The US Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting a request by utilities to extend the life of some nuclear plants for up to 80 years, Bloomberg reported on 21 February, citing “an official with the department, who asked not to be named”.
The source said the agency was conducting research and working with utilities seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to allow nuclear reactors built in the 1970s to keep operating to 2050 and beyond. Exelon Corp, Dominion Energy and NextEra Energy have all have said they plan to ask regulators to extend 60-year licences by 20 years for eight reactors in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Requests for up to 20 more are expected, according to the nuclear industry, Bloomberg noted.
President Donald Trump began a review in June of ways to revitalise the nuclear industry, but NRC will ultimately decide on extending the operating licences. "You are talking about continuing the operation of a perfectly safe and reliable power plant. Make that comparison with the new construction of a plant," said Jerud Hanson of the Nuclear Energy Institute. "The cost savings are substantial." The costs of retrofitting an existing plant can vary, but are likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, he said. Construction of a new plant runs well into the billions. Already, a majority of the 99 commercial nuclear reactors operating in the USA have received NRC approval to extend their licences from 40 to 60 years.