Following a 26-month environmental and safety review, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last week approved a 20-year license extension for the NextEra Energy Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

DAEC is owned by NextEra Energy Duane Arnold LLC (70%), Central Iowa Power Cooperative (20%), and Corn Belt Power Cooperative (10%) and has more than 600 employees.

DAEC’s initial 40-year operating license was granted in 1974 and was set to expire in 2014. Like all other nuclear power plants, the DAEC license was issued for 40 years based on accounting estimates of the time required to recover plant construction costs. The DAEC application covered the environmental impact of an additional 20 years of operation and evaluated the station’s maintenance and engineering programs. These programs will ensure the station can safely operate over the extended license period.

The nearly 2,000-page application document summarized the results of detailed evaluations regarding how material and components in the plant age and how aging will be managed by testing, inspection, refurbishing, or the replacement of plant equipment.  To receive license extension approval, the plant was required to demonstrate that technical information is in compliance with federal regulations. The license extension process also included on-site inspections and opportunities for public participation. (For details of an Electric Power Research Institute project to identify and address the range of technical issues involved in long-term operation of nuclear power plants, see "Collaborative Team Investigates Long-Term Nuclear Operations" in POWER’s November 2010 issue.)

Another relicensing application is taking longer. Entergy Corp.’s Pilgrim Nuclear Plant, whose operating license is set to expire in 2012, is beginning the sixth year of its relicensing process. The Quincy, Mass. Patriot Ledger noted that the Pilgrim plant and Entergy’s other New England plant, Vermont Yankee, "are now tied, at five years, for the longest ongoing license renewals of any nuclear plant in the country."

The latest delay for the Pilgrim application consists of a filing by a local watchdog group, Pilgrim Watch. The Patriot Ledger reported that "The group’s founder Mary Lampert said her group filed a new contention with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Monday [Dec. 13], asking a three-judge panel overseeing the license renewal to hold a hearing on the impact that a wet environment could have on underground power lines. ‘I’m not saying don’t relicense them,’ Lampert said of Pilgrim. ‘I’m just saying that public health and safety has to come first.’"

Though this filing may delay the process, it is unlikely to stop it. As the Patriot Ledger reported, "NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said relicensing panels apply particularly strict criteria for late-file contention requests, such as Pilgrim Watch’s. He said a similar request was rejected by the panel overseeing Vermont Yankee’s relicensing request in October. Among other reasons, Sheehan said the panel rejected the request because the issue of buried electrical cables at nuclear plants has been known for years and could have been brought up by critics long before this year."

Meanwhile, the town of Vernon, Vt., is anticipating a downside to the expected closing of Vermont Yankee in 2012, due to state opposition to that plant’s relicensing. The Brattleboro Reformer reported that town officials are hoping to work out a deal with the plant’s owner, Entergy, that would ensure that the town continues to receive taxable revenue from the plant site after closure. Faced with losing a significant portion of its tax base, the town hopes to continue receiving revenue from the on-site dry cask storage of the plant’s spent fuel.

Sources: NextEra Energy, Patriot Ledger, Brattleboro Reformer, POWER, POWERnews