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

Activists of Greenpeace and Fridays For Future demonstrate on a canal in front of the cooling tower of the coal-fired power plant Datteln 4 of power supplier Uniper in Datteln, western Germany, on May 20. INA FASSBENDER / AFP / Getty Images

The Bundestag and Bundesrat — Germany's lower and upper houses of parliament — passed legislation on Friday that would phase out coal use in the country in less than two decades as part of a road map to reduce carbon emissions.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Tara Lohan

Would you like to take a crack at solving climate change? Or at least creating a road map of how we could do it?

Read More Show Less
Climate campaigners and Indigenous peoples across Canada have spent the past several years protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline. Mark Klotz / Flickr / cc

By Elana Sulakshana

Rainforest Action Network recently uncovered a document that lists the 11 companies that are currently insuring the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada. These global insurance giants are providing more than USD$500 million in coverage for the massive risks of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and they're also lined up to cover the expansion project.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Leah Campbell

After several months of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many households are beginning to experience family burnout from spending so much time together.

Read More Show Less
Food Tank

By Danielle Nierenberg and Alonso Diaz

With record high unemployment, a reeling global economy, and concerns of food shortages, the world as we know it is changing. But even as these shifts expose inequities in the health and food systems, many experts hope that the current moment offers an opportunity to build a new and more sustainable food system.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Pixabay

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

Unhealthy foods play a primary role in many people gaining weight and developing chronic health conditions, more now than ever before.

Read More Show Less