory Functions." This review continues on a separate "track" from the safety reviews of the technical information. Environmental requirements for the renewal of power reactor operating licenses are contained in NRC's regulations, 10 CFR Part 51. The environmental protection regulations in 10 CFR Part 51 were revised on December 18, 1996, to improve regulatory efficiency in environmental reviews for license renewal and codify the findings documented in the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (NUREG-1437).

To top of page

Generic Environmental Impact Statement

The Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) examines the possible environmental impacts that could occur as a result of renewing any commercial nuclear power plant license and, to the extent possible, establishes the bounds and significance of these potential impacts. For each type of environmental impact, the GEIS attempts to establish generic findings covering as many plants as possible. While plant- and site-specific information is used in developing an envelope of generic findings, the NRC does not intend for the GEIS to be a compilation of individual plant environmental impact statements. Instead, this report may be incorporated, by an applicant, into a license renewal application environmental report. The GEIS makes maximum use of environmental and safety documentation from original licensing proceedings and information from state and Federal regulatory agencies, the nuclear utility industry, the open literature, operating experience, and professional contacts. It allows the applicant to concentrate on those impacts that must be evaluated on a plant-specific basis. Information provided on the plant-specific issues will either disposition the issue as not applicable or present an analysis of the issue using site-specific information. Mitigation and alternatives to reduce adverse impacts must also be discussed. This approach, the use of a generic environmental impact statement with a plant-specific supplement, improves the efficiency of the licensing process for licensees and the NRC.

To top of page

Scoping Process

A scoping process is conducted to define the proposed action, to determine the scope of the EIS, and to identify the significant issues to be analyzed in depth. A public scoping meeting is held near the nuclear plant seeking license renewal. Based on this process and the staff's independent review, the NRC will issue a preliminary recommendation on the acceptability of a license renewal action with regard to environmental impact. A draft plant-specific supplement to the GEIS is released for public comment and a public meeting is then held to discuss the findings. After comments are addressed, the NRC publishes a final plant-specific supplement to the GEIS and provides a final recommendation regarding the license renewal application to the Commission. Transcripts of environmental scoping meetings and public meeting on the draft supplements related to license renewal are available through the NRC Public Document Room.

To top of page

Standard Review Plan and Regulatory Guide

In 1997, the NRC issued draft NUREG-1555, Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants," (ESRP) for public review and comment. After considering public comments, changes in the regulatory process, and the experience gained from the initial license renewal applications, the NRC issued the updated ESRP in February 2000. The updated ESRP is contained in two documents, NUREG-1555, Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants" and its Supplement 1, for Operating License Renewal. These documents replace the ESRP (NUREG-0555) originally issued in 1978 for construction permit reviews. The companion regulatory guides for the development of Environmental Reports are RG 4.2, "Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Stations" and its Supplement 1, "Preparation of Supplemental Environmental Reports for Applications to Renew Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licenses." The final version of Supplement 1 was published September 2000 and replaces DG-4005.

To top of page

High-Level Waste

Development of complete environmental guidance with regard to license renewal also required consideration of the generic and cumulative impacts of transportation of High-Level Waste (HLW). Since 10 CFR Part 51, Section 51.53 (c)(3)(ii)(M) states, in part, "The review of impacts shall also discuss the generic and cumulative impacts associated with transportation operation in the vicinity of a high-level waste repository site. The candidate site at Yucca Mountain should be used for the purpose of impact analysis as long as that site is under consideration for licensing."

A proposed rule that would reclassify this issue from consideration on a plant-specific basis to a generic basis was issued in February of 1999. The NRC issued the final rule on September 3, 1999, and it became effective October 4, 1999. The analysis contained in NUREG-1437, Volume 1, Addendum 1 provides the technical basis for the rulemaking.

To top of page

Review Time

It is expected that the NRC staff will complete its review of the application within 30 months from receipt if a hearing is required or within 22 months from receipt if no hearing is required. A nuclear power plant licensee may apply for a license renewal as early as 20 years before the expiration of its current license.

To top of page

Timely Renewal

As stated in 10 CFR 2.109(b), if a licensee submits a renewal application that is sufficient for the NRC’s review at least five years before expiration of the existing license, the plant can continue to operate until the application has been finally determined.  This regulation is consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. Subchapter II, Section 558), enacted in 1946, which applies to all federal agencies, to protect licensees who have complied with agency rules in applying for a renewed license from losing valuable rights because of delays in the administrative process.

To date, no NRC-licensed commercial nuclear power plant has entered "timely renewal." However, at midnight on September 28, 2013, Indian Point Nuclear Generating Unit No. 2 is expected to be the first plant to operate beyond its original license expiration date prior to issuance of a renewed license.

For further information, please refer to the Indian Point License Renewal web page.

To top of page

Inspection Program

The license renewal inspection program is implemented before the approval of an application for a renewed license to verify that an applicant, requesting a renewed license under 10 CFR Part 54, meets the requirements of the rule and has implemented license renewal programs and activities consistent with their license renewal application and the NRC's safety evaluation report.

The primary objectives of license renewal inspection activities are to review the documentation, implementation, and effectiveness of the programs and activities associated with an applicant's license renewal program to verify that there is reasonable assurance that the effects of aging will be adequately managed such that the intended function of components and structures within the scope of license renewal will be maintained consistent with the current licensing basis during the period of extended operation.

For further information, please refer to Inspection Procedure 71002, "License Renewal Inspection."

To top of page

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, January 15, 2015