LIGHT WATER REACTOR SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAM: INTRODUCTION
The Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program is the primary programmatic activity that addresses Objective 1 (develop technologies and other solutions that can improve the reliability, sustain the safety, and extend the life of the current reactors) described in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s 2010 Research and Development Roadmap. 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.
Operation of the existing plants to 60 years, extending the operating lifetimes of those 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 following LWRS Program research and development pathways address Objective 1 of the 2010 Nuclear Energy Roadmap:
Materials Aging and Degradation
Advanced Instrumentation, Information, and Control Systems Technologies
Risk-Informed Safety Margin Characterization
Reactor Safety Technologies
Domestic demand for electrical energy is expected to grow by about 29% from 2012 to 2040*. 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 (the oldest commercial plants in the United States reached their 40th anniversary in 2009). The figure above shows projected nuclear energy contribution to the domestic generating capacity for 40 and 60-year license periods. 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 rapidly decline. That decline will be accelerated if plants are shut down before 60 years of operation. Decisions on extended operation ultimately rely on economic factors; however, economics can often be improved through technical advancements.
*Annual Energy Outlook 2014, page MT-16.