» Clean Energy

» Affordable Energy

» Clean, Affordable Transportation

» Dirty Coal

» Nuclear Relapse

Sign-up for Energy Action Alerts

CitizenVox: Standing Up to Corporate Power

Licensing Process for a New Nuclear Reactor

Early Site Permit

An Early Site Permit, or ESP, essentially allows a specific location to be approved for building a new nuclear power plant without a company actually committing to building a reactor or using any specific reactor design. Instead, the site is approved for a range of designs. Once an ESP is issued, there are many environmental and public health and safety issues that cannot be challenged for the duration of the permit, usually 20 years with the option of at least a 20-year extension. A utility company is granted permission to apply for a construction and operation license (COL) at any point during that time without having to revisit site-specific factors and contentions, even in light of new information that may raise additional safety concerns.

Public Citizen and other groups oppose the ESP process based on the fact that it artificially segments and disjoints the process of designing and approving a specific reactor for a specific site and decreases the opportunity for the public and surrounding communities to have meaningful involvement in decisions affecting their health and safety. Deadlines for filing contentions are unreasonably short and tend to pass before most concerned people even become aware of the situation. Many factors that should logically be included in such a permit, such as security and waste issues, are ignored completely. Other issues, such as the need for additional power generating capacity in that geographic area, the impact a new nuclear plant in that area will have on the cost of power, and alternative sources of power generation for that area, are not even considered. Instead, they are postponed until a later stage called the Combined Construction and Operating License (COL), the other side of the new reactor coin.


Combined Construction and Operating License

The Combined Construction and Operating License, or COL, is part of a new, “streamlined” process designed to encourage construction of new nuclear power plants by heavily subsidizing nuclear owners and removing opportunities for the public to raise important safety concerns. By combining what was previously two steps—construction and operation—there is no chance for the public to raise concerns about problems with the actual construction process after it begins. By the time the shovel hits the dirt, the reactor is already approved to start up.

Under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Power 2010 program, half the cost of applying for the COL will be paid by the DOE. Initial estimates for the total cost to DOE for both the COL and the similarly-financed Early Site Permit together were somewhere between $42 million and $87 million per plant. However, in May 2005 it was announced that a business consortium will receive $260 million in taxpayer funds from DOE to fund half the cost of preparing two COL applications and having one reviewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Two other consortia have also asked and been approved for federal subsidies.

Copyright © 2016 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.


To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.