Licensing Process for New Reactor Operators

Before the NRC licenses an individual to operate or supervise the controls of a new commercial nuclear power reactor, the applicant must complete extensive training and pass rigorous examinations. Once licensed, operators and senior operators must comply with a number of requirements to maintain and renew their licenses. For more details see the following.

New Reactor Operator Licensing

Cold license examinations are administered before completion of pre-operational and initial startup testing at new reactors. Difficulties with this process include conducting systems training prior to construction of the systems, conducting reactivity manipulations without a plant or plant-referenced simulator, and meeting operator experience guidance found in ANSI/ANS-3.1-1993, "Selection, Qualification, and Training of Personnel for Nuclear Power Plants." The cold licensing process should follow current operator licensing guidance for operating plants with additional guidance in the areas of experience requirements, training program implementation, job performance measurements (JPM) and on-shift on the job training (OJT) during construction, simulator training using a limited-scope simulator, continuing training for license candidates, and licensing examinations.

The industry is in the process of providing additional information pertaining to new plant experience requirements, simulator training for new plants, and cold licensing of operators, to the NRC. The industry is also preparing an operator licensing supplement to NEI 06-13, A Template for an Industry Training Program, for NRC review.

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Guidance Document Revisions

Existing regulatory guidance addresses the training and qualification needs of licensed operator candidates for operating reactors but does not address the situation in which the plant is not operational (i.e., under construction). In addition, regulatory guidance related to the cold licensing of operators needs to be developed so that clear, appropriate, and achievable training commitments can be documented for each new reactor.

Changes to NUREG 1122, "Knowledge and Abilities Catalog for Nuclear Power Plant Operators: Pressurized Water Reactors and NUREG 1123, "Knowledge and Abilities Catalog for Nuclear Power Plant Operators: Boiling Water Reactors (KA catalogs) may be necessary after completion of the new reactor job analyses. Sections that may require changes include plant systems, emergency plant evolutions, and abnormal plant evolutions. The generic KAs would probably not need to be changed. The generic fundamentals portion of the KA catalog is about 97% applicable to new reactors, needing primarily adjustment in the components area for digital controls.

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Process for New Operator Licenses

NRC's four regional offices are responsible for issuing licenses for operators and senior operators of commercial nuclear power plants in accordance with NRC's regulations for "Operators' Licenses" (10 CFR Part 55) and (NRC Form 398). An applicant sends or delivers a completed application (NRC Form 398) to the Regional Administrator having jurisdiction over the plant at which the applicant hopes to work.

A completed application (10 CFR 55.31) describes the applicant's qualifications and requires the facility licensee for which the applicant will work to certify that the applicant has satisfied the facility licensee's training and experience requirements to be a licensed operator or senior operator. Applicants must also undergo a physical examination (10 CFR 55.21) and be certified (NRC Form 396) physically and mentally fit to be an operator.

If the NRC determines that the applicant's qualifications and physical condition are acceptable (10 CFR 55.33), the applicant will be scheduled to take the NRC licensing examination. The examination process begins with a 50-question, multiple-choice written exam covering reactor theory, thermodynamics, and mechanical components; this Generic Fundamentals Examination (GFE) is actually administered early in the applicants' training program and is a prerequisite for taking the site-specific examination. The site-specific examination for reactor operators (10 CFR 55.41) consists of 75 multiple-choice written questions and an NRC-administered operating test (10 CFR 55.45) that includes a plant walk-through and a performance demonstration on the facility licensee's power plant simulator. Individuals who apply for a senior operator's license must pass an additional 25-question written examination (10 CFR 55.43) and a more rigorous operating test. The examinations may be prepared by the facility licensee and approved by the NRC, or the facility licensee may request the NRC to prepare the examinations (10 CFR 55.40). In either case, the examinations are prepared and administered using the guidance in the Operator Licensing Examination Standards for Power Reactors (NUREG-1021).

If the applicant passes both the written examinations and the operating test, the responsible NRC regional office will issue a license (10 CFR 55.51) in a form and containing any conditions it considers appropriate and necessary. The license is only valid to operate the facility for which the applicant applied, and it expires 6 years after the date of issuance or upon termination of employment with the facility licensee or other conditions specified in the regulation (10 CFR 55.55).

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Operator License Application Forms

NRC Form 398, "Personal Qualification Statement - Licensee," (i.e., the license application), and NRC Form 396, "Certification of Medical Examination by Facility Licensee,"are available in portable document format (pdf). If you have Version 5.0 or newer of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can view or print the blank form, or you can complete the form and then print it for your use. If you have the full Adobe Acrobat program - not just the free Reader - you can also save the completed form as a new file. Beginning on January 1, 2004, you will be able to submit the applications to the NRC in electronic format; refer to the Electronic Information Exchange web site for more information.

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Operator License Conditions

Each license is subject to a number of conditions (10 CFR 55.53) whether or not they are stated in the license. See the following examples.

  • Licensed operators and senior operators are required to observe all applicable rules, regulations, and orders of the Commission (10 CFR 55.53(d)).
  • Licensed operators and senior operators are required to maintain their proficiency (10 CFR 55.53(e) and (f)) and to complete their facility licensee's requalification training and examination program (10 CFR 55.53(h)) as described in 10 CFR 55.59.
  • Licensed operators and senior operators must have a medical examination by a physician every 2 years (10 CFR 55.21). If, during the term of the license, an operator or senior operator develops a permanent physical or mental condition (10 CFR 55.25) that may adversely affect the performance of their duties, the facility licensee must notify the Commission within 30 days of learning of the diagnosis. When appropriate, the NRC may issue a conditional license in accordance with the requirements in 10 CFR 55.33(b).
  • Licensed operators and senior operators are prohibited from using, possessing, or selling illegal drugs (10 CFR 55.53(j)) and from performing licensed duties while under the influence of alcohol or any prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal substance that could adversely affect their performance. They are also required to participate in their facility licensee's drug and alcohol testing programs (10 CFR 55.53(k)) established pursuant to 10 CFR 26.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, December 13, 2021