NRC Updating Licensees' Renewal Process

The agency's final rule adds several issues applied to all nuclear power plants, including groundwater use and quality; human health impacts from chemicals, and physical occupational hazards.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is publishing a final rule to update its license renewal process, which has two independent regulatory tracks: one for safety issues and another for environmental issues. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 authorized NRC to issue commercial nuclear power plant operating licenses for up to 40 years, and NRC's regulations allow renewal for 20 additional years. If all applicable safety standards are met, the license will be renewed.

Applicants "must demonstrate that the effects of aging will be managed in such a way that the intended functions of 'passive' or 'long-lived' structures and components (such as the reactor vessel, reactor coolant system, piping, steam generators, pressurizer, pump casings, and valves) will be maintained during the license renewal term (also known as the period of extended operation). For active components, such as motors, diesel generators, cooling fans, batteries, relays, and switches, the Commission's ongoing regulatory oversight programs already ensure that the components continue to perform their intended function during the period of license renewal. This information must be sufficiently detailed in the application to permit the NRC staff to determine if the applicant’s management of these issues is adequate to allow operation during the extended period of operation without undue risk to the public and workers’ health and safety. In addition to the safety assessment, the applicant must also prepare an evaluation of the potential impacts to the environment of facility operation for an additional 20 years," the final rule states.

The final rule amends previous regulations, issued in 1996. In the 1996 rule, there were 92 environmental impact issues, 23 of which required a plant-specific analysis (Category 2 issues) during license renewal environmental reviews. In the final rule, there are 78 environmental impact issues, 17 of which require a plant-specific analysis. Category 1 applies to all nuclear power plants.

Category 1 issues that are added include: geology and soils; effects of dredging on surface water quality; groundwater use and quality; exposure of terrestrial organisms to radionuclides; exposure of aquatic organisms to radionuclides; effects of dredging on aquatic organisms; impacts of transmission line right-of-way management on aquatic resources; employment and income; tax revenues; human health impacts from chemicals; and physical occupational hazards. Issues changed from Category 2 to Category 1 are: offsite land use, air quality, public services (several issues), and population and housing. New Category 2 issues added are: radionuclides released to groundwater, water use conflicts with terrestrial resources, water use conflicts with aquatic resources, and cumulative impacts.

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