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Washington May Extend Nuclear Reactors Life By 20 Years

Nuclear power plant

The Department of Energy is studying ways to extend the productive life of nuclear reactors as per the request of several nuclear utilities, a source wishing to remain anonymous told Bloomberg.

Three utilities, including Dominion Energy, Exelon Corp., and NextEra Energy had earlier divulged plans to ask the DoE to extend the licenses of eight reactors, and requests for another 20 reactors are expected. The reactors were built in the 1970s and their operators want their licenses extended until 2050 and beyond.

Electricity generated by nuclear reactors in the U.S. accounted for almost a fifth of the total in 2016, numbers from industry lobby group the Nuclear Energy Institute show, with 99 reactors scattered across 30 states. Of the total, 84 reactors have received 20-year license renewals, the NEI says, with another 13 have applied for 20-year extensions.

The nuclear power industry in the country has in the last few years suffered a double blow from cheap natural gas thanks to the shale revolution as well as the rise of renewable energy, coupled with a plateau in electricity demand. As a result, a number of reactors have been retired before the end of their productive lives when they turned loss-making.

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The most notable example in this respect was no doubt Westinghouse’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, after the company found it impossible to overcome cost overruns and project delays. Again, the two factors that sealed the fate of Westinghouse were cheap and abundant natural gas, and a slowdown in demand that went counter to forecasts of an increase. Westinghouse’s parent, Toshiba, sold the business for US$4.6 billion earlier this year to a group of investment companies.

Last year, two new nuclear reactors in Georgia were abandoned mid-construction because they became uneconomical, while more than 10 were retired before their time for the same reason.

Now Washington will have to juggle between the interests of the gas industry and those of the nuclear industry if it is to support both to the same degree. The government will also face the no doubt vocal opposition of anti-nuclear activists.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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