Reactor License Renewal Overview

The Atomic Energy Act and NRC regulations limit commercial power reactor licenses to an initial 40 years but also permit such licenses to be renewed. This original 40-year term for reactor licenses was based on economic and antitrust considerations -- not on limitations of nuclear technology. Due to this selected period, however, some structures and components may have been engineered on the basis of an expected 40-year service life.

The NRC has established a timely license renewal process and clear requirements, codified in 10 CFR Part 51 and 10 CFR Part 54, that are needed to assure safe plant operation for extended plant life. The timely renewal of licenses for an additional 20 years, where appropriate to renew them, may be important to ensuring an adequate energy supply for the United States during the first half of the 21st century.

Nuclear power comprises approximately 20 percent of all the electric power produced in the United States. The first operating license expired in the year 2009; and more than 40 percent expired through 2015. As of February 2018, the NRC has renewed the operating licenses of 89 commercial nuclear reactors. Three of those have since ceased operations, while 47 have entered their extended period of operation. The decision to seek license renewal is strictly voluntary and nuclear power plant owners (i.e., licensees) must decide whether they are likely to satisfy NRC requirements and whether license renewal is a cost-effective venture.

For additional background information on license renewal, see our License Renewal Factsheet and Reactor License Renewal brochure.