NRC New Nuclear Licensing Process

With the U.S. Department of Energy projecting a 24 percent increase in U.S. electricity demand by 2035, one of Duke Energy’s top priorities is determining the most efficient and environmentally sound ways to meet our customers’ growing demand. That’s why we are pursuing, among other new generation options, the proposed 2,234-megawatt Lee Nuclear Station in Cherokee County, S.C.

In order to become an operational nuclear facility, proposed new reactors, like the Lee project, must go through the stringent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing process. The NRC is the federal agency responsible for protecting the health and safety of the public and environment by regulating all aspects of commercial nuclear power facilities in the U.S., including the construction and operation of new commercial nuclear power facilities in the U.S.

The licensing process – something that can take more than a decade to complete – consists of a series of approvals by the NRC, including issuance of design certification, early site permits, limited work authorizations, construction permits, operating licenses and combined licenses for new nuclear power facilities. Additionally, this regulated process provides multiple opportunities for public participation during the development of a new nuclear facility.

This graphic shows the key steps in licensing new nuclear reactors in the U.S. Implemented by the NRC, this process offers multiple opportunities for public input.

Design Certification
During this phase of the licensing process, plant designers secure advance NRC approval of standard plant designs. Throughout the certification process, the NRC offers the public opportunities to comment on design safety issues. Once certified, a plant design is verified safe for operation and is valid for 15 years, with the option of renewing for an additional 10 to 15 years.

Duke Energy’s proposed Lee nuclear facility consists of two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors – one of the safest and most economical nuclear power technologies available in the worldwide commercial market. After more than two years of carefully reviewing the plant design, the NRC staff issued a final design approval for the AP1000 advanced reactor design in December 2002. In December 2011, the NRC approved the “Amended AP1000 Reactor Design,” confirming the AP1000 reactor’s ability to operate safely. For more information about the AP1000, check out the recent news releases from Westinghouse Electric Company and the NRC. 

Early Site Permits
Another part of the licensing process is the issuance of an early site permit (ESP) by the NRC. This step is not required by the NRC, but companies seeking to build a nuclear reactor may apply for this in order to hold the site for potential use later. During this application process, the NRC reviews the proposed location of the nuclear facility by addressing site safety issues, environmental issues and plans for handling potential emergencies. As part of the ESP application process, the NRC also provides an opportunity for a public hearing. Once granted, the ESP is valid for 10 to 20 years and can be renewed for another 10 to 20 years. 

After a comprehensive siting study, Duke Energy selected a site in Cherokee County, S.C., for the proposed Lee project. This site was selected based on existing site infrastructure, previous site characterization work, water and transmission availability and other criteria. Duke Energy chose not to apply for an ESP, but rather submitted the full combined construction and operating license (COL) application for Lee Nuclear. 

3-D rendering of the proposed Lee Nuclear Station. (Photo courtesy of Westinghouse Electric Company)

Combined Construction Permits and Operating Licenses
Receiving a COL from the NRC authorizes the licensee to construct and operate the new nuclear facility. The COL is valid for 40 years with the option to renew for an additional 20 years. Before a COL is granted, the NRC reviews the applicant’s qualification, design safety, environmental impacts, operational programs, site safety and verification of construction with specified NRC criteria. The NRC also provides an opportunity for a public hearing on COL-related issues before the COL is granted.

Duke Energy submitted a COL application to the NRC for the Lee project in December 2007. We anticipate receiving our license in the 2013 time frame.

NRC New Plants Map
Location of projected new nuclear power reactors. (Source: NRC) 

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