Economics favor extending the life of nuclear power plants beyond 60 years, according to a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2010 with projections to 2035 found that if nuclear plants are retired after the 20-year renewal, ending operation at 60 total years, more than one-third of existing U.S. nuclear capacity will be retired between 2029 and 2035. With nuclear plants providing about 20 percent of U.S. electricity, the nuclear power industry is preparing applications for license renewals that would allow continued operation beyond 60 years, with the first to be submitted in 2013.
EIA said with current O&M costs for the most expensive nuclear plants at about 3.5 cents per kWh and total costs for new baseload capacity ranging between 8 cents to 11 cents per kWh, the operating costs of existing nuclear power plants would have to increase substantially before it would be economical to retire even the most expensive nuclear units.
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 authorized the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to issue operating licenses for nuclear power plants for 40 years. The NRC is allowed to issue one 20-year renewal if nuclear reactor owners show that continued operations can be conducted safely. As of July 2009, the NRC has granted renewals to 50 of the 104 reactors in the U.S. allowing them to operate for 60 years. The NRC has another 15 applications still under review. The organization has yet to deny a 20-year license renewal.