Process of Building Nuclear Power Plant

KiJung Park
January 26, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Nuclear Reactor Licensing Process. [2] (Courtesy of the NRC)

With no release of greenhouse gases during the generation process, nuclear energy has risen as a powerful sustainable energy source. Although many countries, including Germany, have been deciding on a nuclear phase-out, nuclear power plant numbers are steadily increasing world wide, with 60 reactors being under construction over 15 countries, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, building a nuclear power plant costs billions of dollars, and a nuclear power plant poses possible potential danger to its site. Thus, building a nuclear power plant requires very complex and careful steps. In this report, we are going to go through the process of building nuclear power plant, step by step, in the United States. (See Fig.1)


Almost all nuclear power plants in the United States today are owned by private companies. However, because of that, a severe licensing process is required from the government for those private companies to build nuclear power plant. A thorough process of licensing is declared in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Part 52 of 10 CFR. [1] The first step of licensing the nuclear power plant is choosing a site where the power plant will be built, and selecting a design of the power plant. There is a list of designs that are already certified by the U.S. NRC, and the companies usually chose a design from that list. [1] The design chosen by the company gets reviewed by the staffs and public regarding various safety issues. Once the company is approved with both the site and design, the company now issues a Combined License (or COL) Application. [1] Then the NRC staffs, stakeholders, and public review the application regarding the nuclear power plant's safety, site safety, its environmental effects, operational plan, and the verification of the construction with ITAAC (Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria). This whole process, from the company choosing the site and design, getting them approved, the company issuing the COL and reviewing the COL takes about five years.

Fig. 2: NRC Commissioner Inspecting Power Plant. (Courtesy of the NRC)

Construction and Running

One the NRC decides everything is satisfied, they finally issues COL to the company, and now the company can start the construction. While the company builds the power plant, NRC staff monitors the whole stage to make sure that the company is following their plan. (See Fig. 2). According to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), it takes about five to seven years to build a large nuclear unit. Once the nuclear power plant is built, it is tested by the electric company to see if it properly runs, and if the power plant passes that test, it is ready to be used.


In total, it takes about a decade or more to build one nuclear power plant. According to NEA, it is very hard to estimate or average the cost of building a nuclear power plant, but it costs about 5 to 6 billion dollars to build a power plant in OECD countries while it might cost less in non-OECD countries. Time and cost of building a nuclear power plant might sound very unattractive, but the fact that many countries are still enthusiastic about the nuclear power plant and the fact that nuclear energy supplies 19.5% or the Unites States' electricity well explains the advantages of having nuclear power plants.

© KiJung Park. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Licenses, Certifications and Approvals for Nuclear Power Plants," U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 10 CFR 52, (U.S. Government Printing Office, 2017).

[2] "2017-2018 Information Digest," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-1350, Vol. 29, August 2017, p. 42.