Preparing for licensing beyond 60 years

24 February 2014

US nuclear utilities could start applying to the regulator from 2017 for operating licence extensions beyond 60 years. Staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) say they are preparing for this.

Under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended, the NRC is allowed to issue licences for nuclear power reactors to operate for up to 40 years. The original 40-year period was more to do with amortisation of capital than implying that reactors were designed for only that lifespan. Regulations allow the NRC to extend licences for additional 20-year periods provided the reactor is deemed safe to continue operating. There is no restrictions on how many times a licence can be extended.

Calvert Cliffs (NRC)
Calvert Cliffs (Image: NRC)

First licence renewal extending operation beyond the original 40 years was issued to the two-unit Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in March 2000. Of the USA's 100 operating nuclear power reactors, the NRC has so far renewed 72 of their operating licences and is currently reviewing a further 18. As of the end of last year, 20 reactors had entered the period of extended operation between 40 and 60 years.

In a paper to the commission, NRC staff said, "Based on discussions with the nuclear industry, the staff believes the first application for subsequent licence renewal may be submitted as early as 2017."

The commissioners were told, "To support such an application, the nuclear industry must provide the necessary technical basis, along with the associated research and engineering activities, to justify long-term operation." Licence extensions to 60 years mean that major mid-life refurbishing, such as replacement of steam generators and upgrades of instrument and control systems, can be justified.

NRC staff said they believe the existing licence renewal process and regulations "are sound and can support subsequent licence renewal." However, they "identified several areas that should be modified in the existing rule to allow for a more predictable review process."

"To allow adequate public involvement and to be prepared for an application in 2017, the staff is requesting commission approval to begin the rulemaking process in the near term," the staff's paper said.

Modifying the existing licence renewal rules beforehand, they say, "will provide additional assurance that aging-management activities would be effectively implemented and provide regulatory clarity, transparency, stability, and efficiency by defining requirements at the outset of the subsequent licence renewal process rather than on a case-by-case basis during licence renewal reviews."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News