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Aging nuclear plants: increased danger as U.S.utilities want their lives extended to 80 years

Our aging nuclear plants   Utilities nationwide are seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s. , By Ari Natter /Bloomberg, Feb 9, 2020

Bonnie Rippingille looked out at the wisps of steam curling from the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant across Biscayne Bay with a sense of dread. In December federal regulators approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to let the facility’s twin nuclear reactions remain in operation for another 20 years beyond the end of their current licenses. By that point they’ll be 80, making them the oldest reactors in operation anywhere in the world.

“That’s too old,” said Rippingille, a lawyer and retired Miami-Dade County judge. “They weren’t designed for this purpose.”

With backing from the Trump administration, utilities nationwide are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s as they run up against the end of their 60-year licenses.

“We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame.”

Indeed, the move comes as other nations shift away from atomic power over safety concerns, despite its appeal as a carbon-free [  whaaat?] alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Japan, which used to get more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, shut down all its plants in 2011 after a tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima. Only a handful have restarted while others that can’t meet stringent new standards are slated to close permanently. Germany decided that year to shutter its entire fleet by 2022 and is now having trouble meeting its ambitious climate goals.

By contrast, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to decide this year on requests by subsidiaries of Exelon Corp. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at its Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania and Dominion Energy Inc. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at a power plant in Surry, Virginia.

Dominion has notified the commission it intends to ask permission to extend the life of two more reactors north of Richmond, Virginia. Duke Energy Corp. has said it plans to seek license extensions for its entire fleet of 11 nuclear reactors, starting with three in Seneca, South Carolina……

The nuclear industry has been buffeted by a wave of early reactor retirements in the face of competition from cheap natural gas and subsidized renewable power. Constructing a new nuclear plant – the only one being built in the U.S. is years behind schedule and over budget – can cost billions of dollars. Retrofitting an existing one is more likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. ……

Opponents such as Edward Lyman, a nuclear energy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argue that older plants contain “structures that can’t be replaced or repaired,” including the garage-sized steel reactor vessels that contain tons of nuclear fuel and can grow brittle after years of being bombarded by radioactive neutrons. “They just get older and older,” he said. If the vessel gets brittle, it becomes vulnerable to cracking or even catastrophic failure.

Other concerns surround the durability of components such as concrete and electric cables, but an advisory board to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent government agency that gave Turkey Point the green light to operate into the 2050s, said those risks could be managed safely.

The commission’s decision doesn’t sit well with Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami, a city of 13,000 on about 18 miles away from the Turkey Point plant. He keeps a store of potassium iodide, used to prevent thyroid cancer, large enough to provide for every child in his city should the need arise.

“You’ve got hurricanes, you’ve got storm surge, you’ve got increasing risks of hurricanes and storm surge,” said Stoddard, 62. All of this not only increases the likelihood of a nuclear disaster, it also complicates a potential evacuation, which could put even more lives at risk…….

“They are going to be flooded,” Cox said. “If we are relicensing a major utility we need to be preparing for the impacts of sea level rise.”……..


February 10, 2020 - Posted by | safety, USA

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