Nuclear units can operate beyond 60 years, with R&D: DOE official
Washington (Platts)--23Feb2011/514 am EST/1014 GMT
No reason has yet been discovered why light-water power reactors could
not operate beyond 60 years, but coordinated, near-term research efforts
should address the issues, industry and government officials said Tuesday.
Co-sponsored by the US Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission and the Nuclear Energy Institute, the three-day workshop in
Washington examined "life beyond 60" issues for power reactors. The event
followed on a DOE-NRC workshop held in February 2008.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told the workshop that "it's very important
that we guard against any potential sense of complacency about aging
management and license renewal."
Some 61 of the 104 operating US power reactors have had their initial
40-year licenses renewed by NRC for an additional 20 years.
Jaczko said "the industry has done good work in developing effective
aging management programs to meet NRC safety requirements. This is a track
record that the industry can be proud of. But it's also important to recognize
that we have very limited experience in seeing how aging management programs
actually work after the initial 40-year period of operation."
Jaczko also said that "if the industry's research demonstrates that
licensees can safely conduct extended operation beyond 60 years, the NRC has
every reason to believe that the licensing reviews will proceed efficiently
Peter Lyons, acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy at DOE, told
the workshop the agency has requested about $21.4 million for its LWR
Sustainability Program for fiscal 2012. Lyons said there is "very strong
support" in the Office of Nuclear Energy for "this very important program."
Lyons noted "a national strategic interest in the long-term operation of
existing plants," because such operation could "support climate change
objectives" and enhance US energy security.
DOE has entered into a memorandum of understanding with NRC and the
Electric Power Research Institute "to cooperate on R&D related to the
long-term operation of existing plants," Lyons said.
Lyons said he agreed with Jaczko that "now is the time for research" on
lifespans beyond 60 years. Such efforts might lead to "changes, if necessary,
in the regulatory structure," Lyons said, "but first comes the research."
Brew Barron, president and CEO of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group,
said: "We don't know any technological show-stoppers to safe and reliable
operations beyond 60 years." The question of long-term life extension "is not
an economic study, it's an environmental imperative," Barron said.
If the current US power reactor fleet were replaced with natural
gas-fired generation capacity after 60 years of operation, the US would raise
its greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by 15%, Barron said.
US nuclear utilities need to know "within the next seven years" whether
current power reactors can have their licenses extended to operate beyond 60
years because they will need to make "significant capital expenditures" to
prepare for such a situation, Barron said.
Jeff Lyash, executive vice president for energy supply at Progress
Energy, agreed, saying in remarks that "we need to get clarity, quickly" on
Some of the many issues to be explored include "fundamental research" in
aging management of pipes, cables, concrete, and other materials and
components, Lyash said.
"These decisions are not long off in the future," and component
replacement decisions being made by utility executives today need to account
for the possibility of life beyond 60 for reactors, he said.
David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned
Scientists, and Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear challenged the adequacy of NRC's
license renewal review program in their presentations.
Lochbaum told the workshop that renewal reviews do not adequately track
or review "exemptions" from new safety requirements that have been granted to
some power reactors on the assumption they would operate for 40 years. Safety
issues that might arise from such "exemptions" and "grandfathering" must be
considered in first and subsequent license renewal reviews, Lochbaum said.
Gunter said in a speech that the NRC and industry approach to license
renewal is analogous to driving a vehicle using only its rear-view mirror.
Issues such as containment liner corrosion were not anticipated and have not
been adequately addressed in reviews conducted so far, he said.
Many license renewals have been granted "in the absence of demonstrated
and pro-active aging management programs," Gunter said.
--Steven Dolley, email@example.com
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