Could a Renaissance Be in Store for Existing Nuclear Plants? | 7/4/2018 | Institute for Energy Research
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Nuclear plants were originally issued 40-year operating licenses by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most utilities had applied for 20-year renewals for their nuclear units, and have operated them for 50 to 60 years. Many utilities are now considering applying for a second renewal and four plants have begun that decade-long process. The initial operating license for nuclear units was issued for 40 years because it was believed that nuclear plants would last 40 to 50 years. But, they, like coal plants, have operated for much longer, providing reliable and relatively inexpensive electricity.

Duke Energy, for instance, has maintained its nuclear units, continually replacing critical equipment. At the Brunswick plant in Southport, Duke completed a refueling outage earlier this year, installed new turbine controls and upgraded the plant’s diesel generators that keep the facility operational during emergencies. The licenses for the two reactors at the Brunswick plant expire in 2034 and 2036 and are candidates for a second renewal.

Duke - Reactors - Locations - North - South

Duke’s 11 reactors at six locations in North and South Carolina generate over 56 percent of the power in those two states. To relicense these 11 reactors is less expensive than building a new plant, despite the costs associated with the equipment upgrades and replacements required for relicensing.

The main factor limiting how long a plant could be operational is the reactor vessel, which could become brittle because of the nuclear activity taking place inside it. In most units, however, the lifetime of the reactor vessel is much greater than 80 years.

Units - Years - Nuclear - Regulatory - Commission

To keep these units operating for 20 more years will require that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission amends its onerous regulatory policies that caused cost increases and slowed the deployment of nuclear power.

According to Australian National University researcher Peter Lang, in the 1960s and 1970s, nuclear power transitioned from a technology with rapidly falling costs...
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