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.

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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.


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:

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 December 2010. 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.

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 the potential 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 environmental 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. Specifically, Table B-1, "Summary of Findings on NEPA Issues for License Renewal of Nuclear Power Plants," in Appendix B to Subpart A of the 10 CFR Part 51 codifies the NRC's list of NEPA issues to be considered for license renewal. The environmental protection regulations in 10 CFR Part 51 were revised on June 20, 2013, to redefine the number and scope of the environmental impact issues that must be addressed by the NRC during license renewal environmental reviews and to codify the findings documented in the 2013 Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (NUREG-1437, Revision 1).


Generic Environmental Impact Statement

The 2013 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 establishes generic findings covering as many nuclear power 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 2013 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 2013 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. Further, the 2013 GEIS incorporates lessons learned and knowledge gained from license renewal environmental reviews conducted by the NRC since issuance of the 1996 GEIS. The use of a GEIS allows the applicant and the NRC staff to concentrate on those environmental issues that have potential 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 potential impacts associated with the issue using site-specific information. Where adverse impacts are identified, 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 and focus of the environmental review process for licensees and the NRC.


Scoping Process

At the start of an environmental review, a scoping process is conducted to define the proposed action, to determine the scope of an EIS, and to identify any 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 issued for public comment and a public meeting is then held to discuss the NRC's 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.


Regulatory Guidance and Standard Review Plan for License Renewal

In July 2009, the NRC issued a revised draft Regulatory Guide (RG) 4.2, Supplement (S)1, Revision 1 (DG-4015), "Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal Applications" for public review and comment. The document provides guidance to applicants for the preparation of environmental reports, which are required to be submitted as part of an application for the renewal of a nuclear power plant operating license. After considering comments from various stakeholders including industry, regulatory agencies, and the general public; changes in the regulatory process; and the experience gained from license renewal applications since 1996, the NRC issued the updated RG 4.2, S1, Revision 1 in June 2013, replacing DG-4015.


The companion environmental review plan was also updated and issued as a draft by the NRC in July 2009, NUREG-1555, Supplement 1, Revision 1 "Standard Review Plans for Environmental Reviews for Nuclear Power Plants, Supplement 1: Operating License Renewal" (ESRP). The ESRP consists of a series of instructions developed for the use of the NRC staff in conducting environmental reviews for the renewal of nuclear power plant operating licenses and preparing plant-specific supplemental environmental impact statements to the GEIS. After considering public comments, the final version of NUREG-1555, Supplement 1, Revision 1 was published June 2013.

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.


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, one operating reactor (Indian Point Nuclear Generating Unit No. 2) has entered “timely renewal.” The current operating license for Indian Point 2 was set to expire at midnight on September 28, 2013.  Because the licensee filed a timely and sufficient application, Indian Point 2 will continue to operate under its current license until the NRC makes a final determination on the license renewal application.  Indian Point Nuclear Generating Unit No. 3 is set to expire December 12, 2015.

For further information, please refer to the Indian Point 2 and 3 License Renewal web 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."

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, November 10, 2020