Why is the life cycle of nuclear power plants increasing?

Two main components determine the life of a plant: the reactor vessel and its structure, says Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear technology at MIT.

  • The reactor vessel is the heart of a nuclear power plant, consisting of the reactor core and associated cooling system. The design must keep the reactor core at high temperature and pressure without leakage.
  • The reservoir is the shell surrounding the nucleus. It is designed to be airtight and to contain any radioactive materials contained in the event of an accident.

Both of these components are critical to the operation of nuclear power plants and are often expensive or difficult to replace. So as regulators evaluate how to extend the life of the plant, they are the ones most affected by the condition and the life of the product, says Buongiorno.

Researchers are exploring new ways to deal with problems that have threatened to take other plants online, such as corrosion that has chewed through reactor components in one Ohio plant, forcing it to shut down for two years. New methods of monitoring equipment inside nuclear power plants, as well new materials that resist corrosion, it would help reactors operate safely, for a long time.

Extending the life of nuclear power plants can help the world meet its energy and climate goals.

In some areas, shutting down nuclear power plants can cause huge carbon emissions as fossil fuels are brought in to fill the gap. After New York shuts down its Indian Point nuclear power plant in 2021, natural gas use spiked and greenhouse gas emissions rose.

Germany shuts down its last nuclear reactor in 2023, and the country’s emissions have dropped significantly, though some experts say most of that drop has more to do with the recession than the increase in renewables like wind and solar.

Extending the life of the world’s nuclear fleet by 10 years could add 26,000 terawatt-hours of low-carbon electricity to the grid over the coming decades, according to report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. It takes approx annual cost of global electricity demand. This could help reduce emissions as the country expands to low-energy electricity.

So when it comes to cleaning up the power grid, it’s important to respect your elders, including nuclear power.

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