Will feds bless 80-year-old reactors? Dominion to seek second 20-year license extension for Surry

Dominion (NYSE:D) said Nov. 6 that it has become the first U.S. nuclear operator to formally notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that it intends to apply for a second 20-year license renewal for a nuclear power plant.

Subsidiary Dominion Virginia Power plans to seek the second license extension for the dual-unit Surry nuclear plant. Dominion Generation CEO David Christian made the announcement at a White House symposium on the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

The idea that some nuclear plants could, with proper upkeep, run for 80 years, has been kicking around NRC and nuclear circles for a number of years. Most domestic nuclear units in the nation has already either applied for, or received, a 20-year license that is tacked onto the end of their original 40-year license.

The “subsequent license renewals,” as NRC refers to them, would open the door for running a nuclear plant for a total of 80 years.   

Dominion is reviewing all technical aspects associated with the renewal, and while not yet complete, sees no significant barriers that would prevent a license renewal submittal in 2019. The letter of intent is necessary so the NRC can plan its staffing needs to support the license renewal effort. Moving forward with the license renewal application will require the approval of the company’s board of directors.

Surry Power Station is located in Surry County, Va. Its two nuclear units – both three-loop Westinghouse pressurized water reactors (PWRs)– provide 1,676 net MW of electricity or enough power for 419,000 homes. Unit 1 began commercial service in 1972 and Unit 2 began commercial service in 1973.

Like all U.S. nuclear units, the Surry units originally were licensed to operate for 40 years. The units’ licenses were renewed for 20 additional years of operation on March 20, 2003, following a stringent review process authorized under federal law. The Surry nuclear units’ licenses currently expire in 2032 and 2033, but will operate to 2052 and 2053 with renewed licenses.

“Renewing Surry Power Station’s licenses for a second 20-year period is good news for our customers, the regional economy and the environment,” Christian said. “Our customers will benefit by continuing to receive safe, reliable and low-cost electricity from the station through the middle of the century. Our nuclear power stations have proven to be among the most efficient and most reliable sources of electricity in our fleet.

“The operation of Surry also positions Virginia for economic growth. It supports more than 950 high-paying jobs at the station and produces additional economic and tax benefits,” Christian said. Surry also generates 20% of the electricity in Virginia, the Dominion official said.

The nuclear industry might need to secure subsequent license renewals for some of its existing plants if it is to retain its currently share of about 20% of the nation’s electric generation.

In December 2014, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that most U.S. nuclear plants are currently scheduled to retire by 2050 without a second 20-year extension. EIA reported at the time that Dominion was looking at such an extension for Surry and Exelon (NYSE:EXC) was also considering that route for its two Peach Bottom units in Pennsylvania.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.