Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Nuclear Industry Worldwide Faces Escalating Battle to Keep Aging Reactors Running

Energy

By Paul Brown

Life extensions to nuclear plants in Europe and North America are repeatedly being granted by safety regulators. But, according to nuclear plant owners, 25 percent of parts are now obsolete, so keeping the reactors going is becoming an increasing problem as components wear out.

Sunset over 1980s-built nuclear plants in Heysham, UK, that have been granted life extensions. Photo credit: carol via Flickr

This is the background to the Nuclear Power Plant Optimisation Summit being held in Brussels tomorrow and Wednesday, when 150 of the world's top nuclear executives will share experience on how to keep their stations open.

In theory, it makes economic sense to keep running a nuclear reactor well beyond its original design life, so long as it does not pose safety problems. With the capital cost of building the reactor written off decades earlier, profits can be substantial if the running costs can be kept low.

Life Extensions

In France, where 75 percent of electricity supply comes from 58 reactors, the government announced in February that it was prepared to raise the limit on the life of reactors from 40 to 50 years.

Also in February, two reactors in the UK that began generating in 1983 and are due to close in 2019 had their lives extended to 2024. Two others commissioned in 1988 will now work on until 2030. In all four cases, the owner can apply for further life extensions after that.

But nuclear power plants built across the world in the 1970s and 80s rely on computer technology and components now long out of production. Replacing worn-out parts is becoming a serious problem, causing an increasing number of unplanned and expensive shutdowns while components are updated.

Low prices for electricity have put increasing pressure on nuclear generators to make their operations more efficient and to prevent outages, so that they can still squeeze a profit out of these reactors.

The alternative is to close them down and face the vast cost of decommissioning them—which, in accountancy terms, turns the power station from an asset into a very large liability. This would be enough to make some power companies technically bankrupt.

A survey of those employed in the industry found nine out of 10 people agreeing that the industry needed to improve its efficiency and 86 percent thought the age of the plants was having a moderate or significant effect on efficiency.

Increasingly Critical

Three-quarters of the problems were caused by ageing equipment, partly because buying replacement parts proved impossible. And finding people with the expertise to operate obsolete equipment is a problem as experienced staff retire.

Although some countries, notably China and South Korea, have a nuclear building program and relatively young reactors, the situation elsewhere is increasingly critical for the industry.

In Europe, there is little chance of replacing the obsolescent fleet with new plants. Perhaps the starkest example is France, with its 58 ageing reactors. It is building only one new replacement reactor.

This plant, at Flamanville in Normandy, should already be in operation, but is years late and three times over budget. Plans to build others have been shelved.

Unless France can keep granting life extensions to its existing plants, the country will have to invest in renewables on a vast scale to keep its carbon emissions in check.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Oil Train Derails in Columbia River Gorge, Rally Calls for Ban on 'Bomb Trains'

What Will Finally Shut Down Diablo Canyon Nukes? Could a Bernie Win Help?

Chile Producing So Much Solar Energy It's Giving Electricity Away for Free

These Four People Were Sued for $30 Million After Speaking Out Against a Hazardous Waste Dump

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Daniel Yetman

Bleach and vinegar are common household cleaners used to disinfect surfaces, cut through grime, and get rid of stains. Even though many people have both these cleaners in their homes, mixing them together is potentially dangerous and should be avoided.

Read More Show Less
During a protest action on May 30 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Datteln in front of the site of the Datteln 4 coal-fired power plant, Greenpeace activists projected the lettering: "Climate crisis - Made in Germany" onto the cooling tower. Guido Kirchner / picture alliance / Getty Images

Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.

Read More Show Less
Dr. Mark Brunswick (2R), Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Quality, walks through the lab at Sorrento Therapeutics in San Diego, California on May 22. ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Ries

Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.

Read More Show Less

By Samantha Hepburn

In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.

Read More Show Less
Meadow Lake wind farm in Indiana. Anthony / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.

Read More Show Less
Andrey Nikitin / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst

Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.

Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A bald eagle chick inside a nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife), as Newsweek reported.
Read More Show Less