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Life span of U.S. reactors is an issue for the Clean Power Plan via E&E News

Tt will update by year’s end proposed guidelines for assessing the safe life span for nuclear reactors — a central issue for the nuclear industry, the nation’s future electric power supply and the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The new guidance is linked to NRC’s current judgment that there are as yet no “aging” issues with reactors’ structures and components that would prevent current plants from being licensed out to 80 years of age.

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The aging issue involving “passive” plant structures will be joined when U.S. reactors must seek renewed operating licenses. In 2030, near the end of the compliance period for power plant carbon reductions set by U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the average age of the 99 currently operating reactors will be 50 years. Most of the reactors were built in the 1970s and 1980s and were granted licenses to operate for 40 years. If they continue to meet safety standards, the plants can receive license renewals in 20-year increments.

As of the middle of this year, NRC had issued a first round of 20-year renewals for 78 reactor units at 47 sites (two of the units have since shut down), Uhle said. The first relicensing applications by plants seeking to go from 60 to 80 years are expected to arrive in 2029, after most expected coal plant retirements have occurred.

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Aging issues could appear that don’t compel plant closing — provided that degraded components are replaced. But the replacement costs could potentially tip the balance against keeping the plant going, particularly if gas remains relatively cheap.

But that’s not an NRC issue, Marshall said. “We don’t look at the economics of whether or not the plant is profitable. That is up to the licensee. We just look at: Can it be operated safely?” Marshall said.

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