Nuclear Regulation:

License Renewal Questions for Nuclear Plants Need to Be Resolved

RCED-89-90: Published: Apr 3, 1989. Publicly Released: May 4, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effects of aging on nuclear power plants, focusing on: (1) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) program to develop a license renewal policy and accompanying regulations; and (2) efforts by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the electric utility industry to extend the lives of nuclear plants.

GAO found that: (1) many utilities will have to decide whether to renew licenses for older nuclear plants or construct new plants; (2) although NRC has developed 3 possible license renewal policy options and identified 15 unresolved technical, environmental, and procedural regulatory problems, it has made little progress in reaching definitive regulatory criteria; (3) NRC research on the effects of aging on nuclear plants has not identified any generic age-related conditions that would require nuclear plants to shut down, but has identified some conditions that might require repair, replacement, or special treatment; (4) NRC identified some age-related degradation that could affect the continued operation of 12 plants; and (5) DOE and the utility industry have conducted life extension studies at four plants and have not identified any age-related degradation or technical obstacles associated with plant hardware to preclude continued operations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Commission agreed that NRC should accelerate its efforts to resolve license renewal issues and requested the staff to complete a final rule by April 1992. At the time GAO completed audit work, NRC expected to issue a final rule by 1991. Therefore, GAO does not believe NRC has fully responded to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, NRC, should: (1) accelerate the schedule for developing license renewal regulations and stipulate the basis that will be used to evaluate renewal applications and the types of records, engineering analyses, and other historical information needed to support a request for continued operations; and (2) resolve the outstanding technical, environmental, and procedural uncertainties.

    Agency Affected: Nuclear Regulatory Commission


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