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Nuclear Plants, Old and Uncompetitive, Are Closing Earlier Than Expected via The New York Times

Washington — When does a nuclear plant become too old?

The nuclear industry is wrestling with that question as it tries to determine whether problems at reactors, all designed in the 1960s and 1970s, are middle-aged aches and pains or end-of-life crises.

This year, utilities have announced the retirement of four reactors, bringing the number remaining in the United States to 100. Three had expensive mechanical problems but one, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, was running well, and its owner, Dominion, had secured permission to run it an additional 20 years. But it was losing money, because of the low wholesale price of electricity.

“That’s the one that’s probably most ominous,” said Peter A. Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the Public Service Commission in New York. “It’s as much a function of the cost of the alternatives as it is the reactor itself.”

While the other three, San Onofre 2 and 3 near San Diego and Crystal River 3 in Florida, faced expensive repair bills because of botched maintenance projects, “Kewaunee not only didn’t have a major screw-up in repair work, it didn’t even seem to be confronting a major capital investment,” he said.

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Oyster Creek, an Exelon reactor in Forked River, N.J., is the oldest in the country, having opened in 1969. It received a 20-year license extension in 2010, but Exelon promised to shut it by the end of 2019 in exchange for an exemption from some rules governing the discharge of hot water from the plant. It might not make it to 2019, though. At San Onofre, the owners were faced with the need for a big new investment for repair, and calculated not only the price but the number of years of life remaining over which they could recoup their investment. The same could happen at Oyster Creek.

Two to watch are Vermont Yankee, in Vernon, just north of the Massachusetts border, and Indian Point, in Buchanan, N.Y., 30 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. The states of Vermont and New York are seeking to close them. If they remain profitable, the owner of all three units, Entergy, seems likely to fight tooth and nail to keep them open, but Vermont Yankee’s profitability does not seem certain. It could join plants like Maine Yankee, or Zion, near Chicago, in retirement and decommissioning.

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