Fact Sheets

License Amendments Control Changes at Nuclear Energy Facilities

Nuclear energy facilities initially are licensed to operate for 40 years, and 73 reactors have renewed licenses that will permit them to operate for another 20 years beyond that. The Atomic Energy Act anticipated the need for changes over several decades of operation and authorized the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend plant operating licenses as it deems appropriate. A reactor operating license may be amended many times during its term.


April 2013
 

Key Facts
 

  • Nuclear energy facilities initially are licensed to operate for 40 years, and 73 reactors have renewed licenses that will permit them to operate for another 20 years beyond that. The Atomic Energy Act anticipated the need for changes over several decades of operation and authorized the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to amend plant operating licenses as it deems appropriate. A reactor operating license may be amended many times during its term.
     
  • The companies that operate nuclear energy facilities manage daily activities through the procedures and programs described in their operating licenses. Changes to the facilities themselves, or to the programs and procedures required to operate them, require prior approval from the NRC. This is done using a license amendment, which would be required if changes would grant the energy company greater operating authority or otherwise alter the original terms of a license.
     
  • The Atomic Energy Act and NRC regulations explicitly allow license amendments that involve no significant hazards considerations to be issued once the NRC staff has completed its safety review. Even in this case, there are opportunities for public participation in the process. When a license amendment involves no significant hazards consideration, the NRC should not delay issuance of the amendment.

 
Background
NRC regulations provide a time-tested analytical framework that allows the agency to maintain tight control over physical changes in nuclear energy facilities and the procedures that licensees use to operate them. The rule governing changes, tests and experiments provides regulatory criteria for determining which changes are significant enough to require a license amendment and which ones do not require that step. 
 
If a license amendment is needed, the company must submit a license amendment request to the NRC. An application for a licensing action must include a full safety analysis of the proposed change.
 
Examples of changes that routinely require license amendments are power uprates, license transfers, and use of the NRC’s voluntary fire protection rule or other risk-informed, performance-based alternatives to comply with fire protection regulations. “The approval or denial of license amendment applications is part of a continuous process of managing issues related to nuclear power facilities,” an agency instruction to NRC staff states. “The review of license amendment applications is one of the primary mechanisms for regulating changes in the licensees’ operation of their facilities.”
 
During the NRC’s review of a license amendment request, the staff may request additional information from the company that operates the facility. Through the exchange of public correspondence with the company, the NRC may identify deficiencies that the company must correct before the request can be approved.
 
When the NRC has completed its review, the staff documents the technical, safety and regulatory basis for its conclusions. Depending on the request, the NRC may address potential environmental consequences. The NRC staff may approve or deny a license amendment request or issue it subject to conditions.

The NRC publishes a notice in the Federal Register of any amendments issued, withdrawn by the licensee or proposed to be issued. These notices solicit comments and provide information on requesting an adjudicatory hearing, should an interested party have concerns about a particular license amendment. A request for an adjudicatory hearing does not necessarily delay the NRC’s approval of a license amendment request. This is a procedural matter and does not prejudge the NRC's final public health and safety decision to issue or deny the amendment.
 
After a 30-day public comment period, the NRC staff will make a decision and publish it in the agency’s biweekly notice. If there is an adjudicatory hearing, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel will decide on any admitted objections. If the board’s decision is appealed, the commission will make a decision on the issue.