Renewal a bridge to replacement

19 December 2013

The operation of US reactors could continue beyond lifespans of 60 years, said the American Physical Society (APS). But this medium-term nuclear strategy should give way to a robust replacement program.

Some 74 of America's fleet of 100 operating nuclear power reactors have been granted renewed licences, which enable operation to the age of 60 - subject to regulatory oversight and commercial decisions. At the same time, power uprates have added 6862 MWe to their total capacity, enabling nuclear power to maintain a 20% share of electricity generation. Another 18 licence renewal applications are current with regulators.

Generously assuming 60-year lives for all of today's reactors means that the current US fleet will largely retire between the late 2020s and mid 2040s. This would represent the loss of about 60% of America's current low-carbon power generation capacity. These shutdowns could be delayed further, concluded a report by the APS, as there are no technical showstoppers to reactor lifespans of potentially 70 or even 80 years. Given the research and regulatory work required to achieve a licence extension, utilities will have to consider this option in the next five years, said APS.

"Utilities should consider extending the licences of nuclear power plants which, unlike coal or natural gas plants, do not emit any major air pollutants as identified by in the Clean Air Act," said APS. It also noted that the environmental credentials of nuclear power "can also be factors for socially responsible investors who are concerned about increased carbon emissions in the US."

With lifespans above 60 years a possibility, US agencies should work to make them a feasible choice for utilities. APS said that the federal government or individual US states could prioritise the lowest carbon generation, thereby favouring nuclear investment. Financial institutions could also include environmental impact in their decisions, which would also result in a more encouraging conditions for nuclear power.

But beyond extending the lives of the mass of reactors built through the 1970s and 1980s, APS said: "The US government should have a concentrated program to support the development, manufacturing and licensing of new nuclear reactors that can be built, operated and eventually decommissioned in a manner that is safe, environmentally sound and cost-effective."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News