The US is leading the way in nuclear plant life extension and upgrades, according to a new report by energy intelligence company GlobalData.
The new report* suggests that the growing demand for electricity, increasing safety margins and attempts to avoid the costs associated with new builds are driving the way in which power plants are maintained.
Plant Life Extension (PLEX) and Plant Life Management (PLIM) are vital issues for ensuring the extended operational life for Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs). PLEX is a process in which the original design life of the NPP is extended, and many countries, including the US, Canada and France, are adopting plant life extension as an economical method to meet the growing need for electricity and avoid investment in the construction of new installations. PLIM, on the other hand, helps to optimize a plant’s operating life and maximize its value, managing the life of a plant in a safe and economic way.
The growing global demand for power is one of the main contributing factors for the increasing importance of PLEX. During 2000 to 2010, electricity consumption grew at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.5%, from 13,044,433 gigawatt hours (GWh) to 18,454,883 GWh. Consumption for 2012 to 2020 is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4%, increasing from 20,114,049 GWh to 27,496,560 GWh.
To operate safely beyond their original design life, NPPs must undergo maintenance, engineering updates and refurbishment, but the capital cost for building new nuclear plants is still considerably higher than extending their operational life. In turn, the capital cost of plant life management for a long-term operation is lower in comparison to investment in replacement capacity. However, some additional investment in plant modifications, such as power upgrading and safety improvements, may be needed.
North America is the largest market for PLEX, valued at $42,698m, with the US holding a majority market value of $33,656m. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the US has approved license renewals for around 71 reactors, with 15 currently under review and a further 17 more license applications expected in the forecast period.
In Europe, the major PLEX markets are France, the UK, Russia and the Ukraine, with respective market values of $10,044m, $1,870, $1,784m and $1,728m. Numerous extensions were planned in Europe; however, as a result of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, some countries are now phasing out nuclear power from their energy mix.