Nuclear Power Plant Licensing Process (NUREG/BR-0298, Revision 2)

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Publication Information

Date Published: July 2009

Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001


In order for a commercial nuclear power plant to operate in the United States, it has to obtain a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Among other things, the NRC is responsible for licensing and regulating the operation of nuclear power plants. In the past five decades, the NRC (formed in 1975) and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, have issued 126 operating licenses for nuclear power plants. Of these, 103 are currently operating, 1 is temporarily closed, and 22 have been shut down after operating and are in various stages of decommissioning. In addition, four plants have NRC-issued permits that would allow them to complete construction. About 100 additional plants began the licensing process but did not complete it for various reasons.

In the past, nuclear power plants were licensed under a two-step licensing process. This process required both a construction permit and an operating license. In 1989, the NRC established an alternative licensing process that essentially combines a construction permit and an operating license, with certain conditions, into a single license. Under either process, before an applicant can build and operate a nuclear power plant, it must obtain approval from the NRC.

Other licensing alternatives established in 1989 are early site permits, which allow an applicant to obtain approval for a reactor site and "bank" it for future use, and certified standard plant designs, which can be used as pre-approved "off-the-shelf" designs.

Public involvement is a key element in all of the NRC's reactor licensing processes. Consequently, the agency holds numerous public meetings during the course of the licensing process, and the law requires that the NRC must hold a public hearing before issuing a construction permit, early site permit, or combined license for a nuclear plant. In addition, all documents and correspondence related to an application are placed in the NRC's Public Document Room (PDR) in Rockville, Maryland, which can be accessed through the Public NRC Library. Members of the public may access the NRC Library libraries from computers with Internet access. The agency issues press releases announcing receipt of applications, as well as public meetings, opportunities for hearings, and other major actions taken by the NRC. In addition, copies of key documents and notifications are sent to Federal, State, and local officials; published in the Federal Register and local newspapers; and made available electronically.

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