The Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program is developing the scientific basis to extend existing nuclear power plant operating life beyond the current 60-year licensing period and ensure long-term reliability, productivity, safety, and security. The program is conducted in collaboration with national laboratories, universities, industry, and international partners. Idaho National Laboratory serves as the Technical Integration Office and coordinates the research and development (R&D) projects in the following pathways: Materials Aging and Degradation Assessment, Advanced Instrumentation, Information, and Control Systems Technologies, Risk-Informed Safety Margin Characterization, and Advanced Light Water Reactor Nuclear Fuels,. Because industry has a significant financial incentive to extend the life of existing plants, the Department will work to ensure that activities are cost-shared to the maximum extent possible.
Nuclear power has reliably and economically contributed approximately 20 percent of electrical generation in the United States over the past two decades. It remains the single largest contributor (more than 70 percent) of non-greenhouse-gas- emitting electric power generation in the United States. Domestic demand for electrical energy is expected to grow at an average rate of 1 percent per year.
As electricity demand increases, most currently operating nuclear power plants will begin reaching the end of their 60-year operating licenses (the 40-year initial license with one 20-year license renewal). If currently operating nuclear power plants do not operate beyond 60 years, the total fraction of generated electrical energy from nuclear power will begin to decline—even with the expected addition of new nuclear generating capacity. The oldest commercial plants in the United States reached their 40th anniversary and began operations under their first 20-year license renewal period in 2009.
Continued safe and economical operation of current reactors beyond the current license renewal lifetime of 60 years is a low-risk option to fill the gap and to add new power generation at a fraction of the cost of building new nuclear power plants. The cost to replace the current fleet would require hundreds of billions of dollars. Replacement of this 100 GWe generating capacity with traditional fossil plants would lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Extending operating licenses beyond 60 to perhaps 80 years would enable existing plants to continue providing safe, clean, and economic electricity.
To provide the technical basis for this life extension, the following four Research and Development (R&D) pathways have been identified:
Materials Aging and Degradation: R&D to develop the scientific basis for understanding and predicting long-term environmental degradation behavior of materials in nuclear power plants. This work will provide data and methods to assess the performance of Systems, Structures, and Components essential to safe and sustained nuclear power plant operations. The R&D products will be used to define operational limits and aging mitigation approaches for materials in nuclear power plant systems, structures, and components subject to long-term operating conditions, providing key input to both regulators and industry.
Advanced Instrumentation, Information, and Control Systems Technologies: R&D to address long-term aging and modernization of current instrumentation and control technologies through development, demonstration, and testing of new instrumentation and control technologies and advanced condition monitoring technologies for more automated and reliable plant operation. The R&D products will be used to design and deploy new Instrumentation, Information, and Control technologies and systems in existing nuclear power plants that provide an enhanced understanding of plant operating conditions and available margins and improved response strategies and capabilities for operational events.
Risk-Informed Safety Margin Characterization: R&D to develop and deploy approaches to support the management of uncertainty in safety margins quantification to improve decision making for nuclear power plants. This pathway will (1) develop and demonstrate a risk-assessment method tied to safety margins quantification and (2) create advanced tools for safety assessment that enable more accurate representation of nuclear power plant safety margins. The R&D products will be used to produce state-of-the-art nuclear power plant safety analysis information that yields new insights on actual plant safety margins and permits cost effective management of these margins during periods of extended operation.
Advanced Light Water Reactor Nuclear Fuels: R&D to improve the scientific knowledge basis for understanding and predicting fundamental nuclear fuel and cladding performance in nuclear power plants, and applying this information to development of high-performance, high burn-up fuels with improved safety, cladding integrity, and improved nuclear fuel cycle economics. The R&D products will be used to deploy new fuel/core designs for the existing nuclear power plant fleet with improved safety and economic operational capabilities. The Fuel Cycle Research and Development Program’s Advanced Fuels Campaign is taking the lead on R&D activities associated with the development of fuels with significantly increased safety benefits. The LWRS Program will maintain the lead role in performing analyses to determine the impact of advanced nuclear fuel rods on reactor safety margins via coordination with the Risk-Informed Safety Margin Characterization Pathway.
For more information, please click here.