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NRC staff gives historic OK on 80-year licenses at FP&L’s Turkey Point nuclear plant

Earlier this month something unprecedented happened in the U.S. nuclear energy sector.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has approved Florida Power & Light’s application for an additional 20 years of operation at Turkey Point Units 3 and 4 about 20 miles south of Miami. This was the first time NRC had given formal decisions on stretching operating licenses from 60 to 80 years.

The NRC commissioners are still considering appeals before the operators can go forward with new licenses.

In October, The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission environmental review found that “the adverse environmental impacts of subsequent license renewal for Turkey Point are not so great that preserving the option of subsequent license renewable for energy-planning decision-makers would not be unreasonable.”

Turkey Point Unit 3, which was commissioned in 1972, would have a license extending into 2052. Unit 4, commissioned a year later, could operate to 2053.

This extension issue has been gaining steam for years. About three-fourths of operational U.S. nuclear plants already have licenses up to 60 years, while FP&L, Dominion Energy, Exelon and Duke have either filed or considered extensions into the eight decade.

Two years ago, Dominion filed a request for extension of its two North Anna Power Station reactors in Virginia. Built in the 1970s, the North Anna units currently are licensed through 2038 and 2040.

Dominion also is seeking 80-year licenses for its Surry units, also in Virginia.

The U.S. nuclear power sector produces about 19 percent of the nation’s electricity mix, including more than half of the carbon-free power generated, according to reports.

As of this year the average age of operating U.S. commercial reactors is nearly 40 years old, according to reports. The newest operational reactor is TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2016, but no others for 20 years before that.

Georgia Power is leading construction adding two units to the Vogtle station in that state. The project has endured costs up to $25 billion and several delays, with some partners considering abandoning it, but now hope to complete Vogtle Units 3 and 4 sometime in the next decade.

Santee Cooper and SCANA Corp. abandoned expansion work at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina two years ago. They cited $9 billion plus in expenses and contractor Westinghouse’s bankruptcy as reasons behind the abandonment.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at [email protected] and 918-831-9177).