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Could Existing Nuclear Plants Operate for 100 Years?

As reported by the Gloucester Times, a daylong Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting was held Thursday, January 21st, 2021 and revolved around discussion of any technical issues that could arise if nuclear power plants were licensed to operate for 100 years.

When a nuclear power plant is first licensed by the NRC, that license permits a plant to operate for forty years. After that, owners of nuclear plants can apply for a twenty-year license extension. Nearly every power plant in the U.S. has gone through that renewal process at least once.

As of Oct. 31st, 2020, the federal Energy Information Administration said there were 56 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 94 nuclear reactors in 28 states.

About ten years ago, the NRC began discussions to address what protocols should be put in place if plant owners wanted to renew their license a second time, allowing operation for eighty years. The law does not set a limit on how many times a plant can apply to renew its license.

The NRC has since awarded second renewals to a Florida plant and one in Pennsylvania, allowing operation for eighty years. The meeting Thursday posed the question, what protocols should be in place if a plant owner pursued a third renewal, allowing it to operate for 100 years?

With the way that NRC procedures are set up, there wouldn’t be any applications for a potential third renewal for about a decade. Nuclear plants would need to operate for at least another ten years before they could even have enough information to pursue a third renewal from the NRC.

The NRC already looks at the long-term effects of aging on concrete, electric cables and other mechanical components of nuclear plants.

The reason for this meeting on Thursday was for the technical staff to hear from established researchers, both from the nuclear industry and from outside, and from the general public to talk about what technical issues does the NRC agency need to consider.

As of now, there are not any plants seeking an extension from eighty to one-hundred years, but the NRC wants to prepare for when that occurs.

All IBEW 15 represented nuclear generating stations have all gone through the initial twenty-year renewal process to be able to operate up to sixty years.


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