WNA releases position paper on long-term operation

3 July 2020

Turkey Point is licensed to operate for 80 yearsThe World Nuclear Association (WNA) has released a new technical position paper on “The Enduring Value of Nuclear Energy Assets”.

More governments must introduce policies to support the long-term operation (LTO) of nuclear plants to maximise the environmental, employment and economic benefits they bring, the paper, issued by WNA’s Long-term Operation Task Force, concluded.

WNA Director General, Agneta Rising said: “Ensuring today’s nuclear plants achieve long-term operation is an urgent policy challenge. If government are serious about climate change and energy resilience they should not allow such plants to retire.”

The paper calls on governments to:

  • Invest in basic education and higher-level academic institutions and training programmes to ensure that there is a skilled pool of workers.
  • Develop an industrial strategy so that the supply chain is in place.
  • Reform markets so that they value the non-power benefits of nuclear alongside other clean energy technologies.
  • Ensure that, in those countries where public participation for LTO is a requirement, the process is transparent and that stakeholders are provided with fact-based information not only on safety and environment risks but also on socio-economic benefits.

Long-term operation of nuclear power plants is, in most energy markets, the lowest-cost option for generating electricity on a levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) basis, and is expected to stay that way for decades to come, WNA says.

There is no fixed technical limit to the lifespan for most reactors technologies. LTO of nuclear plants has been successfully demonstrated globally and is now standard practice, with planned operating lifetimes of 60 to 80 years now commonplace.

The paper notes that most of the world’s fleet is technically capable of LTO. Where nuclear plants have had to close in recent years, this has normally been to do with political factors, or else market failure, but not because of technical limitations of the reactor. Another advantage of LTO is that it acts as a bridge to new build, preserving core competencies within the industry, helping to retain highly-skilled jobs and support local communities.

“The trend of reactors closing for political and market reasons urgently needs to stop if countries are serious about decarbonising their energy supplies and preserving the many otherbenefits these plants provide,” the paper concludes.

”While LTO is an urgent global priority, it should not stop existing nuclear countries from also pursuing the construction of new reactors. Operating nuclear plants will eventually need to be replaced and LTO can serve as a bridge to nuclear new build by ensuring that key competencies are retained. LTO and new nuclear build programmes should be pursued in parallel to help meet carbon dioxide reduction targets.”

Action from the industry, government and regulators is urgently needed to maximise the output of existing nuclear plants, the paper emphasises. Plant operators should:

  • Introduce a plant life management and design change management programme at an early stage.
  • Conduct an assessment of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental threats and opportunities prior to licensing and modernisation.
  • Take steps to amend the work culture to include a focus on modernisation projects and ensure the necessary human capacity, both internal and external, is in place.

Operators and suppliers should also ensure that components remain available over the entire operating lifetime of a nuclear plant. In addition, codes and standards should be harmonised internationally to broaden the supply chain, and efforts should be made to increase ‘commercial grade dedication’ (whereby commercial grade items are qualified for use in the nuclear sector). Innovative new technologies – such as digitalisation, additive manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence, automation and advanced nuclear fuels – will also play a key role.

WNA says it is not enough for policy-makers to simply legally allow LTO; they need to remain actively supportive of their country’s nuclear sectors and ensure policy continuity for LTO to occur.

“They should invest in the necessary infrastructure – providing resources for education and training, implementing an industrial strategy and redesigning energy markets to recognise the benefits nuclear energy brings. With the help of governments, existing nuclear plants will play a larger role in helping to reduce emissions, lower energy bills and keep the lights on than previously envisioned.”

Photo: Turkey Point Nulcear Power Plant in December received a licence renewal from the US nuclear regulator, allowing it to operate for up to 80 years

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