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How Did the License Renewal Process Develop?

In 1982, the NRC established a program for Nuclear Plant Aging Research (NPAR). The program concluded that many aging phenomena are manageable and should not preclude license renewal for nuclear power reactors.

The NRC issued a license renewal (LR) rule in 1995, focusing on managing the adverse affects of aging. The safety requirements for license renewal were codified in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 10 CFR Part 54.

The NRC later developed guidance documents for the implementation of the reactor license renewal rule, including the Generic Aging Lessons Learned (GALL) report (NUREG-1801), the Standard Review Plan for license renewal (NUREG-1800) and Regulatory Guide (RG 1.188). In 2017, the NRC developed guidance documents specifically for subsequent license renewal, which is still based on the reactor license renewal rule, 10 CFR Part 54, including Generic Aging Lessons Learned for Subsequent License Renewal (GALL-SLR) Report (NUREG-2191) and Standard Review Plan for Review of Subsequent License Renewal Applications for Nuclear Power Plants (NUREG-2192). These guidance documents recommend safety standards for aging management programs and an acceptable format for the renewal application.

In 1996 the NRC issued an amended rule regarding the environmental protection requirements for license renewal, 10 CFR Part 51. In 2000, the NRC issued supplements to the Regulatory Guide (RG 4.2) and the Standard Review Plan (NUREG-1555) providing further guidance to the NRC staff and the public reviewing environmental portions of the renewal applications. The NRC revised the environmental protection requirements for license renewal, 10 CFR Part 51, and issued updated Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants—Final Report (NUREG-1437, Revision 1) and Standard Review PlansNUREG-1555, Revision 1 for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants: Environmental Standard Review Plan (NUREG-1555, Revision 1). Regulatory Guide 4.2, Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Stations, was updated in 2018.

As the NRC gains experience from current and future reviews it also expects to update this guidance to further improve the process.

License Renewal Rule

For more information on license renewal, including the status of the current reviews, please visit the Reactor License Renewal Web page.

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What Is a Safety Review?

The NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation reviews the operator's renewal application and supporting documentation. The review results in a safety evaluation report that is made available for public review. Teams of specialized reviewers travel to the reactor site to verify that the aging management plan has been or is ready to be implemented.

The operator must show that the effects of aging will not adversely affect any reactor structures and components during the renewal period. These structures and components include components such as the reactor vessel, containment structure, and steam generators.

For some reactor structures and components, additional action may not be needed when an operator can demonstrate that it already has programs that will assure safe operation of the plant throughout the period of extended operation.

If additional aging management activities are needed, the applicant may be required to establish new monitoring programs, increase inspections, or revise design criteria.

When the plant was designed, certain assumptions were made about the length of time the plant would be operated. During the renewal process, the operator must also confirm whether these design assumptions will continue to be valid throughout the period of extended operation or that aging effects will be adequately managed.

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What Are the Requirements for an Environmental Review?

The NRC also has responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which calls for a review of the environmental impact of reactor license renewal. Alongside its review of aging mechanisms, the NRC must investigate the environmental issues related to the extension of the reactor's operating license.

Certain issues were evaluated generically for all plants. The generic evaluation, NUREG-1437, "Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants" (GEIS), assessed the scope and impact of environmental effects that would be associated with license renewal at any nuclear power plant site.

A site-specific supplement to the GEIS is required for reactor license renewal. The staff holds public "scoping" to get input from the public, local officials and other federal entities on any additional environmental issues and information they believe should be included in the NRC's assessment of the environmental impact. The NRC then determines whether the environmental impacts should preclude renewal.

The NRC recommendation is published for public comment as a draft environmental impact statement and may be discussed at a second public meeting, if there is sufficient public interest. After consideration of comments on the draft, the NRC prepares and publishes a final plant-specific supplement to the GEIS.

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Why 40 Years?

U.S. nuclear power plants are licensed to operate for 40 years as specified by Congress in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The law was modeled on the Communications Act of 1934 in which radio stations were licensed to operate for several years and then allowed to renew their licenses as long as they continued to meet their charters. The Atomic Energy Act likewise allowed for nuclear power plants to renew their licenses. Congress selected 40 years for nuclear power plant licenses because that was the time over which electric power plants typically were paid off in customer rates. The 40-year license term was not based on safety, technical, or environmental factors.

The plants can reapply after 20 years of operation. Superseding licenses are issued for the remaining term plus up to a 20 year extension. Renewal is voluntary. The decision is primarily economical and whether the licensee can continue to meet NRC requirements. There is no limit on the number of renewals.

Note: The license renewal rule was founded on the NPAR program. That program concluded that there are no technical limits to plant life. So as long as there are effective inspection and maintenance practices, the plant life is simply limited by economics -- the cost of repair or replacement of any components that don’t meet specified acceptance criteria.

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The Principles of License Renewal

License renewal in the United States relies on two key principles.

The first principle is that our regulatory process is adequate to ensure the safety of the operating plants.

To support the development of the LR rule, NRC performed an analysis of the current regulatory process (documented in NUREG-1412) to determine what level of review was needed to renew a license. The conclusion NRC reached was that, with the exception of aging unique to license renewal, the current mix of regulatory requirements provided reasonable assurance that the continued operation of the plants would not adversely affect public health and safety to the end of the renewal period. Therefore, NRC concluded that it was unnecessary to re-review an operating plant’s licensing basis, except for age-related degradation unique to license renewal at the time of license renewal.

This forms the basis for the second principle which is that the current licensing basis (CLB) is adequate and carries forward into period of extended operation. This means that the CLB must be maintained throughout the renewal period, in part through a program of age-degradation management for systems, structures, and components that are important for license renewal.

It is important to note that NRC relies on the current regulatory process to handle any new plant issues that impact the current operation of plants and they carry forward.

Note: CLB is the set of NRC requirements applicable to the plant and the licensee’s written commitments, including all modifications and additions to the commitments over the life of the current license.

License renewal

  • Is voluntary
  • Is not a re-review
  • Plants are not required to meet latest standards
  • There is no reduction in requirements

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The Steps in License Renewal

These are the general steps that the NRC covers in its review of a license renewal application.

  1. The license renewal requirements for safety were established in 1995 in Commission Regulations 10 CFR Part 54.
  2. NRC’s most important goal is to maintain safety -- NRC's licensing decision is based largely on our safety evaluation of the utility’s license renewal application.
  3. For license renewal, NRC's safety goal is achieved by focusing on the effectiveness of managing aging effects for passive, long-lived components. For active components, existing programs, such as the maintenance rule and performance and condition monitoring programs, provide an effective means to monitor equipment reliability. NRC determined that the review of active components for license renewal was not necessary because functional degradation due to aging is more readily detectable by these existing programs.
  4. Thus, license renewal focuses on passive components where aging effects on functionality are typically revealed over longer time periods. Short-lived components are replaced as part of routine maintenance.
  5. NRC document its safety review in a published safety evaluation report.
  6. NRC also perform license renewal inspections that consist of inspections to sample the process used by the utility to identify the structures and components requiring review (conducted only during initial license renewal) and an aging management inspection to verify that aging management is being implemented consistent with the application and the staff's safety evaluation report. The NRC has also incorporated the inspection of aging management programs into the baseline inspections.
  7. The license renewal application and the staff's safety evaluation report are reviewed by the independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. The Committee offers a recommendation to the Commission.
  8. The second regulation addresses environmental impacts. NRC’s requirements contained in Part 51 provide for a more efficient review (GEIS). The process fulfills the NRC’s responsibility to the National Environmental Policy Act with a review to assess the impacts on the environment of renewing the license.
  9. In the United States, an opportunity is provided for members of the public to petition for a formal hearing to address specific issues related to plant safety or environmental impacts. If a hearing is conducted, the outcome is provided to the Commission for its consideration in making a decision on renewing the license.
  10. Following the completion of these activities, an agency decision on whether or not to extend the license of the plant will be made.

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The License Renewal Process

The flow chart illustrates the parallel processes of the safety and environmental reviews and the interrelationships with the inspection, ACRS, and hearing process.

The renewal process is conducted in two parallel paths, starting from the bottom:

  1. The environmental review, when much of the public opportunity for comment occurs;
  2. The safety review, which includes the opportunity for public comment when the ACRS holds its meetings to review the staff’s safety evaluation report. There are also inspection activities, which consist of two team inspections to sample the scoping process and aging management programs, and a third optional inspection to cover any other areas the Regional Administrator considers appropriate before making a recommendation to the Commission.

In addition, when the application is submitted, there is an opportunity for individuals or groups to petition for a hearing to address specific issues related to either plant safety or environmental impacts. If granted, a hearing is held and the Licensing Board’s decision is presented to the Commission, along with the inspection results, the safety evaluation, and the environmental impact statement.

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License renewal in the United States has been successful because of good project planning. The important features of that planning are an aggressive schedule to complete the process, including the conduct of any hearing, a focus on effective communications, and vigilant efforts to achieve public confidence in the process.

For planning purposes, NRC estimates that the review of a license renewal application will take 18 months if no hearing is granted. If a hearing is granted, the review schedule will be based on the hearing schedule. As a result, it is very important for NRC to get as much advance warning as possible from applicants so we can plan on having enough resources to complete their review according to the schedule. See NRC Regulatory Issue Summary 2003-02.

Of particular note, to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our process, NRC has improved the way we conduct reviews with in-office audits and streamlined the on-site audits. The purpose of the improved process is to help NRC review multiple applications at the same time within the established schedule.

A detailed timeline of the license renewal process is contained in the Fact Sheet on Reactor License Renewal.

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Roles and Responsibilities

License Renewal Project Manager (Safety)

  • Coordinates activities associated with license renewal safety reviews, audits, and site inspections.
  • Coordinates communications among the technical branches and the applicant.
  • Coordinates with environmental section, ensuring public scoping meeting held.
  • Prepares work requests through established work flow process for safety evaluation inputs from the technical staff.
  • Assembles the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) including the staff evaluations from the technical branches' input, and coordinates resolution of issues relating to the safety review.
  • Ensures that regulatory bases for granting a renewed license are clearly articulated in the SER.
  • Coordinates the participation of NRC staff when presenting the safety review to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS).
  • Prepares the renewed license, if approved.

License Renewal Project Manager (Environmental)

  • Coordinates activities associated with license renewal environmental reviews.
  • Coordinates communications among the NRC technical branches, regions, and contractors; Federal, State, local and Tribal officials; and the applicant.
  • Prepares work requests through established work flow process for environmental impact statements inputs from the staff (severe accident mitigation alternatives are reviewed by the Probabilistic Safety Assessment Branch with contract assistance).
  • Directs and monitors contractor efforts and costs, if used.
  • Leads NRC/contractor team in conduct of environmental site audit.
  • Coordinates and makes NRC presentation at environmental scoping meeting and draft environmental impact statement public meeting, if held.
  • Prepares and issues the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement with assistance from contractor team and other members of Environmental section.

Technical Branches

  • Perform safety reviews, prepare Requests for Additional Information (RAIs) as needed, and prepare input for SERs consistent with license renewal guidance documents and negotiated work plans.
  • Perform scoping and screening audits.
  • Review the UFSAR supplement and technical specification changes.
  • Ensure that the technical bases for staff conclusions are clearly articulated in the SERs.


  • Prepare plant-specific inspection plans for each LRA for initial license renewal.
  • Perform inspections of licensee renewal programs and activities consistent with inspection guidance documents for initial license renewal.
  • Provide Regional Administrator recommendation letter for initial license renewal.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, August 28, 2020