US regulator invites comment on Peach Bottom licence renewal

09 August 2019

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued for public comment the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) on Exelon Generation Company's application for an additional 20 years of operation for Peach Bottom units 2 and 3. This would be a second licence renewal for the Pennsylvania plant and, if granted, would enable it to operate for 80 years.

Peach Bottom (Image: Exelon)

The regulator said it is interested in the public's views on its draft conclusion that environmental impacts "are not great enough to prevent the agency from considering issuance of the renewed licences". The NRC will accept comments at a public meeting to be held in Delta, Pennsylvania on 12 September, at which it will also present an overview of the draft plant-specific supplement to its generic environmental impact statement for plant licence renewal. It will consider written comments on the draft EIS until 23 September.

Peach Bottom is co-owned by Exelon Generation and Public Service and Gas of New Jersey, and operated by Exelon. The two boiling water reactors began commercial operation in 1974 and were initially licensed to operate for 40 years. The original licences were renewed in 2003 and the units are currently licensed to operate until 2033 for unit 2 and 2034 for unit 3.

The NRC is authorised under the US Atomic Energy Act to issue licences for commercial power reactors to operate for up to 40 years. These can be renewed for an additional 20 years at a time. According to World Nuclear Association, as of March 2019 a total of 94 US reactors had renewed their operating licences, although four of these had subsequently closed. With another four licence renewals pending, this means that almost all of the USA's power reactors are likely to have 60-year operating lifetimes.

The NRC and the US nuclear industry are now turning to second - or 'subsequent' - 20-year licence renewals, which would authorise plants to operate beyond 60 years. The first subsequent licence renewal application, for the Turkey Point Units 3 and 4 reactors, was submitted to the NRC in January 2018. Exelon submitted its application for a subsequent licence review for the Peach Bottom units in October that year. The regulator is also currently reviewing subsequent licence renewal applications for Surry units 1 and 2.

According to the NRC, the 40-year period chosen for original licences was based on economic and antitrust considerations, rather than limitations of nuclear technology. Licence renewals require the implementation of ageing management programmes (AMPs) to monitor and manage the effects of continued operation on systems, structures and components. Regulatory guidance for subsequent licence renewals focuses on the management of plant ageing during the 60-80 year operating period and enhancements to existing AMPs implemented during the 40-60 year period, especially the effects of extended operation and high radiation exposure on reactor parts, concrete containment structures, piping and electrical cables, among other things.

Many of Peach Bottom's major components have already been replaced or upgraded as part of work done over the past seven years to increase the plant's generating capacity, Exelon says. These include the station's high and low-pressure turbines, steam dryers, main generators and main power transformers.

The NRC expects to decide on Peach Bottom's subsequent licence renewal application in March 2020.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News