Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Frontline, Nuclear Aftershocks and Renewing the Operating License at Indian Point

Just picked up this clip from The Daily Courtland. In it, Frontline's Miles O'Brien repeats a common misconception about nuclear power plants:

“The reality is, Indian Point’s technology is not cutting edge, it’s old,” correspondent Miles O’Brien says in the documentary. The documentary shows scenes of the Village of Buchanan, Mayor Sean Murray and inside Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants, discussing the relicensing of the 40-year-old plants.
Again, I refer back to the transcript of the December 1, 2011 interview that O'Brien conducted with Joe Pollock, then Vice President of Operations with Indian Point Energy Center:
MR. O’BRIEN: 60 years seems like a long time to run a plant. And I’ve even heard some people say, hey, maybe we can go 80 years with some of these plants. First of all, did you take a position on that yet? Or are you still –

MR. POLLOCK: No, we have already – we’re working on 20 years. And when the plants were designed, they built for the 40 year life cycle. It was believed that the reactor vessel was the limiting addition. So at that time, when we built them, we put specimens in the vessel that we could take out every 10 years and measure the impacts and the influence from the neutrons from reactivity. And what we’ve found out, it was far less than what we had done in our calculations. So that’s how it came about, that we looked at and said: We could extend the life of these plants, at least from a reactor standpoint, and then be able to do the maintenance and the life extension on the other equipment that was part of it.

[...]

MR. O’BRIEN: So how can you assure – people are concerned when they think about a plant running as long as that. I guess what you’re saying is it really isn’t 60 years old. Is that – the way I look at it?

MR. POLLOCK: Well, it’s not 40 years old, you know. And you know, a lot of the equipment in here is not 10 years old. As you go through, we do total teardowns and rebuilds on emergency diesel generators, I believe, you got to see on your tour. We do complete teardowns and inspections over there of every refueling outage. We test them once a month. They have to start within 10 seconds, you know, without failure and be able to load up and be available. But the realities are they don’t run. So it’s like starting your car you have in your garage once a month to make sure it starts. And then, what we do is, after two years, we’ll go in there and tear apart and inspect it to make sure everything’s OK, and then we’ll go do an endurance run on it, you know. So then we’ll go take that long drive to make sure it’s going to work.
This is an issue that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also addressed:
A 40-year license term was selected on the basis of economic and antitrust considerations, not technical limitations.
And, as NEI mentioned in one of its fact sheets ...
The 40‐year term of a nuclear power plant license has nothing to do with aging plant components or a belief that safety needs to be reviewed on a 40‐year cycle. Instead, the period was chosen to parallel the financing amortization period for a plant. Exceeding federal safety standards is an ongoing activity for companies that operate nuclear power plants.
For more, I'll refer you back to this post from Victoria Barq, one where she made the case that the idea that Japan should shut down reactors once they reached the 40-year mark was wrongheaded for all sorts of reasons -- especially when there's absolutely no evidence that the incident at Fukushima Daiichi occurred because of the age of the plant.

As I've said previously, more updates as warranted.

4 comments:

gmax137 said...

This has been quoted before, "A 40-year license term was selected on the basis of economic and antitrust considerations." Can someone connect the dots for me? How does the license duration tie into antitrust considerations?

jimwg said...

It's not the age, it's the upkeep that matters. Ask anyone working with still very peppy B-52s!

James Greenidge

jfmnyc said...

Following the logic that old things are inherently unsafe, I guess we better tear down and rebuild the entire NYC subway system, George Washington Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Empire State Building, etc., from scratch. Pretty silly, but this is the logic used by the anti-nuclear activists to push their agenda on the uneducated masses.
I for one support relicensing of Indian Point because I like the clean, reliable and low-cost power it provides to NYC, my home town.

A D ROSSIN said...

The 40-year licese duration ws arbitrary. The
AEC asked utitiies how long their coalplants had beenopreating and how much longer they counted on them. forty years seemed liek a more common durations, so the EC chose it without much analysis or discussion. - - Dave Rossin