Quantcast
Energy

Nuclear Industry Worldwide Faces Escalating Battle to Keep Aging Reactors Running

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

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!