Baltimore Gas and Electric has announced plans to file an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, perhaps as early as this summer, to extend the operating licence of its two-unit Calvert Cliffs nuclear station (2 x 850 MWe PWRs) for 20 years to 2036.
The announcement puts Calvert Cliffs in the forefront of the American nuclear industry’s push to test the licence extension process. Duke Power and Virginia Power are among a number of other US electric utilities that are reportedly planning to apply for licence extensions.
Though it isn’t certain which utility will actually be the first to file, the industry could hardly pick a better candidate than Calvert Cliffs. The station’s two reactors produce about 40% of the company’s electricity and consistently provide low-cost power. They were completed in the mid-1970s before the runup of US nuclear plant construction costs that followed the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the runaway inflation of the early 1980s. Last year, Calvert Cliffs produced more electricity than ever before while still remaining in the top 10% of US nuclear plants in terms of safety.
If not extended, the operating licences of the two Calvert Cliffs reactors would expire in 2014 and 2016.
Still, BG&E took nearly eight years deciding whether to seek the licence extension, a path that requires the company to spend more than $300 million for new equipment upgrades, including the purchase of four new steam generators. BG&E expects to complete installation of the four SGs within four to five years. The new SGs will pay for themselves before the station’s initial 40-year operating period is over, and they will be even more cost-effective with licence renewal, BG&E said.
The NRC plans to focus its review of the licence extension application on age-related degradation issues, with an eye toward ensuring that Calvert Cliffs meets its design basis and will be maintained throughout its extended life. The NRC expects the renewal process will take three to five years from the time of the filing.
By 2015, nearly 40% of all nuclear plant operating licences in the United States are due to expire.