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USA worries over aging nuclear reactors

Of those granted extensions, more than half received permission to produce more electricity. And some, according to anti-nuclear groups, operate with less government oversight than decades before.

Anti-nuclear groups say the trend does not pose an immediate threat, but they question the wisdom of pumping more power from an aging fleet of reactors.

U.S. nuclear strategy worries scientists…More than half the nation’s reactors, including Virginia’s four, received license extensions, Daily Press, By Cory Nealon 26 April

At the dawn of the nuclear age, Congress decided to issue 40-year licenses to commercial nuclear power plants. The time length was chosen because it mirrored what the Federal Communications Commission gave television and radio channels, Lochbaum said.

Many U.S. reactors were built during the 1970s, meaning their licenses would expire this decade. Utilities began applying for extensions in the late 1990s; the first was granted in 2000.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved 60 more since — the latest on March 21, days after a tsunami struck a Japanese nuclear power plant triggering the industry’s worst crisis since theChernobyl accident in 1986.

Utilities favor extensions because they’re easier than building new reactors, a costly and usually controversial endeavor, Lochbaum said. Plus, there’s no guarantee a new reactor will outperform an older one, he said.

More than half of the 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States, including four in Virginia, last decade were given 20 additional years to operate.

Of those granted extensions, more than half received permission to produce more electricity. And some, according to anti-nuclear groups, operate with less government oversight than decades before.

Anti-nuclear groups say the trend does not pose an immediate threat, but they question the wisdom of pumping more power from an aging fleet of reactors.

“We’re concerned about that. It doesn’t mean one’s going to blow up tomorrow, but we’re concerned,” said David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ nuclear safety project.

April 28, 2011 - Posted by | safety, USA

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