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America Set to Decide Whether a Nuke Can Outlive a Human via Bloomberg

The U.S. is set to become the first nation to decide whether it’s safe to operate nuclear power plants for 80 years, twice as long as initially allowed.

The majority of the nation’s 99 reactors have already received 20-year extensions to their original 40-year operating licenses. Now, operators led by Dominion Resources Inc. want to expand the time frame further, potentially creating a precedent for an aging global fleet at a time when the economics of the industry are undergoing dramatic change.

Dominion said earlier this month it will request an extension from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the industry. The plan has already raised the ire of anti-nuclear campaigners who cite decades of wear and tear on the nation’s reactors, as well as the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. The NRC will release a draft report next month outlining safety measures needed to extend the time line.

“The reality of life is the risks go up” as plants age, said Dave Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based advocacy group. “If you don’t respond with more aggressive risk management, then you’re inviting disaster.”

[…]

The U.S. is the first country to set out a path for reactors to run to 80 years, Tom Kauffman, a spokesman for the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry advocate, said by e-mail.

Corrosion, Leaks

“There are a number of safety issues with pushing these technologies twice beyond their original projected life span,” Tyson Slocum, Washington-based director of energy at Public Citizen, said by phone on Nov. 18. “You’ve seen a number of issues from Davis-Besse to Vermont Yankee where aging components triggered a variety of leaks.”

FirstEnergy Corp. found that corrosion nearly penetrated a steel reactor cap in its Davis-Besse nuclear station in Ohio in March 2002, while Entergy Corp. reported a small radioactive leak from pipes at its Vermont Yankee plant in January 2010. The company and the NRC said at the time that the leak didn’t pose a health risk.

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