Licensing Process for Operators

Before the NRC licenses an individual to operate or supervise the controls of a 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:

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Process for New Operator Licenses

Applicants should use the most recent revision of the form 396 and 398 that is available at the time they initiate the application process (i.e., start to complete the forms).

The change to the NRC Form 396 that occurred on June 3rd was to allow the use of digital signatures as well as electronic signatures. You may use the prior version of the form for the application you are preparing to submit. There is an Operator Licensing Program Feedback (OLPF) item about this on our website (see Item 2.2.13): ML22004A209. It says, in part, "...applicants should use the most recent revision of the form that is available at the time they initiate the application process (start to complete the forms)."

For your awareness, we are planning to issue a revised NRC Form 398 by NLT 7/31/2022. These changes will include removal of the GFE information currently in Box 12d and some revisions to the form instructions to be consistent with Revision 12 of NUREG-1021.

NRC's four regional offices (locations) 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 submits a completed application (NRC Form 398) to the Regional Administrator having jurisdiction over the plant at which the applicant hopes to work. The applicant must meet the education and experience requirements provided by The National Academy for Nuclear Training guidelines or provide a justification and basis.

A completed application 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 reactor operator (RO) or senior reactor operator (SRO) (refer to 10 CFR 55.31). Applicants must also undergo a physical examination (refer to 10 CFR 55.21) and be certified (NRC Form 396) physically and mentally fit to be an operator. If an applicant's general medical condition does not meet the minimum standards (10 CFR 55.33), the Commission may approve the application and include conditions in the license to accommodate the medical defect.

Following completion of the facility-administered training program, the initial licensing examination is administered to one or more applicants.  The initial licensing examination for ROs consists of a 75 multiple-choice written examination (10 CFR 55.41) and an NRC-administered operating test (10 CFR 55.45) that includes a plant walkthrough and a performance demonstration on the facility licensee's power plant simulator.  SRO license applicants must pass an additional 25-question written examination (10 CFR 55.43) and a more rigorous operating test. Overall, RO applicants must score an 80% or better on the written examination (75 questions) and pass the operating test, while SRO applicants must score an 80% or better on the overall written examination (100 questions) and a 70% or better on the SRO-only portion of the written examination (25 questions) and pass the 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, administered, and graded using the guidance in the Operator Licensing Examination Standards for Power Reactors (NUREG-1021).

If the applicant passes both the written examination and the operating test, the responsible NRC regional office will issue the applicable 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 upon determination by the facility licensee that the licensed individual no longer needs to maintain a license (10 CFR 55.55).

(Note: As of March 17, 2022, with the implementation of NUREG-1021 Rev. 12, the NRC will no longer offer a separate Generic Fundamentals Examination (GFE).   Nuclear power plant fundamentals (components reactor theory, and thermodynamics) are integrated into the site-specific initial licensing examination.  Previously administered GFEs, question banks, and GFE performance information are still available on the public webpage.)

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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). Refer to the Electronic Information Exchange web site for more information on electronic submittals.

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Operator License Maintenance

Each license is subject to a number of conditions (10 CFR 55.53) whether or not they are stated in the license. For example:

  • 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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Operator License Renewal Process

If an operator or senior operator applies for renewal at least 30 days before the expiration date of the existing license, the license does not expire until the NRC determines the final disposition of the renewal application (10 CFR 55.55). The renewal process (10 CFR 55.57) requires the applicant to complete NRC Form 398 and submit it to the applicable NRC regional office with the following information: written evidence of the applicant's experience under the existing license, a certification from the facility licensee that the applicant is a safe and competent performer who has satisfactorily completed the requalification program for the facility (10 CFR 55.59), and certification on NRC Form 396 that the applicant's medical condition and general health are satisfactory (10 CFR 55.23). The NRC regional office will renew the license if, on the basis of the application and certifications, it determines that the applicant continues to meet the regulatory requirements (10 CFR 55.57(b)).

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Operator Licensing for New Plants

When new reactors are under construction, NRC license examinations are administered before completion of pre-operational and initial startup testing. Challenges with this process include conducting reactivity manipulations without a plant or plant-referenced simulator and conducting the plant walkthrough portion of the operating test prior to the plant being constructed.  The NRC intends to address some of the challenges in the Alignment of Licensing Processes and Lessons Learned From New Reactor Licensing rulemakingNEI 06-13A, "A Template for an Industry Training Program," contains more information about the cold operator licensing process.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, September 27, 2022