US Nuclear Regulatory Commission preparing to allow nuclear plants to operate for 80 years

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is preparing guidance documents on license renewal applications to extend reactor operating lives beyond 60 years. The regulator has also approved its sixth license renewal for a dry cask storage facility for used fuel, at the Prairie Island plant.

Commercial nuclear power plants in the USA are initially licensed to operate for 40 years, a time period reflecting amortization of capital rather than the design life of a reactor. Regulations allow the NRC to extend licenses for additional 20-year periods provided the reactor is deemed safe to continue operating. To date, the regulator has renewed the operating licenses of 81 reactors, allowing them to operate for up to 60 years.

The NRC is now preparing for applications to extend operating licences beyond 60 years under its Subsequent Licence Renewal (SLR) program, taking reactors to a potential 80-year operating life. It expects to receive the first application – for Dominion Virginia Power’s Surry plant – in 2019.

The new draft documents, Generic Aging Lessons Learned for Subsequent License Renewal and Standard Review Plan for Subsequent License Renewal Applications for Nuclear Power Plants, describe aging management programs acceptable for the NRC for operations up to 80 years and are based on similar documents covering initial license renewals. The finalized documents will set out the methods and techniques acceptable to the NRC in renewing SLR applications, and will provide useful information for plant licensees as they prepare their applications.