Increasing demand for electricity, coupled with pressures to meet global climate change targets, make convincing arguments for ensuring that nuclear power plants could operate for longer periods than originally envisaged, said experts at the opening of an IAEA conference today.
More than 350 nuclear energy experts from over 39 countries and four international organizations have gathered for the Fourth International Conference on Nuclear Power Plant Life Management in Lyon, France, to discuss ways to safely and cost effectively operate nuclear power plants beyond their design lifetime.
“Nuclear power can play a significant role in helping Member States achieve their energy security, development and climate change mitigation goals,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy.
“As we look towards the future, we need evolutionary and innovative nuclear power technologies. But to help us get there, we need a bridge between the current fleet and future reactors,” he added. “This is the role of plant life management: ensuring safety, while being economical.”
While the design life of a nuclear reactor is typically 30-40 years, it is quite feasible that many will be able to operate beyond their design lives. For this, utilities must demonstrate — through analysis, testing, replacement, system upgrades, ageing management of equipment and increased vigilance — that they will operate safely.
Out of 448 nuclear power reactors operating in the world, 267 — or approximately 59.6% — have been operating for 30 years or more.
Before a reactor reaches the end of its design life, it undergoes a special safety review and an ageing assessment of its essential structures, systems and components for the purpose of renewing its licence beyond the originally intended service period.
Given the strong interest of Member States, the IAEA has been at the forefront of nuclear power plant life management (PLiM), holding major conferences on the topic in Salt Lake City in 2012, Shanghai in 2007, and Budapest in 2002.
Commenting on Électricité de France’s PLiM experience, Dominique Minière, EDF Group Senior Executive Vice President in charge of Nuclear and Thermal Power, said: “Our fleet overhaul programme, called Grand Carénage, enables us to prepare for the future — towards an energy mix combining nuclear power and renewables, securing a safe, sustainable, clean and competitive power output.”
In addition to emphasizing the role PLiM can play in assuring safety and improving reliable operation, the conference provides a forum for information exchange on national and international policies, economic analysis, as well as regulatory practices on ageing management and long term operation of nuclear power plants.
The conference is organized by the IAEA in cooperation with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (EC/JRC) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and is hosted by the Government of France through EDF and the Nuclear Generation II and III Association (NUGENIA).
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