Thirty percent of New England’s electricity generation is from nuclear plants (ISO Regional System Plan 2011). Three out of five of these five plants are past their design life time. All use mostly imported uranium, and exercise questionable safety by storing greater numbers of densely packed, spent fuel rods at the plants. Nuclear power plants have a finite life time. Replacing a decommissioned plant with another will be extremely expensive and time consuming. For example, an AP1000 nuclear power plant (Generation III+) built by Westinghouse will cost between $5B to $7B per reactor and be operational 60 months from receipt of order.
New England Nuclear Plants: This region has 5 nuclear reactors, one each at Vermont Yankee, Seabrook, Pilgrim and 2 reactors at Millstone (units 2 and 3). The reactors at Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Millstone (unit 2) were commissioned in the 1970s. Commissioning dates for Millstone (unit 3) and Seabrook were 1986 and 1990, respectively. Operating license renewals have been granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Vermont Yankee (2032), Millstone (unit 2, 2035; unit 3, 2045), and Seabrook (2026). The license for Pilgrim is schedule to expire in 2012.
Lifespan: The design lifespan is usually 30 to 40 years. Although most elements in a nuclear power plant can be replaced, the reactor vessel cannot be replaced after it is no longer neutron leak proof. That lifespan limitation applies to 3 of the 5 reactors in New England. Government and industry experts are now considering the possibility of operating lifetimes of 80 years.
Uranium Imports: In my blog post of March 24, 2011, I wrote that the United States imports more than 90 percent of its uranium needs, where 23 percent comes from Russia and 15 percent from Kazakhstan. These statistics do not inspire confidence about reliable, secure fuel access to power New England nuclear plants.
Storage of Spent Fuel Rods: Congress passed a law in 1982 authorizing the creation of a national storage facility for spent fuel rods. The execution of that law ceased when the Obama administration canceled plans for storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. “New England plants…have already generated over 4200 tons of spent fuel…but the plants have no clear financial plan on how to pay for long-term storage. The spent fuel sits at or near…regional reactors in either pools of water or dry cement fortifications known as ‘dry casks,’ which cost between $6 to 8 million annually per plant to secure.” “If water is lost from a densely packed pool as the result of an attack or an accident, cooling by ambient air would likely be insufficient to prevent a fire, resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactivity to the environment.”
Decommissioning: There is considerable cost pressure to extend nuclear plant operating lifetimes due to expense and time of decommissioning these installations, as well as cost and time to construct new nuclear plants. For example, three such decommissioning occurred in New England: Yankee Rowe ($608M, 1991), Maine Yankee ($635M, 1996) and Connecticut Yankee ($820M, 1996). The decommissioning process can take decades.Tags: Cost New Nuclear Plant, Imported Uranium, ISO Regional System Plan, Lifespan, Millstone, New England Nuclear Power Plants, Pilgrim, Seabrook, Storage Spent Fuel, Vermont Yankee