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Demystifying the Nuclear Plant

Nuclear Energy Insight

February 2008—The industry’s efforts to build new nuclear plants in the United States are well into the licensing phase, with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission already reviewing five applications for new reactors.  Licensing a new nuclear reactor is complex—but the NRC’s new process provides a clearly marked roadmap and numerous opportunities for public involvement.

“The clarity of this process, and its openness, should help demystify the areas and details the NRC is reviewing and how the agency reaches conclusions on safety matters,” said Adrian Heymer, senior director of new-plant deployment at NEI.  However, he cautioned that for the first few applications to go through review, “the industry and the NRC will face a steep learning curve.”

Insight_200802_02 Advance planning starts with selecting a site and a design.  “A company seeking to build a reactor may apply to the NRC for an early site permit, which would allow the company to ‘bank’ the site for potential later use,” Heymer said.  However, the NRC does not require companies to obtain an early site permit.  Similarly, the company must choose a reactor design that has received safety certification from the NRC or is in the process of doing so.

As part of its efforts to keep the public informed, the NRC holds public meetings in the proposed host communities for new reactors soon after a company submits a combined construction and operating license application to build in that location. 

“The industry encourages public participation in the process of licensing new nuclear plants,” said Scott Peterson, NEI vice president for communications.  “Companies want to talk to the public at NRC meetings in their communities—and more important, to listen.  Nuclear plants are major additions and provide significant benefits to any community where they’re built, and it’s important for people to feel comfortable with their presence.”

—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.