First, as the production cost of electricity from nuclear plants continues to drop, the price of this power to both business and consumers remains low. Given future U.S. nuclear plant license expirations, more than 2100MW of generating capacity would be lost without license renewals with no viable alternative to replace it.
Second, license renewal also creates "new" generation capacity at lower costs than using replacement generation from other sources. The positive environmental impact of these facilities – regardless of age – are so profound that their replacement would either cause a significant increase in air pollution (assuming replacement by coal or gas) or significantly reduce the reliability of the power if it is replaced by solar, wind or other renewable source. Finally, the economic impact of Indian Point on the community if IPEC closes would be devastating to employees, local businesses, non-profit organizations, counties’ emergency planning budgets and tax revenues to name a few.
In November 2006, Entergy Nuclear, owner and operator of Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC), announced its intent to file for license renewal of both the Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 units for an additional 20 years of operation. The plants’ current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015, respectively. A joint application was file for the two plants in April 2007.
Below is an overview of the license renewal process. For additional general information about license renewal, visit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) reading room.
The full license renewal application for Indian Point Energy Center can also be found on the NRC’s site.
Based on the Atomic Energy Act, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issues licenses for commercial power reactors to operate for up to 40 years and allows these licenses to be renewed for up to another 20 years. A 40-year license term was selected on the basis of economic and antitrust considerations, not technical limitations.
The decision whether to seek license renewal rests entirely with nuclear power plant owners, and typically is based on the plant's economic situation and whether it can meet NRC requirements.
There are 104 reactors in the U.S. originally licensed to operate for 40 years. To date, the NRC has approved license renewal for 48 reactors.
The NRC has established a license renewal process that can be completed in a reasonable period of time with clear requirements to assure safe plant operation for up to an additional 20 years of plant life.
The license renewal process proceeds along two tracks – one for review of safety issues (Part 54) and another for environmental issues (Part 51). An applicant must provide NRC an evaluation that addresses the technical aspects of plant aging and describes the ways those effects will be managed. It must also prepare an evaluation of the potential impact on the environment if the plant operates for another 20 years. The NRC reviews the application and verifies the safety evaluations through inspections.
Public participation is an important part of the license renewal process. There are several opportunities for members of the public to question how aging will be managed during the period of extended operation. Information provided by the licensee is made available to the public in a variety of ways. Shortly after the NRC receives a renewal application, a public meeting is normally held near the nuclear power plant to provide the public information about the license renewal process and opportunities for public involvement, and to solicit input on the scope of NRC's environmental review. Additional public meetings are held by the NRC during the review of the renewal application, and NRC evaluations, findings and recommendations are published upon completion.
All public meetings are posted on NRC’s Web site, with key ones being announced in press releases and in the Federal Register. Concerns may be litigated in an adjudicatory hearing if any party that would be adversely affected requests a hearing. In addition, members of the public may petition the Commission for consideration of issues other than the management of the effects of aging during the period of extended operation of the plant.
A nuclear power plant licensee may apply to the NRC to renew its license as early as 20 years before expiration of its current license. There is no limit on how late a licensee may apply for license renewal. However, if the licensee submits a renewal application that is sufficient for the NRC's review at least five years before expiration of its current license and the agency is still reviewing the application at the end of the five years, the plant can continue to operate until the NRC completes its review. If a sufficient application is not submitted at least five years before and the current license expires before the review has been completed, the plant may have to cease operations until the renewal decision is made.
License renewal is expected to take about 30 months, including the time to conduct an adjudicatory hearing, if necessary, or 22 months without a hearing.