US NRC accepts Monticello subsequent licence renewal application

13 March 2023

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has accepted for review Northern States Power Company-Minnesota's application for subsequent licence renewal for the Monticello plant. The regulator is also moving forward with revisions to its rule on the environmental considerations behind such renewals.

Monticello (Image: NRC/Xcel Energy)

The regulator announced on 3 March that it had docketed the company's 9 January request to licence the Minnesota plant for an additional 20 years of operation. The boiling water reactor began commercial operations in June 1971 and is currently licensed to operate until September 2030 after being granted an initial licence renewal in November 2006. A subsequent licence renewal would extend the unit's licence to September 2050.

On 10 March, the NRC announced in the Federal Register that it will conduct a scoping process to gather information necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate the environmental impacts for Monticello's subsequent licence renewal.

Initial licences issued by the NRC for US commercial power reactors cover operation for up to 40 years. Licences can be renewed for an additional 20 years for an operating lifetime of 60 years: almost all of the USA's currently operating nuclear reactors have already received or applied for initial licence renewals.

Subsequent licence renewals cover a further 20 years of operation beyond 60 years and focus on the management of plant ageing during the 60-80 year operating period, especially the effects of extended operation and high radiation exposure on reactor parts, concrete containment structures, piping and electrical cables, among other things.

Monticello joins the list of units currently undergoing subsequent licence reviews by the NRC: North Anna units 1 and 2, for which the application was submitted in August 2020; Point Beach units 1 and 2, submitted November 2020; Oconee units 1,2 and 3, submitted June 2021; and St Lucie units 1 and -2, submitted August 2021. The regulator has already completed subsequent licence reviews for Turkey Point 3 and 4, Peach Bottom 2 and 3 and Surry 1 and 2.

Monticello is owned by Xcel Energy. Xcel subsidiary Northern States Power is the plant's licensee and operator.

GEIS update

On 3 March, the NRC also published a proposed rule that would update the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) used by the agency when considering applications for licence renewals. This follows a 2022 finding by the NRC's Commissioners that the GEIS for licence renewal did not specifically cover the impacts of a subsequent licence renewal term from 60 to 80 years of operation.

The proposed rule amends the relevant language to account for intial licence renewal and one term of subsequent licence renewal, redefines the number and scope of the environmental issues that must be addressed during the review of each renewal application, and updates related guidance to fully address subsequent renewal, NRC said. The revised GEIS accounts for new or revised environmental impacts, changes in regulations or guidance, and applies lessons learned by the agency during previous licence renewals.

The NRC is inviting public comments on the proposed rule, with a deadline of 2 May. It is also planning to hold hybrid public meetings to gather comments on the proposed rule.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News