Senate Hears Nuke Relicensing Pros

By Published On: July 18, 2008

As the nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants reach middle age, power plant owners have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 20 year license extensions for 65 out of 104 operating units. In a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on extensions July 15, nuclear regulators defended their safety record in reviewing license extensions and the industry claimed extensions would lead to “stability.” A license renewal takes about 60,000 person hours to prepare, noted Anthony Pietrangelo, Nuclear Energy Institute vice president. “It will provide the nation with another 20 years of stable, low-cost-zero-CO2 emitting electricity.” Nuclear proponents say the plants are engineered to last beyond their original license expirations. They add that using nuclear power reduces energy providers’ impact on global warming. Detractors point to the aging power plants’ accident potential, in which deadly radioactive material could be spilled or vented–like when an old automobile starts breaking down bit by bit, yet remains road worthy until it blows a gasket. California has two operating nuclear facilities, Diablo Canyon, owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, owned by Southern California Edison. While both power plants were granted about $1.5 billion in ratepayer money to rehabilitate their facilities with new steam generators in the last two years, neither owner has committed to proposing a license extension. PG&E, however, got $14 million in June 2007 to conduct a feasibility study of an extension for Diablo Canyon. Its unit licenses expire by 2025. Both utilities have recently told the financial community that they are interested in investing in nuclear power plants–although not in California.

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