The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has decided to discontinue its considerations of regulatory and other changes to allow reactor operators to apply for 40-year licence renewals - which could conceivably mean 100-year operating lives. It has however recommended, amongst other things, further evaluations to address the potential for reactor operations up to 100 years.
"Our process for reviewing requests to extend reactor operating licences uses 20-year renewal periods. Over the past few years, almost every operating US nuclear power plant has applied for and received 20-year extensions after meeting our rigorous safety standards," NRC said via Facebook. "We've been considering whether to allow nuclear power plant owners to request 40-year renewals, and we held a public meeting on the topic earlier this year. After fully considering the options and public input, we've ended the 40-year renewal discussion, and we've also offered recommendations on enhancing renewal-related inspections and oversight."
NRC staff began work to assess the feasibility of extending the time period for licence renewal from the current 20 year maximum to 40 years, and to identify options for implementing this change, following a public meeting in May 2020. With more than 90% of the operating reactors possessing renewed licences for operation to 60 years, this activity included consideration of the technical issues that would be associated with plant operation to 100 years, the regulator said in a Memorandum summarising its findings.
Although recommending that current activity to consider regulatory and other changes to enable licence renewal for 40 years be discontinued, the NRC recommended it should: consider an evaluation of possible changes to oversight and inspection activities related to licence renewal and subsequent licence renewal; consider an evaluation to identify on-going research activities that could be extended to greater exposure levels to address the potential for reactor operations up to 100 years; periodically query the industry to determine interest and timing to pursue operation to 100 years, so NRC staff can identify the need and timeframe to begin developing guidance documents to support 100 years of plant operation; and consider an evaluation of impacts to plant risk from the combined effects of multiple aged components, should licence renewal to 100 years of plant operation be contemplated in the future.
The earliest date at which an application for operation to 100 years could be submitted - that is, the earliest expiration date for a 60-year renewed licence - is 2029, the NRC working group noted.