Phases of Oversight

A nuclear power reactor project has a life cycle, starting with selection of a suitable site and a reactor type. This is followed by detailed design and construction of the plant. The longest phase is the actual operation of the plant, which can last several decades. Finally the plant has to be decontaminated and decommissioned, so that the land can be used for other purposes. During each of these phases, assuring plant safety presents different challenges. As a consequence, the regulatory agency provides oversight in different ways. During each phase, the regulatory agency has to ask different questions and arrive at different conclusions. Below are the seven phases of the regulatory process in the order which they occur, and the conclusions that the agency must reach in each phase.

1. Siting

Site approval involves review of the proposed plant location to assure that plant safety will not be unduly challenged by earthquakes, adverse weather or nearby industrial hazards.

  • The site does not present undue hazards to safe operation.
  • The site is suitable for preparation of an emergency plan.
  • The site is suitable for preparation of a physical security plan.
  • The plant does not represent undue hazard to the site environment.

2. Construction Permit

Licensing is an intensive process, in which the regulatory agency reviews every aspect of plant design and operation as presented in the Safety Analysis Report (SAR) to assure that the plant will operate safely. In most countries, licensing is split into two phases: the construction permit and the operating license. The issuance of the construction permit is based on a safety assessment of the as-designed plant as presented in the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR).

  • The plant design meets applicable regulatory standards.
  • The plant has been designed to minimize risk to the public.
  • The plant design incorporates sufficient features for plant security.

3. Construction

During the construction phase, the regulatory agency conducts many inspections to assure that the plant is built to acceptable standards and meets PSAR commitments.

  • The plant has been constructed in accordance with the construction permit.
  • Plant construction conforms to applicable quality assurance standards.
  • Plant construction conforms to applicable engineering codes and standards.

4. Operating License

The issuance of the operating license is based on the as-built plant as reflected in the Final Safety Analysis Report (FSAR).

  • The as-built plant meets applicable regulatory standards.
  • The plant has been constructed to minimize risk to the public.
  • The as-built plant incorporates sufficient features for plant security - The technical specifications provide adequate control of plant configuration.

5. Authorization to Operate

Following construction, the regulatory agency authorizes the start of operation. This can happen only if the plant has been constructed properly, and the operating company has the resources and procedures to operate it safely.

  • The plant has successfully passed all applicable startup tests and inspections.
  • Plant personnel have been qualified (licensed) to operate the plant safely.
  • Plant operating programs and procedures are sufficient to assure safe operation.
  • An effective emergency plan is in place.
  • An effective security plan is in place.

6. Operation

The operation phase encompasses several decades, during which the plant operates and produces electricity. In this phase, the regulatory agency provides oversight to assure that the plant is operated safely, day and night, year after year.

  • Plant operation conforms to regulatory requirements and license conditions.
  • Safety performance of plant management and staff assures public safety.
  • Modifications to safety systems, structures and components are acceptable.
  • Operational events do not present an undue hazard to public safety.

7. Decommissioning

In the final phase, the regulatory agency assures that the plant has been safely decommissioned, and that the land is safe for other uses.

  • Plant and site decontamination conforms to applicable residual dose criteria.
  • The plant is maintained in a safe and secure state throughout decommissioning.