Shortcomings of Old Licensing Process
The federal government licensed most of today’s 100 U.S. nuclear power plants during the 1960s and 1970s. Commercial nuclear energy was an emerging technology, and the regulatory process evolved with the new industry. The regulatory agency issued a construction permit for a plant based on a preliminary design. Safety issues were not fully resolved until the plant was essentially complete—a process flaw that had substantial financial implications.
Another shortcoming of the process was that the public did not have access to the details of the design until construction was almost finished.
How the New Process Works
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1989 established a new, more efficient process for licensing nuclear power plants: 10 CFR Part 52. The U.S. Congress affirmed and strengthened the new licensing process as part of the 1992 Energy Policy Act. The new process provides for certification of standardized designs, early site approval and combined construction and operating licenses.
Reactor Design Certification
The design certification process allows plant designers to secure advance NRC approval of advanced plant designs. Later, companies can order these plant designs, license them for particular sites and build them.
Early Site Approval
The early site permit process enables companies to obtain approval from the NRC for a nuclear power plant site before deciding to build a plant.
Combined Construction and Operating License
The licensing process for new nuclear power plants provides for issuance of a combined construction permit and operating license (COL). Granting a COL signifies resolution of all safety issues associated with the plant.