The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted plant operator Exelon a 20-year extension that would extend the possible life of the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant’s two reactors in Pennsylvania to 80 years, allowing operation until 2054.

Peach Bottom 2&3 began operation in 1974, the same year that unit 1 was shut down.

Peach Bottom 1, an experimental helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor, which began operation in 1964, was one of the first commercial nuclear generators in the USA.

However, Peach Bottom 2&3 are General Electric boiling water reactors. The two units were originally rated at 1180MWe but were uprated to 1382MWe in 2018.

Peach Bottom's operating licences run until 2033 (unit 2) and 2034 (unit 3). Exelon said it had "recently made significant investments in new equipment and technologies to increase Peach Bottom’s generation capacity by approximately 12%".

Many of the plant’s major components, including the high and low-pressure turbines, steam dryers, main generators and main power transformers have been replaced or upgraded over the past seven years, Exelon said.

Exelon Nuclear’s chief nuclear officer, Bryan Hanson, said in a press release that the Peach Bottom nuclear plant is “well-suited” to keep running but noted the difficulties of trying to compete with cheaper natural gas in the electricity market.

“Nuclear plants must remain financially viable to continue to operate," said Hanson. He added: "It’s critical that we continue to pursue policy reforms that value the environmental, economic and reliability benefits that zero-carbon nuclear energy provides.”

Exelon estimates that if Peach Bottom continues to operate through 2054,  its clean energy production would avoid some 536 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Peach Bottom is the second US plant to be licensed for operation beyond 60 years. The Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida was the first.

NRC is reviewing an application for a second licence renewal for two units at Dominion Energy's Surry nuclear plant in Virginia.

Dominion has also submitted a letter of intent to relicense two reactors at North Anna and Duke Energy intends to file an application for three units at Oconee in South Carolina.

Photo: Peach Bottom nuclear power plant (Credit: Exelon)