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

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; Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately). An applicant sends or delivers 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 (10 CFR 55.31) 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 operator or senior operator. Applicants must also undergo a physical examination (10 CFR 55.21) and be certified (NRC Form 396; Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately) 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. 

The examination process begins with a 50-question, multiple-choice written exam covering three (3) broad categories of nuclear power plant fundamentals: components, reactor theory, and thermodynamics; this Generic Fundamentals Examination (GFE) is administered early in the applicants' training program and is a prerequisite for taking the site-specific examination. Each new applicant (except those applying for an LSRO license or an SRO upgrade license at the same facility) must satisfactorily complete the GFE (must score an 80% or better) for the applicable reactor type (boiling- or pressurized-water reactor) within 24 months before the date of application. Applicants who passed a GFE on the same reactor type more than 24 months before the date of application may request a waiver of the GFE. Following the GFE and a facility-administered training program, the site-specific examination is administered.  The site-specific examination for reactor operators 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 walk-through and a performance demonstration on the facility licensee's power plant simulator.  Individuals who apply for a senior reactor operator's license must pass an additional 25-question written examination (10 CFR 55.43) and a more rigorous operating test. Overall, reactor operator applicants must score an 80% or better on the written examination (75 questions) and pass the operating test, while the senior reactor operator applicant 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 examinations and the operating test, the responsible NRC regional office will issue a 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).

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Operator License Application Forms

NRC Form 398 (Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately), "Personal Qualification Statement - Licensee," (i.e., the license application), and NRC Form 396 (Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately), "Certification of Medical Examination by Facility Licensee,"are available in portable document format (pdf). If you have Version 5.0 or newer of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can view or print the blank form, or you can complete the form and then print it for your use. If you have the full Adobe Acrobat program - not just the free Reader - you can also save the completed form as a new file. Beginning on January 1, 2004, you will be able to submit the applications to the NRC in electronic format; refer to the Electronic Information Exchange web site for more information.

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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 (Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately) 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 (Form revised September 2021 and was effective immediately) 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. Difficulties with this process include conducting systems training prior to construction of the systems, conducting reactivity manipulations without a plant or plant-referenced simulator, and meeting operator experience guidance found in ANSI/ANS-3.1-1993, "Selection, Qualification, and Training of Personnel for Nuclear Power Plants."

The cold operator licensing process should follow current operator licensing guidance above for operating plants with special consideration given to the following: experience requirements, training program implementation, job performance measurements (JPM) and on-shift on the job training (OJT) during construction, simulator training using a limited-scope simulator, continuing training for license candidates, and licensing examinations.

The NRC is in the process of updating NUREG-1021, "Operator Licensing Standards for Power Reactors," and 10 CFR Part 55, to contain additional guidance and direction for applicants at plants under construction. Refer to NEI 06-13A, "A Template for an Industry Training Program," for more information about the cold operator licensing process

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, October 13, 2021