One-Third Of US Nuclear Reactors Are Near Mandatory Retirement

(REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A 39-year-old nuclear plant in Ohio, which was only designed to operate for 40 years, was shut down Sunday for life-extending maintenance.

But the Ohio plant closing is only the beginning of the coming wave of nuclear retirements about to hit the country. Approximately one-third of America’s nuclear reactors are approaching the end of their operating licenses, meaning they are about to hit their mandatory retirement age.

Work crews will replace one-third of the Ohio reactor’s fuel rod assemblies and half of the motors which pump the reactors’ coolant to extend the plant’s life, according to a Monday article in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted in December to allow the Ohio reactor to keep operating for 20 more years past its original retirement date.

The Ohio reactor isn’t unique either. The average age for American nuclear reactors is 35, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of 40-year operating licenses. Sixteen American nuclear reactors are more than 42 years old, according to government data compiled and mapped last week by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Instead of building new modern reactors, the government is planning to simply extend the operating licenses, against the advice of its own technical staff, because it is bureaucratically simpler.

“Many in the [nuclear] industry hope that extending the licenses of existing reactors will forestall at least some closings. Nuclear plants were originally licensed for 40 years, but almost all have sought and received 20-year extensions,” The New York Times reported last week.

While a renaissance in new nuclear power plant construction has been said to be imminent for some time, projects have been delayed or scrapped as a result of an abundance of low-cost natural gas and regulatory issues.

Getting regulatory approval to build new reactors can take up to 25 years, while a reactor can be built in merely 10. It took an incredible 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor due to scandals, red tape and environmental concerns.

Of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only 4 of them are being built in the U.S., just enough to compensate for shutting down older reactors.

Nuclear power provided 19 percent of the electricity used in the U.S. in 2014 according to the Energy Information Administration.

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