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Operating License Extensions

According to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations, a nuclear power plant can, once it is within 20 years of the end of its current operating license, apply to the NRC for a 20-year extension on that license; this can happen over and over. So far, according to the NRC, 37 of the 103 operating reactors have received such extensions, an additional 12 have applied, and at least 26 more are expected to apply within the next five years. No applications have been rejected.

The trend is troubling.  Many of the reactors that have received and applied for extensions are of designs that would never be approved for construction today, such as the GE Mark I and II Boiling Water Reactor.  Most were designed with a 40-year operating life in mind - the length of the original license - and we're not convinced industry responsiveness and regulatory oversight are strong enough to catch the myriad wear-and-tear issues and keep up with the maintenance requirements of aging plants. 

Perhaps the most pressing reason to oppose license extensions is that the continued operation of a nuclear reactor inevitably results in the production of hundreds of tons of additional nuclear waste.  The proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is irreparably flawed. There is no good solution to the waste problem, but the first step in resolving it is to stop producing more.

Another factor is that many reactors were constructed in areas that were, at the time, in the rural outskirts of cities but are now bustling suburbs.  Increasing population means greater chances that an accident or attack will have devastating consequences.

Finally, there is the fact that a plant can apply as early as 20 years before its current license expires - without any solid knowledge about what factors will have arisen when the plant finally reaches the end of its current license.  The oldest reactor in the U.S. has been operating only 35 years.  We don't know how plants will perform when they hit 50 or 60, or 80 for that matter.  NRC ought to tighten its regulations and proceed cautiously with allowing a plant to extend its license.  The current rubber-stamp approach inspires little confidence.

    » cmep | energy enviro nuclear | newnukes | extensions

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