The U.S. May Soon Have the World’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plants
Neighbors and scientists are worried, but operators argue there’s no better way to provide carbon-free energy.
Bonnie Rippingille looked out at the wisps of steam curling from the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant across Biscayne Bay with a sense of dread. In December federal regulators approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to let the facility’s twin nuclear reactors remain in operation for another 20 years beyond the end of their current licenses. By that point they’ll be 80, making them the oldest reactors in operation anywhere in the world.
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Bonnie RippingillePhotographer: Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg
“That’s too old,” said Rippingille, a lawyer and retired Miami-Dade County judge who was wearing a blue print shirt with white sea turtles on it. “They weren’t designed for this purpose.”
With backing from the Trump administration, utilities across the nation are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s as they run up against the end of their 60-year licenses.
“We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame.”
Indeed, the move comes as other nations shift away from atomic power over safety concerns, despite its appeal as a carbon-free alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Japan, which used to get more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, shut down all its plants in 2011 after a tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima. Only a handful have restarted while others that can’t meet stringent new standards are slated to close permanently. Germany decided that year to shutter its entire fleet by 2022 and is now having trouble meeting its ambitious climate goals. Other nations such as France and Sweden are allowing reactors to retire while they diversify into solar and wind power.