Go-slow on new US capacity

13 June 2013

US power market conditions have seen four uprate projects cancelled and a reactor completion slowed to a crawl. They amount to 1587 MWe that now look unlikely to be online at the end of the decade.  

Announced yesterday was a new arrangement for the completion of Bellefonte 1, owned by Tennessee Valley Authority. The nationally owned utility said it would reduce the workforce on completing the reactor, which begun in the 1980s, from 540 to about 140 by October. It is also slashing the project's budget by $116 million to just $60 million per year.

The plant was previously expected to begin generating 1213 MWe in 2019, but TVA did not detail its new expectations other than that the lower budget and workforce reduction would still be enough to "protect the facility for future potential development."

Bellefonte has previously been put as a second priority to another TVA completion project at Watts Bar 2. This 1777 MWe unit is slated for operation in 2015. "The most important job in nuclear construction is to safely deliver Watts Bar 2" in a quality manner... Protecting the Bellefonte asset is also at the top of our 'must and will do' list."

Knock-on effects of US conditions may be being felt globally. Today the Swedish maker of steam generator tubes Sandvik announced it would downwardly revise its order book by SEK1.1 billion ($169 million). It will close an older tube factory and concentrate on a newer one, but the changes will cost 110 jobs.

Also this week Exelon confirmed that it will not be going through with capacity uprate projects at the LaSalle and Limerick nuclear power plants. Each plant has two reactors and the total of the uprates across all four would have been 370 MWe.

Both these decisions were put down to an adverse mix of influences in the US power market. Exelon said cancelling the uprates was due to "market conditions", while TVA said it had to control costs "in an environment where mild weather and a mild economy have negatively affected sales."

Fleet erosion

The moves come as the latest blow to the US reactor fleet, largely constructed in the 1970s and 1980s but with many units expected to operate beyond the 2020s thanks to life extension work supported by good performance and low operating costs.

In February Duke Energy wrote off the Crystal River nuclear reactor after uprate engineering inadvertantly caused issues with the concrete containment that were too expensive and unpredictable to repair. And in May Dominion retired the Kewaunee plant having failed to find a buyer. Last week Southern California Edison announced it would retire both the units at San Onofre in the face of regulatory indecision over permission to operate one of the units at a lower power level to mitigate a known steam generator defect. All these units had been granted 20-year licence extensions on top of their original 40 year operating licences.

In total the retirements amount to 3576 MWe of capacity, reducing the US total to 103,500 MWe generated from 100 reactors. The announcements by TVA and Exelon amount to 1587 MWe that will now likely not be serving the US market at the end of this decade. New-build projects in the US, however, stand to add about 4500 MWe from four new AP1000 units across the Vogtle and Summer sites. Half of these are already officially under construction, having poured first concrete. 

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News