On February 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a joint meeting to discuss “Grid Reliability, Protection of Critical Infrastructure Information, and Nuclear Power Plants.”
During the meeting, Bill Dean, Director of NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, gave a presentation titled “Nuclear Power Plants Operations: Outlook and Outputs.” Mr. Dean noted that the 99 commercial power reactors currently in operation in the United States produce approximately 100,000 MWe, and of those 99 reactors, 87 have been issued renewed operating licenses for an additional 20 years of operation (i.e., up to 60 years). But even with renewed licenses, currently operating plants will reach 60 years of operation as early as 2029, and without subsequent license renewal (SLR) (allowing plant operation up to 80 years), electric generation from nuclear plants will drop to nearly zero by approximately 2050.
Recognizing this potential reality, NRC is gearing up for the first SLR application in mid-2018 and estimates that approximately nine SLR applications will be filed in the next five years. NRC admits, however, that the expected number of SLR applications depends on several factors, including (i) whether plants are located in regulated or deregulated markets, (ii) the cost of energy alternatives such as natural gas, and (iii) the continuation of wind and solar power subsidies. Although not stated by Mr. Dean, the number of SLR applications also likely depends on how burdensome the SLR process is for licensees as compared to the original license renewal process.
One unknown is how the current regulatory reform focus of US President Donald Trump will affect the NRC, if at all. Given NRC’s status as an independent agency, the White House has little direct control over the agenda NRC may adopt, including its implementation of the directives in the new Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda. However, President Trump has the opportunity to appoint two more NRC commissioners, and once those commissioners are in place, NRC’s efforts and willingness to implement regulatory reform may increase. The timing of these appointments is still uncertain—as of yet, the president has not officially announced any NRC appointments for US Senate consideration.