The Department of Energy is responding to pressure from utilities to investigate a means of creating nuclear reactors with longer production lives. Dominion Energy, Exelon Corp., and NextEra energy have requested extensions of operational licenses for a group of reactors built in the 1970s. They are aiming for license extensions into the late 2050s.
Although nuclear reactors accounted for approximately 20% of the energy generated in the United States in 2016, the low cost of natural gas and a surge in renewable energies have made the situation difficult for nuclear plants. Many reactors have closed down, such as Westinghouse, who filed for bankruptcy in 2017. New reactors, like a pair in Georgia, ceased construction due to low demand and pricing challenges.
The requests for license extensions therefore come during a tumultuous period for nuclear energy. Pressure from both the oil industry and anti-nuclear activists are bound to complicate the regulatory approval process.