An increasing number of US utilities are opting to increase the generating capacities of their existing nuclear power reactors, creating a $25 billion market, according to the Shaw Group.
While making a presentation of company results, Shaw's chairman Jim Bernhard said that 37 reactors out of the USA's total of 104 had already completed or were in the process of implementing power uprates. He added that Shaw had participated in over half of these uprates, helping to add over 3000 MWe to the grid - roughly the equivalent of three new reactors.
This, Bernhard said, leaves a further 67 American reactors that could potentially be uprated. With the average cost of uprating a unit at $250-500 million, he put the value of this potential market at around $25 billion. Shaw noted that both Exelon and Entergy have announced plans to uprate some of their reactors, to which Shaw already provides fleet-wide maintenance services.
The NRC recognises three categories of power uprates:
'Measurement uncertainty recapture' power uprates, which involve implementing enhanced techniques for calculating reactor power and can typically increase reactor capacity by up to 2%;
'Stretch' power uprates, which usually involve changes to instrumentation settings but are within the design capacity of the plant and can typically add up to about 7% capacity; and
'Extended' power uprates, which involve significant modifications to major plant equipment and can result in up to 20% capacity increases.
Since 1977, the NRC has approved some 124 nuclear power plant uprates, representing about 5640 MWe of added capacity.
Exelon operates the largest nuclear fleet in the USA and the third largest fleet in the world. The company's ten plants - comprising 17 reactors - currently represent some 20% of the US nuclear industry's power capacity. In June 2009, Exelon launched a series of power uprates at its reactors, which in total will add between 1300 and 1500 MWe of additional generating capacity by 2017. According to Shaw, the total cost of these uprates will be in the region of $3.5 billion, making them more economic and far less risky than a new nuclear build project of the same capacity.
Uprates are underway at Exelon's Quad Cities, Dresden and LaSalle plants in Illinois, as well as the Limerick and Peach Bottom plans in Pennsylvania. These are expected to account for almost one-quarter of the new generating capacity. Additional uprate projects at nine other Exelon reactors, beginning this year, will add the remainder of the new capacity by 2017.
Uprates and upgrades over the past decade have already added some 1100 MWe of additional capacity at Exelon's plants, the company said.
Shaw also says that Entergy plans to increase the capacity of its 1297 MWe Grand Gulf nuclear power plant in Mississippi by more than 13%. This would make Grand Gulf the largest single-unit nuclear reactor in the USA.
According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which must approve changes in engineering at nuclear power plants, a survey of reactor licensees in May 2009 indicated that some 40 applications are likely to be submitted to the NRC over the next three years for power uprates totalling about 2075 MWe of new generating capacity. During 2010, 16 more applications are expected for uprates that will add a total of some 965 MWe of capacity. A further 17 are expected in 2011, representing an additional 548 MWe, followed by 7 applications in 2012, adding 562 MWe.
This expected total comes to 4150 MWe of new nuclear capacity in the USA - almost as much as three or four new reactors could provide. Worldwide, power uprates of existing reactors added some 808 MWe of generating capacity during 2009.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News