Dominion to Seek 80-Year Lifetime for North Anna Nuclear Reactors 

Dominion Energy will formally ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to relicense its two reactors at the North Anna Power Station for 20 more years—effectively extending their operating lives up to 80 years.

Dominion Energy Virginia notified the federal regulatory body of its intent to relicense the two reactors in Louisa County, Virginia, which it will file in 2020. The company in November 2015 notified the NRC of its intent to seek a 20-year license renewal of its two units at the Surry power station, in southeastern Virginia, during the spring of 2019.

The 1,892-MW North Anna plant’s Unit 1 began commercial service in 1978 and Unit 2 in 1980. The 1,676-MW Surry plant’s Unit 1 began commercial service in 1972 and Unit 2 in 1973. All four units’ licenses were renewed for 20 years in March 2003. The North Anna’s units are currently authorized to operate until between 2038 and 2040. At Surry, the reactors are licensed until 2032 and 2033.

If the NRC approves the license extensions, North Anna’s units will be allowed to run until 2060, and Surry’s, until 2053.

Dominion said a review of technical aspects associated with the North Anna license renewal application is not yet complete, but that it sees “no significant barriers” preventing a 2020 submittal. The letter of intent alerts the NRC so that it can plan its staffing needs to support the effort, the company said.

Dominion also expects to pour $4 billion into upgrades at North Anna and Surry as part of the relicensing process.

According to Daniel G. Stoddard, chief nuclear officer for Dominion’s nuclear generation division, Dominion’s push to renew the plants’ licenses for an unprecedented 20 more years ties into Virginia’s renewed push to tamp down its carbon emissions, even in the absence of federal policy. Virginia’s voters ushered in Democrat Ralph Northam as Governor during the November 7 election.

As POWER reported, the state’s Air Pollution Control Board is expected to take up a draft proposal released this week that seeks to cap emissions from utilities in the state beginning in 2020. It also proposes mandating a 30% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030. Dominion Energy’s Pam Faggert, the utility’s chief environmental officer, said in a statement responding to the draft rule that Dominion expects to fully meet whatever regulatory requirements result.

Dominion, which recently successfully lobbied for state backing to help keep its two reactors at the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Connecticut, open until at least 2035, when the license for Unit 2 expires, said it “may consider another 20-year renewed license” for the Millstone units “but has made no decision to do so at this time.”

The NRC is authorized under the Atomic Energy Act to issue licenses for commercial power reactors to operate for up to 40 years—a period known as “extended operation.” According to the NRC, economic and antitrust considerations, not limitations of nuclear technology, determined the original 40-year term for reactor licenses. “However, because of this selected time period, some systems, structures, and components may have been engineered on the basis of an expected 40-year service life,” it noted.

License renewal is a process that essentially proceeds along two tracks and takes up to three years to complete.

1. The NRC’s license renewal process. Source: NRC

1. The NRC’s license renewal process. Source: NRC

 

Of 99 nuclear reactors licensed to operate in the U.S., 86 have been granted an initial 20-year license renewal.

 

2. License renewals granted for operating nuclear power reactors. Source: NRC

 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)