Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
The owner of the last two operating nuclear reactors in Wisconsin, NextEra Energy, has applied to the NRC asking to run the Point Beach units for 80 years—twice the limit in their original licenses and double their engineered lifespan—until 2050.
The Point Beach reactors on Lake Michigan near Green Bay are 50 years old, making them two of the oldest still operating in the United States. Licenses for the two reactors are now set to expire in 2030 and 2033.
Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a watchdog group in Takoma Park, Maryland, told Nukewatch, “This is scary for several reasons. One reason is that one reactor at Point Beach is tied for worst ‘neutron-embrittled reactor vessel’ in the United States.” (Years of neutron bombardment from nuclear fissioning inside the reactor make the giant machine increasingly brittle and unstable.)
“When reactor embrittlement risks are reviewed by the NRC,” Kamps writes, “the commission simply lowers the safety standards nationwide by weakening the regulations (for embrittled/pressurized thermal shock safety). The NRC has done this time and time again.”
The NRC has approved only two other such 80- year-long license exceptions: Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom and Florida’s Turkey Point. Three of the oldest operating US reactors—50-yr-old Monticello in Minnesota; 49-yr-old Dresden 3 in Illinois; and 47-yr-old Peach Bottom 2 & 3 in Pennsylvania—are General Electric “Mark I” units, exactly like the Fukushima reactors that exploded and melted in 2011.
—Beyond Nuclear, Nov. 23; AP, Nov. 21, 2020; Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Operating Nuclear Power Reactors,” Oct. 21, 2019