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Government Power

NRC Expects Applications To Operate Reactors Beyond 60 Years 135

mdsolar writes with news that the aging reactor fleet in the U.S. will likely see units hitting 80 or more years of use before being decommissioned. From the article: "Officials of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear power industry expect the first application to be filed with the agency in 2018 or 2019 for a license renewal to operate a power reactor or reactors beyond 60 years. At a Nuclear Energy Institute forum in Washington Tuesday, neither NRC nor industry officials named specific plants considered likely to apply, and it was not clear from their remarks if any nuclear operator has yet volunteered to be the first to apply." Also see the staff report on preparing for the first applications. The proposed operating license changes would place no limit on the number of 20 year extensions, so perhaps a few reactors will end up in operation for a full century (if there's anyone left who can remember how to operate them then).
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NRC Expects Applications To Operate Reactors Beyond 60 Years

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  • by Mike Kirk ( 58190 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @03:44PM (#46361231) Homepage

    The company I work for is involved in the Nuclear Work Management industry: and companies owning a "fleet" of reactors is common terminology. "Legendary Slashdot commenting"? (after carefully avoiding Google :) )

  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @03:51PM (#46361309)

    I recall reading somewhere that the NRC has a two-year backlog in its approvals process i.e. a power generating company submitting paperwork for a Construction and Operating Licence (COL) today will get it looked at in 2016 at the earliest with a three to five year delay after that for a yes/no decision. The NRC is a US government department hence it's underfunded and woefully understaffed especially in the technical divisions as there are better career opportunities for the qualified engineers needed to go analyse the intensely technical submission documents for a new build.

    As for existing plants reaching end-of-life, that's debatable. Usually by the thirty-year mark a plant's non-core units are in train to be replaced, things like steam generators, main pumps etc. Almost all of the current US reactors have upgraded to digital control systems if they were originally built with anaogue controls back in the 1970s. The key irreplaceable parts of a reactor are the reactor vessel and its containment and since they were originally overspecified and overbuilt to an almost ludicrous degree and they have no moving parts in themselves they usually pass inspection with flying colours. It tends to be external factors that will downcheck a reactor -- safety systems, steam generators etc.

    If the NRC was to shut down older plants simply because they are old their capacity will be replaced with gas and coal, not nuclear because they're a lot less effort in terms of paperwork and currently they're about as cheap to run assuming no-one cares about the pollution they spew into the atmosphere 24/7.

  • by BUL2294 ( 1081735 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @04:11PM (#46361493)
    Except that nuclear reactors are, by regulation, among the most-documented entities on earth. From functionality to maintenance logs to upgrades, nuclear plants & their owners are extreme documenters--to decrease liability and meet government regulation. You don't hear stories of nuclear reactors in places like the US, Canada, UK, Western Europe, etc., with "documentation problems" or knowledge transfer continuity. (Pay people to stay to do an easy job & they will...) Sure, a part schematic may be on paper as opposed to stored electronically, but they'll have multiple copies onsite, a few copies at the power utility offsite, and at the NRC or other national nuclear regulatory agency--and everyone who should know where those copies are, do know... And that documentation would be designed so that anyone with the requisite engineering knowledge & skills should be able to read it...

    Nuclear plants are not run like IT shops--and thank God for that...
  • by TroyHaskin ( 1575715 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @04:19PM (#46361597)
    The NRC's job is safety. That's it. They have people stationed at power plants, and their only job is to ask questions and enforce policies such that the plant operates safely. With that beaten home, let's get to some specifics.

    The biggest concern for the current fleet of U.S. reactors (mostly all Generation II designs) in terms of long operation is embrittlement of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) due to radiation damage (mostly neutronic). Embrittlement of the RPV comes into play when severe accident responses (for either Design Basis Accidents (DBAs) or Beyond Design Basis Accidents (BDBAs)) dictate fast, extreme cooling of the RPV that can lead to pressurized thermal shock (PTS) events. The biggest hurdle toward getting approval is proving which-and-every way to a high confidence level that a PTS breach of the RPV will not occur from this embrittlement. If plants cannot do this, the NRC will not issue a license extension because the plant cannot prove its safety. If you care to read more on it, consult 10 CFR 50.61 [nrc.gov] for details (or the whole thing at the10 CFR 50 Part Index [nrc.gov].

    Are there other requirements? Yes (see the 10 CFR 50 index above). However, this is the one aspect I wanted to expound upon since turbomachinery has been replaced/upgrade, fuel is refreshed every 18 months or so, and piping is constantly checked. But I wanted to stress the safety issue. The NRC has 100% no qualms about telling a plant "no" if that plant cannot prove it is safe to operate.
  • by ChefInnocent ( 667809 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @04:20PM (#46361611)
    Although very limited, there are 4 new reactors being built. 2 at Vogtle, and 2 at VC Summer. It would be nice if we could move a little faster, but at least it is a start. There is also an older style one being built at Watts Bar.
  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Friday February 28, 2014 @05:20AM (#46365985)

    New GenIII reactor designs have a shield/liner that sits between the actual pressure vessel and the core structures that hold the fuel elements and guides for control rods etc. This shield can be removed and replaced during a major refurbishment. It won't stop neutron damage to the vessel but it does cut it down somewhat, extending the reactor's effective life. The GenIII designs are expected to operate within spec for a century absent accident or something unknown appearing in that time (like the Wigner Effect in carbon-moderated reactors) and if nothing much has appeared in the hundreds of LWRs that have operated for forty years and more then it's unlikely something will turn up now.

    Even then modern designs like the EPR permit, in theory, the operators to swap out the reactor vessel. GenII designs built the containment structures around the reactor vessel, nowadays it is put in place after most of the nuclear island's concrete has been constructed and it could be removed in a similar manner. It would be a long multiyear undertaking and very expensive so it will probably never happen other than if the vessel fails very early in the reactor's life to justify the cost and effort.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.