United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Decommissioning Process

The NRC regulates the decontamination and decommissioning of power reactors, research and test reactors, materials and fuel cycle facilities, and uranium recovery facilities. An overview of the decommissioning process for each facility type can be found below:

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Power Reactors

For nuclear power reactors, the decommissioning process begins when a licensee decides to permanently cease operations. The major steps that make up the reactor decommissioning process are: certification to the NRC of permanent cessation of operations and removal of fuel; submittal and implementation of the post-shutdown decommissioning activities report (PSDAR); submittal of the license termination plan (LTP); implementation of the LTP; and completion of decommissioning.

Notification

When the licensee has decided to permanently cease operations, it is required to submit a written notification to the NRC. In addition, the licensee is required to provide certification to the NRC in writing once fuel has been permanently removed from the reactor vessel.

Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report (PSDAR)

Before or within two years after cessation of operations, the licensee must submit a PSDAR to the NRC and a copy to the affected State(s). The PSDAR must include:

  • a description and schedule for the planned decommissioning activities;
  • an estimate of the expected costs; and
  • a discussion that provides the means for concluding that the environmental impacts associated with the decommissioning activities will be bounded by appropriate, previously issued environmental impact statements (EISs).

NRC will notice receipt of the PSDAR in the Federal Register and make the PSDAR available for public comment. In addition, the NRC will hold a public meeting near the licensee's facility to discuss the PSDAR. Although the NRC does not approve the PSDAR, the licensee cannot perform any major decommissioning activities until 90 days after the NRC has received the PSDAR. After this period, the licensee can perform decommissioning activities as long as the activities do not have the following results:

  • foreclose release of the site for unrestricted use;
  • result in significant environmental impacts not previously reviewed; or
  • jeopardize reasonable assurance that adequate funds will be available for decommissioning.

The regulations in 10 CFR 50.59, "Changes, Tests, and Experiments," allow a reactor licensee to make certain changes to its facility without a license amendment. In taking actions permitted under 10 CFR 50.59 after submittal of the PSDAR, the licensee must notify NRC in writing before performing any decommissioning activity inconsistent with, or making any significant schedule change from, those actions and schedules in the PSDAR (10 CFR 50.82(a)(7)).

The NRC staff will periodically inspect operations at the site to ensure that decommissioning activities are being conducted in accordance with all applicable regulations and commitments.

License Termination Plan (LTP)

Each power reactor must submit an application for termination of its license. An LTP must be submitted at least 2 years before the license termination date.  The NRC and licensee hold pre-submittal meetings to discuss the format and content of the LTP.  These meetings are open to the public and intended to improve the efficiency of the LTP development and review process.  The LTP must include the following:

  • a site characterization;
  • identification of remaining dismantlement activities;
  • plans for site remediation;
  • detailed plans for the final radiation survey;
  • a description of the end use of the site, if restricted;
  • an updated site-specific estimate of remaining decommissioning costs; and
  • a supplement to the environmental report describing any new information or significant environmental change associated with the licensee's proposed termination activities; and
  • identification of parts, if any, of the facility or site that were released for use before approval of the LTP.

In addition, the licensee must demonstrate that the applicable requirements of the License Termination Rule (LTR) will be met.

The NRC will notice receipt of the LTP and make it available for public comment. In addition, the NRC will hold a public meeting in the vicinity of the licensee's facility to discuss the LTP and the LTP review process. The LTP technical review is guided by NUREG-1700, "Standard Review Plan for Evaluating Nuclear Power Reactor License Termination Plans." The LTP is approved by license amendment.

Implementation of the License Termination Plan

After approval of the LTP, the licensee or responsible party must complete decommissioning in accordance with the approved LTP.  The NRC staff will periodically inspect the decommissioning operations at the site to ensure compliance with the LTP.  These inspections will normally include in-process and confirmatory radiological surveys.

Decommissioning must be completed within 60 years of permanent cessation of operations, unless otherwise approved by the Commission.

Completion of Decommissioning

At the conclusion of decommissioning activities, the licensee will submit a final status survey report (FSSR) that documents the final radiological conditions of the site, and request that the NRC either:  (1) terminate the 10 CFR Part 50 license; or (2) if the licensee has an ISFSI, reduce the 10 CFR Part 50 license boundary to the footprint of the ISFSI.  For decommissioning reactors with no ISFSI, or an ISFSI that is authorized via specific license under 10 CFR Part 72, "Licensing Requirements for the Independent Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, High-Level Radioactive Waste, and Reactor-Related Greater than Class C Waste," completion of reactor decommissioning will result in the termination of the 10 CFR Part 50 license.  The NRC will approve the FSSR and the licensee's request if it determines that the licensee has met both of the following conditions:

  • the remaining dismantlement has been performed in accordance with the approved LTP; and
  • the final radiation survey and associated documentation demonstrates that the facility and site are suitable for release in accordance with the LTR.

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Research and Test Reactors

Research and Test Reactor Decommissioning Process

For research and test reactors, the decommissioning process begins when a licensee decides to permanently cease operations.  The major steps of the decommissioning process are submittal of a decommissioning plan (DP), review and approval of the DP, implementation of the DP, and completion of decommissioning.

Application

Within 2 years following permanent cessation of operations, and in no case later than 1 year before license expiration, the licensee must submit a written application for license termination to the NRC.  Each application for license termination must be accompanied or preceded by a DP submitted for NRC approval.  The NRC and licensee hold pre-submittal meetings to discuss the format and content of the DP.  These meetings are open to the public and are intended to improve the efficiency of the DP development and review process. 

Decommissioning Plan

The DP must include the following:

  • the choice of the alternative1 for decommissioning with a description of the planned decommissioning activities;
  • a description of the controls and limits on procedures and equipment to provide for occupational and public health and safety;
  • a description of the planned final radiation survey;
  • an updated estimate of the expected costs for the alternative chosen, including the following:
    • a comparison with the estimated present funds set aside for decommissioning.
    • a plan for assuring the availability of adequate funds for completion of decommissioning.
  • a description of technical specifications, quality assurance provisions, and physical security plan provisions in place during decommissioning.

In addition, the licensee should demonstrate that it will meet the applicable requirements of the LTR.

The NRC staff's technical review of the DP is guided by NUREG-1537, "Guidelines for Preparing and Reviewing Applications for the Licensing of Non-Power Reactors," issued February 1996 (ADAMS Accession No. ML042430055), and applicable portions of NUREG–1757.  The DP is approved by license amendment, as a supplement to the safety evaluation report (SER), or equivalent.


1 An alternative is acceptable if it provides for completion of decommissioning without significant delay.  Consideration will be given to alternatives involving a delay in decommissioning only when necessary to protect public health and safety, including cases where waste disposal capacity is unavailable or other site-specific conditions, such as the presence of co-located nuclear facilities, are a factor.


Implementation of the Decommissioning Plan

For DPs in which the major dismantlement activities are delayed by first placing the facility in storage, planning for these delayed activities may be less detailed.  Updated detailed plans must be submitted and approved before the start of any dismantlement activities.

For DPs that involve delayed completion of decommissioning by including a period of storage or surveillance, the licensee shall meet the following conditions:

  • Funds needed to complete the decommissioning process will be placed into an account segregated from the licensee's assets and outside the licensee's administrative control during the storage or surveillance period, or a surety method or fund statement of intent will be maintained in accordance with the criteria of 10 CFR 50.75(e).
  • Means will be included for adjusting cost estimates and associated funding levels over the storage or surveillance period.

After approval of the DP, the licensee or responsible party must complete decommissioning in accordance with the approved DP.  The NRC staff will periodically inspect the decommissioning operations at the site to ensure compliance with the DP.  These inspections will normally include in-process and confirmatory radiological surveys.

Completion of Decommissioning

At the conclusion of decommissioning activities, the licensee will submit an FSSR, which identifies the final radiological conditions of the site.  The NRC will terminate the license if it determines that the licensee has met the following conditions:

  • The decommissioning process has been performed in accordance with the approved DP.
  • The final radiation survey and associated documentation demonstrate that the facility and site are suitable for release in accordance with the LTR.

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Complex Materials Sites

Complex Materials Site Decommissioning Process

For complex materials facilities, any one of the following events can initiate the decommissioning process:

  • The license expires.
  • The licensee has decided to permanently cease operations at the entire site (or in any separate building or outdoor area that contains residual radioactivity, such that the building or outdoor area is unsuitable for release in accordance with the NRC requirements.  In these cases, the decommissioning process does not lead to license termination).
  • No principal activities have been conducted at the site for a period of 24 months.
  • No principal activities have been conducted for a period of 24 months in any separate building or outdoor area that contains residual radioactivity, such that the building or outdoor area is unsuitable for release in accordance with the NRC requirements. In these cases, the decommissioning process does not lead to license termination.

Major steps in the decommissioning process are notification of cessation of operations; submittal, review and approval of the DP; implementation of the DP; and completion of decommissioning.

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Notification

Within 60 days of the occurrence of any of the triggering conditions above, the licensee or responsible party is required to notify the NRC of such occurrence and either begin decommissioning or, if required, submit a DP within 12 months of notification and begin decommissioning upon approval of the plan. The regulations allow alternative schedules, if approved by the NRC.

Decommissioning Plan

A DP must be submitted if required by license condition or if the NRC has not previously approved the procedures and activities necessary to conduct site decommissioning and the procedures could increase potential health and safety impacts on workers or the public, such as in any of the following cases:

  • procedures would involve techniques not applied routinely during clean up or maintenance operations;
  • workers would be entering areas not normally occupied where surface contamination and radiation levels are significantly higher than routinely encountered during operation;
  • procedures could result in significantly greater airborne concentrations than are present during operations; or
  • procedures could result in significantly greater releases of radioactive material to the environment than those associated with operations.

Generally, before submitting a DP, the licensee or responsible party meets with the NRC to discuss the form and content of the DP.  This pre-submittal meeting is intended to make the DP review process more efficient by reducing the potential need for requests for additional information (RAIs).  It is important for the NRC and the licensee or responsible party to work effectively in a cooperative manner to resolve the issues that make a complex decommissioning site challenging.

The DP is approved by license amendment, as a supplement to the SER, or equivalent, and may include specific license conditions based on the findings from the NRC staff's review of the DP.

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Implementation of the Decommissioning Plan

After approval of the DP, the licensee or responsible party must complete decommissioning within 24 months in accordance with the approved DP, or apply for an alternate schedule, which must also be approved.  The NRC staff will periodically inspect the decommissioning operations at the site to ensure compliance with the DP and the license.  These inspections will normally include in-process and confirmatory radiological surveys.

Completion of Decommissioning

As the final step in the decommissioning process, the licensee or responsible party is required to do the following:

  • Certify the disposition of all regulated material, including accumulated wastes, by submitting a completed NRC Form 314, "Certificate of Disposition of Materials," or providing equivalent information.
  • Conduct a radiation survey of the premises where licensed activities were conducted (in accordance with the procedures in the approved DP, if a DP is required) and submit a report of the results of the final status survey, unless the licensee or responsible party demonstrates in some other manner that the premises are suitable for release in accordance with the LTR.

A license is terminated or the site is released by written notice to the licensee when the NRC determines that the licensee has met the following conditions:

  • Regulated material has been disposed of properly.
  • Reasonable effort has been made to eliminate residual radioactive contamination, if present.

The radiation survey has been performed or other information submitted by the licensee or responsible party demonstrates that the premises are suitable for release in accordance with the LTR.

Fuel Cycle Facility Decommissioning Process

In general, the decommissioning process for fuel cycle facilities and complex material sites is the same. Project management responsibility for fuel cycle facilities resides in the Division of Fuel Management (DFM) during licensee operations. Project management responsibility for decommissioning activities transfers to Division of Decommissioning, Uranium Recovery, and Waste Programs (DUWP) for entire site decommissioning in support of license termination. However, the transfer from DFM to DUWP only occurs after the critical mass of material no longer remains at the site.

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Uranium Recovery Sites

Uranium Recovery Facility Decommissioning Process

These facilities are not subject to the license termination criteria set forth in Subpart E, "Radiological Criteria for License Termination," to 10 CFR Part 20, "Standards for Protection Against Radiation." Instead, they are subject to similar requirements in 10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A, as summarized below.

Any one of the following events may initiate the decommissioning process for uranium recovery facilities:

  • The license expires or the license is revoked.
  • The licensee has decided to permanently cease principal activities at the entire site or in any separate building or outdoor area.
  • No principal activities have been conducted for a period of 24 months (except for impoundments and in disposal areas).
  • No principal activities have been conducted for a period of 24 months in any separate building or outdoor area (except for impoundments and disposal areas).

The uranium recovery facility decommissioning process includes several major steps, depending on the type of facility.  These steps include notification of intent to decommission; submittal, review, and approval of the DP or RP;2 implementation of the DP or RP; completion of decommissioning or reclamation; submittal and review of a completion report; submittal and review of a well-field restoration report (for ISR facilities); submittal and review of an LTSP (for sites with tailings piles); termination of the license; and transfer of the property to the long-term care custodian, for sites with tailings piles, under a general license held by either DOE or a State.


2 For uranium recovery sites, DPs typically deal with the remediation of structures, while RPs typically deal with tailings impoundments, groundwater cleanup, and other remediation efforts.


Notification

Within 60 days of the occurrence of any of the triggering conditions described above, the licensee must notify the NRC of such occurrence and either begin decommissioning or, if required, submit a DP or RP within 12 months of notification and begin decommissioning upon approval of the DP or RP.  Under 10 CFR 40.42(f), licensees may delay facility decommissioning if the NRC determines that such a delay is not detrimental to public health and safety and is otherwise in the public interest. 

Decommissioning Plan/Reclamation Plan

All uranium recovery facilities currently licensed by the NRC have NRC-approved DPs or RPs.  For new ISR or conventional facilities, the licensee submits groundwater restoration, surface reclamation, and facility DPs with the initial license application.  The NRC reviews and approves these plans before issuing a license.  Therefore, for existing uranium facilities, the NRC staff would review only amendments to the existing DPs or RPs.  Amendments would be necessary under any of the following circumstances:

  • Environmental contamination exists or other new conditions arise that were not considered in the existing DP/RP.
  • The licensee requests a change in reclamation design or procedures.
  • The licensee requests a change in the timing of restoration.

Depending on the complexity of the revision, a public meeting between the licensee and the NRC staff may be warranted.

Implementation of the Decommissioning Plan/Reclamation Plan

As the licensee prepares to enter decommissioning, it submits a revised DP or RP.  After approval of the revised DP or RP, the licensee must complete decommissioning within 24 months or apply for an alternate schedule.  For conventional facilities with groundwater contamination, or for ISR facilities where well-field restoration is involved, 24 months to complete decommissioning activities is usually insufficient, because remediation of groundwater contamination is more time-consuming than remediation of surface contamination.  As such, an alternate schedule may be appropriate.

The NRC staff will inspect the licensee's activities during decommissioning or reclamation to ensure compliance with the DP or RP, associated license conditions, and NRC and other applicable regulations (e.g., U.S. Department of Transportation regulations).  The staff will also ensure that there is no degradation in groundwater quality after the completion of groundwater restoration by requiring monitoring of the groundwater for a period of time.

Decommissioning at uranium recovery sites involves two main activities:  surface reclamation (i.e., soil contamination cleanup, 11e.(2) byproduct material reclamation and disposal, equipment removal, and structure decommissioning), and groundwater restoration.  Groundwater restoration is considered complete when concentrations on- and off-site (depending on the extent of contaminant migration) meet previously established groundwater protection standards in accordance with Appendix A of 10 CFR Part 40.  For the groundwater constituents being monitored at a given site, three types of standards are potentially applicable in accordance with Criterion 5B(5) in Appendix A:

  • NRC-approved background concentrations;
  • maximum contaminant levels established by the EPA (in Table 5C of 10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A); and
  • NRC-approved alternate concentration limits (ACLs).

If the licensee demonstrates that concentrations of monitored constituents cannot be restored to either background or Appendix A, Table 5C values (whichever value is higher), the NRC staff may approve ACLs, after considering all the factors required in Appendix A, Criterion 5B(6).  To obtain approval of ACLs, the licensee submits a license amendment request and a detailed environmental report that addresses all the Criterion 5B(6) factors.  If the NRC staff determines that the ACLs are protective of public health and the environment, the staff would approve the ACLs.

After surface decommissioning or reclamation has been completed, the licensee submits a completion report for NRC staff review and approval.  As part of this review, the staff performs an inspection to confirm that surface reclamation was performed according to the DP or RP, license conditions, and the NRC regulations.  Inspections also include surveys of tailings disposal areas to ensure that radon emissions comply with 10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A, Criterion 6.

License Termination – Conventional Mills

After all reclamation activities have been completed and approved, the licensee, the NRC staff, and the long-term custodian will start license termination procedures.  Before a conventional mill license is terminated, the custodial agency (i.e., State agency, DOE, or other Federal agency) will submit an LTSP for NRC staff review and acceptance.  The LTSP documents the custodian's responsibilities for long-term care, including security, inspections, groundwater and surface water monitoring, and remedial actions.  Concurrent with the staff's acceptance of an LTSP, the existing license is terminated and titles to any mill tailings disposal sites are transferred to the custodian under 10 CFR 40.28, "General License for Custody and Long-Term Care of Uranium or Thorium Byproduct Materials Disposal Sites."

License Termination - In Situ Uranium Recovery Facilities

License termination at an ISR uranium recovery facility occurs when all groundwater contamination has been cleaned up to acceptable levels and surface decommissioning or reclamation has been completed and approved by the NRC.  Surface decommissioning completion typically would include an NRC inspection.  Because 10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A, Criterion 2 generally prohibits ISR uranium extraction facility owners from disposing of 11e.(2) byproduct material at their sites, long-term care of ISR facilities by a governmental custodian under a general license is not required.  However, licensees of ISR facilities are still required to find a licensed 11e.(2) disposal site for facility waste, though some licensees are allowed to dispose of liquid wastes in deep disposal wells.  Thus, all groundwater restoration and surface reclamation is performed so that the site can qualify for unrestricted release.

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Role of Nuclear Regulatory Commission

In accordance with Section 83c of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (AEA), NRC determines whether the licensee has met all applicable standards and requirements or whether a licensee-proposed alternative meets the standards. This determination will involve NRC review of licensee submittals relative to the completion of decommissioning, reclamation, and, if necessary, groundwater cleanup.

In addition, the staff will review the site Long Term Surveillance Plan (LTSP) submitted by the custodial agency, for both NRC and Agreement State sites. On NRC acceptance of the LTSP, NRC terminates the specific license and places the long-term care and surveillance of the site by the custodial agency under the general license provided at 10 CFR 40.28.

A final NRC responsibility is the determination of the final amount of long-term site surveillance funding. Criterion 10 of Appendix A specifies a minimum charge of $250,000 (1978 dollars), revised to reflect inflation, which may be escalated on a site-specific basis because of surveillance and long-term monitoring controls beyond those specified in Criterion 10 of Appendix A.

Role of Uranium Mill Licensees

Before license termination, licensees are required by license conditions to complete site decontamination, decommissioning, and surface and groundwater remedial actions consistent with decommissioning, reclamation, and groundwater corrective action plans. Licensees must document the completion of these remedial actions in accordance with procedures developed by NRC. This information will include a report documenting completion Because the LTSP must reflect the remediated condition of the site, the licensee will work with the custodial agency in preparing the LTSP. Most likely, this coordination will involve supplying the custodial agency with appropriate documentation (e.g., as-built drawings) of the remedial actions taken and reaching agreements (formal or informal) with the custodial agency regarding the necessary surveillance control features of the site (e.g., boundary markers, fencing). It is the responsibility of the custodial agency to submit the LTSP to NRC for approval. However, the licensee may elect to help prepare the LTSP, to whatever degree is agreed upon between the licensee and the custodial agency.

Finally, the licensee provides the funding to cover long-term surveillance responsibilities in accordance with Criterion 10 of Appendix A. NRC will determine the final amount of this charge on the basis of final conditions at the site.

After termination of the existing license and transfer of the site and byproduct materials to the custodial agency, the remaining liability of the licensee extends solely to any fraudulent or negligent acts committed before the transfer to the custodial agency, as provided for in Section 83b(6) of the AEA.

Role of Custodial Agency

Section 83 of the AEA, as amended, states that before termination of the specific license, title to the site and byproduct materials should be transferred to (a) the DOE, (b) a Federal agency designated by the President, or (c) the State in which the site is located, at the option of the State. It is expected that the DOE will be the custodial agency for most, if not all, of the sites.

It is the responsibility of the custodial agency to submit the LTSP to NRC for review and acceptance. Provisions and activities identified in the final LTSP will form the bases of the custodial agency long-term surveillance at the site. The NRC general license in 10 CFR 40.28(a) becomes effective when the licensee's current specific license is terminated and the Commission accepts the LTSP. Custodial agencies are required, under 10 CFR 40.28(c)(1) and (c)(2), to implement the provisions of the LTSP.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, October 23, 2019