Dominion subsidiary Dominion Virginia Power on Nov. 6 became the first U.S utility to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of its intent to file a second license renewal application for one of its nuclear plants. Dominion intends to seek a 20-year extension for the two-unit, 1,676-MW Surry Power Station in Virginia.

The announcement was made at a White House symposium on the future of U.S. nuclear energy on Friday.

If granted, the extension could make Surry the first U.S. nuclear plant to be licensed for 80 years of operation. Its two GE pressurized-water reactors began operations in 1972 and 1976. Like all U.S. reactors, they were initially licensed for 40 years of operation. Both received license extensions from the NRC in 2003 and are currently licensed to operate through 2032 and 2033. The second extension would push those dates out to 2052 and 2053.

Reactor operation beyond 60 years has been controversial, with nuclear experts disagreeing on the ability of plants built in the 1970s and 1980s to continue operating well into this century. Several industry and government research projects are underway to study the issues involved in such long-term operation. Without such extensions, however, the bulk of the nation’s nuclear fleet will begin shutting down after 2030.

Dominion said it is reviewing technical issues associated with the renewal, and while the review is not yet complete, the company sees no significant barriers that would prevent a submittal in 2019. The letter of intent sent to the NRC on Oct. 6 is necessary so the NRC can plan staffing needs to support the renewal process.

Moving forward with the application would require the approval of the company’s board of directors.

Though other U.S. reactors face challenging economic environments, Dominion views renewal for the Surry nuclear plant as a sound move, said David A. Christian, CEO of the company’s Dominion Generation business unit.

“Our customers will benefit by continuing to receive safe, reliable and low-cost electricity from the station through the middle of the century,” he said. “Our nuclear power stations have proven to be among the most efficient and most reliable sources of electricity in our fleet.”

—Thomas W. Overton JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).