Subsequent License Renewal Background

The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954, as amended, allows the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to issue licenses for commercial power reactors to operate for up to 40 years. The NRC regulations permit these licenses to be renewed beyond the initial 40-year term for an additional period of time, limited to 20-year increments per renewal. There are no specific limitations in the AEA or the NRC's regulations restricting the number of times a license may be renewed. The decision to grant a renewed license is based on the outcome of an NRC review to assess if the nuclear facility can continue to operate safely during the 20-year period of extended operation. The review is conducted in accordance with both safety (10 CFR Part 54) and environmental (10 CFR Part 51) requirements.

In 1990, the NRC issued a proposed power reactor license renewal rule for public comment that addressed the safety and technical requirements for license renewal (55 FR 29043; July 17, 1990). The NRC staff adopted these regulations (Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) Part 54, "Requirements for Renewal of Operating Licenses for Nuclear Power Plants") and published them in the FR on December 13, 1991, (56 FR 64943). The staff amended the regulations in 1995 to ensure a predictable and stable regulatory process that clearly defined the Commission's expectations for license renewal (60 FR 22461; May 8, 1995).

After considering ways to evaluate the environmental impacts of license renewal, the NRC staff developed NUREG-1437, "Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants (GEIS), and issued it in May 1996, to cover impacts that were common to most or all nuclear power facilities. In 1996, the NRC published the final rule that revised 10 CFR Part 51, which contains the regulations for the environmental analysis related to license renewal. The GEIS was revised in 1996 to update and reevaluate the potential environmental impacts arising from the renewal of an operating license for an additional 20 years. In addition, the NRC updated its associated guidance documentation for license renewal applicants and its technical guidance for use by NRC staff. They include (1) Regulatory Guide 4.2, Supplement 1, Revision 1 "Preparation of Environmental Reports for Nuclear Power Plants License Renewal Applications," which provides guidance to applicants preparing environmental reports to be included as part of license renewal applications; and (2) NUREG-1555, Supplement 1, Revision 1 "Standard Review Plan for Environmental Reviews of Nuclear Power Plants: Supplement 1: Operating License Renewal," which guides NRC staff's review of the environmental issues associated with license renewal. The staff revised the GEIS in June 2013 (78 FR 37281; June 20, 2013), and believes that the update is adequate for the review of a future subsequent license renewal application.

Since April 1998, when the first license renewal application was submitted to the NRC, the NRC has renewed 81 reactor operating licenses as of December 2015 (2 units have ceased operation), with another 13 units currently under review. As of December, 2015, 37 operating units have entered the period of extended operation (i.e., they are operating from 40 to 60 years under a renewed license). The existing license renewal review process follows the guidance established in NUREG-1800, "Standard Review Plan for Review of License Renewal Applications for Nuclear Power Plants" (SRP-LR). The SRP-LR references NUREG-1801, "Generic Aging Lessons Learned (GALL) Report," which documents the staff's generic basis for determining the adequacy of the existing aging-management programs (AMPs), the existing AMPs that should be augmented for license renewal, and the areas that require new AMPs, along with information related to the results of aging-management reviews and time-limited aging analyses (TLAAs). The GALL Report and the SRP-LR have been revised on two occasions based on the experience gained by the staff through the review of license renewal applications, and is being revised to support the review of subsequent license renewal (SLR) applications. The draft versions of the GALL-SLR Report and SRP SLR are available for public comment until February 29, 2016.

On January 31, 2014, the NRC staff submitted to the Commission SECY-14-0016, "Ongoing Staff Activities to Assess Regulatory Considerations for Power Reactor Subsequent License Renewal." The Staff Requirements Memorandum on SECY-14-0016, dated August 29, 2014, directed the NRC staff to:

  • Continue to update the license renewal guidance, as needed, to provide additional clarity on the implementation of the license renewal regulatory framework.

  • Address Option 2 and Option 3 as presented in SECY-14-0016 through alternative vehicles (e.g., issuance of generic communications, voluntary industry initiatives, or updates to the GALL Report).

  • Submit an information paper to the Commission reporting on the progress of the implementation of the inspection enhancements described in the Reactor Oversight Process Enhancement Project related to aging management and the Inspection Procedure Operating Experience Update Process.

  • Keep the Commission informed on:

    • The process of resolving the following technical issues related to SLR: reactor pressure vessel neutron embrittlement at high fluence; irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking of reactor internals and primary system components; concrete and containment degradation, and electrical cable qualification and condition assessment.

    • The staff's readiness for accepting an application and any further need for regulatory process changes, rulemaking, or research.

  • Emphasize in communications with industry the need to strive for satisfactory resolution of these issues prior to the NRC beginning a review of any SLR application.

For additional information on SLR public meetings, please see Public Meetings on License Renewal Topics.