Nuclear power has safely, reliably, and economically contributed almost 20% of electrical generation in the United States over the past two decades. It remains the single largest contributor (more than 70%) of non-greenhouse-gas- emitting electric power generation in the United States.
Domestic demand for electrical energy is expected to grow by more than 30% from 2009 to 2035. At the same time, most of the currently operating nuclear power plants will begin reaching the end of their initial 20-year extension to their original 40-year operating license, for a total of 60 years of operation. Figure E-1 shows projected nuclear energy contribution to the domestic generating capacity. If current operating nuclear power plants do not operate beyond 60 years (and new nuclear plants are not built quickly enough to replace them), the total fraction of generated electrical energy from nuclear power will begin to decline. The oldest commercial plants in the United States reached their 40th anniversary in 2009.
The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s 2010 Research and Development Roadmap (2010 Nuclear Energy Roadmap) organizes its activities around four objectives that ensure nuclear energy remains a compelling and viable energy option for the United States. The four objectives are as follows:
1. Develop technologies and other solutions that can improve the reliability, sustain the safety, and extend the life of the current reactors.
2. Develop improvements in the affordability of new reactors to enable nuclear energy to help meet the Administration’s energy security and climate change goals.
3. Develop sustainable nuclear fuel cycles. 4. Understand and minimize the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
The Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program is the primary programmatic activity that addresses Objective 1. This document summarizes the LWRS Program’s plans. For the purpose of the LWRS Program, “sustainability” means the prudent use of resources – in this case, our nation’s commercial nuclear power plants. Sustainability is defined as the ability to maintain safe and economic operation of the existing fleet of nuclear power plants for a longer- than-initially-licensed lifetime. It has two facets with respect to long-term operations: (1) manage the aging of plant systems, structures, and components so that nuclear power plant lifetimes can be extended and the plants can continue to operate safely, efficiently, and economically; and (2) provide science-based solutions to the industry to implement technology to exceed the performance of the current labor-intensive business model.
Extending the operating lifetimes of current plants beyond 60 years and, where practical, making further improvements in their productivity is essential to realizing the administration’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The Department of Energy’s role in Objective 1 is to partner with industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support and conduct the long-term research needed to inform major component refurbishment and replacement strategies, performance enhancements, plant license extensions, and age-related regulatory oversight decisions. The Department of Energy research, development, and demonstration role focuses on aging phenomena and issues that require long-term research and/or unique Department of Energy laboratory expertise and facilities and are applicable to all operating reactors. When appropriate, demonstration activities will be cost shared with industry or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Pilot projects and collaborative activities are underway at commercial nuclear facilities and with industry organizations.