Nuke Plants Look at Life After 60

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 @ 06:03 PM gHale

Light-water power reactors should be able to operate beyond 60 years, but there needs to be research that addresses the issue, industry and government officials said.

The news came to light during a three-day workshop co-sponsored by the US Department of Energy (DOE), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Nuclear Energy Institute that examined “life beyond 60” issues for power reactors.

“It’s very important that we guard against any potential sense of complacency about aging management and license renewal,” said NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

Some 61 of the 104 operating U.S. power reactors have had their initial 40-year licenses renewed by NRC for an additional 20 years.

“The industry has done good work in developing effective aging management programs to meet NRC safety requirements,” Jaczko said. “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.”

“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 and effectively,” he said.

Peter Lyons, acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy at DOE, said 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.”

There is “a national strategic interest in the long-term operation of existing plants,” Lyons said, because such operation could “support climate change objectives” and enhance U.S. 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 agreed with Jaczko saying “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.”

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