By Sten Spinella Day staff writer
Waterford — The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission convened Thursday to discuss the possibility of expanding license renewal for nuclear reactors to 100 years, potentially opening the door for Millstone Nuclear Power Station reactors to remain licensed until 2075 and 2085, respectively.
The exploratory meeting was meant to begin an official discussion regarding license renewal for 100 years of plant operation. Nuclear plants were originally licensed for 40 years, which was later extended another 20 years to 60, and a subsequent renewal brought that number to 80 years.
“The legislation that enables the NRC to license nuclear power plants is in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as amended,” Hiser said. “The AEA enables the NRC to license plants to operate for 40 years and allows for renewal of the license upon the expiration of each period. There is nothing in the AEA that has any restrictions on subsequent renewals.”
Hiser said there are 94 operating reactor units in the U.S. At present, 86 reactors have licenses that stretch beyond 40 years, and eight reactors have 40-year licenses.
The reactor license renewal issue is two-pronged. There are the specific questions of whether a reactor’s systems and structures are safe and how to determine that. Then there’s the larger question about the continued existence of nuclear power.
In Millstone’s case, proponents of nuclear power, like Holt, mention the environmental benefit of it, as it’s a zero-emission clean energy source. He also points to Millstone’s contributions to Waterford’s tax base and its position as a top employer in the region.
Nancy Burton, director of the watchdog group Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone, on the other hand, treated last week’s meeting as an opportunity to address the main complaint of anti-nuclear activists, such as excessive radiation and its effect on the surrounding population, the possibility of an explosion, waste and other safety issues.
“In a desperate and extreme move to rescue the dangerous, dirty and failed nuclear industry, the NRC is considering extending the nuclear licenses of the nation’s 94 operating nuclear reactors, including Millstone’s, to 100 years,” Burton said, calling the idea “an extreme act of nuclear madness.”
Many comments from the public during Thursday’s meeting expressed opposition to 100-year license renewal. Some criticized the NRC, which anti-nuclear groups and activists sometimes refer to as the “Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission,” for even broaching the subject of 100-year license renewal. Representatives from Beyond Nuclear, a nonprofit organization focused on educating the public about nuclear power, strongly objected to the idea of extending license renewal, as did Erica Gray, the nuclear issues chair for the Virginia Sierra Club.
“I really question even talking about 100 years since the already-confirmed process to take reactors up to 80 years is inadequate in so many ways,” Gray said. “There’s still no solution to the waste. It’s completely unethical to continue down this path of making the most toxic waste known to mankind and dumping it onto future generations that will have to live with these hazards. It’s time to stop this whole new con job. The reality is, research is already showing renewables, such as solar and wind, can power the world cheaper, safer and with less risk of a disaster or terrorism.”