- Weekly science journal Nature.com has published an overview of issues surrounding relicensing the United States' aging nuclear facilities, and writes that former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Allison Macfarlane believes generators are investing as little as possible in upgrades and maintenance.
- Struggling nukes being pressured by gas-fired generation should probably be replaced rather than kept in service 80 or more years, according to Macfarlane.
- But nuclear safety and monitoring equipment continues to advance, and advocates say as long as the facilities are maintained and inspected, there is no reason they cannot continue to operate safely.
Nuclear facilities are initially granted operating licenses for 40 years, and it is not uncommon for those licenses to be extended another two decades. But as some plants consider a second extension, meaning plant designs would be pushing a century old, there have been questions about whether the facilities should remain open.
Nature.com recently published an examination of relicensing issues, and spoke with former NRC head Macfarlane, who is unconvinced that plants should continue operating for eight decades. “We would be much better off with some of the newer reactors," she told the site.
The article uses Entergy's Indian Point as an example of how nuclear monitoring has improved. Lessons learned from a similar issue in France in 1988 helped the plant use ultrasonic testing to detect damaged bolts earlier this year.
Indian Point has been the source of much controversy in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has argued that the plant cannot be safely operated so close to the largest city in the United States, and has pressed to shut it down. In May, the NRC decided to conduct a second analysis of safety measures at the plant, following a determination that improper data was used in an initial decision.Last year, Dominion, Exelon and Duke all said that they are considering submitting applications to extend plant licenses a second time, to operate for 80 years.
There are more than 70 facilities are already being allowed to operate out to 60 years, and the New York Times previously reported that seven nuclear facilities on the east coast were good candidates for relicensing out to 80 years.