“Simply put, sound research is key to determining whether extended operation beyond 60 years can be safe and, if it can, what measures need to be taken to ensure safe operation. The industry must take the lead on these research activities.”
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman, The Honorable Gregory B. Jaczko
Although 61 nuclear plants have been granted plant life extensions (40 – 60 years), the safe operation of these plants is dependent largely on limited practical experience of how developed aging management programs for plant systems, structures and components actually work. Given this and the foreseen possibility of subsequent license renewals for operation beyond 60 years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is leading a joint effort with the Department of Energy (DOE) and Industry to identify significant knowledge gaps; organize current knowledge base on materials degradation and identify any new forms of material aging degradation to help prioritize materials degradation research needs and directions for future efforts.
The NRC is explicit in its assessment that each individual plant owner is responsible for its own assessment and research.
“Each utility that is exploring the possibility of extended operation needs to ask itself how much progress has been made in understanding these issues over a 50, 60, 70, or 80-year time period. They should consider whether there are other issues that need to be examined, and whether additional research needs to be done. Ultimately, all of this work must help answer the fundamental question of whether it is possible to safely conduct extended operation beyond 60 years and, if it is, how to do so.” 
Recent NRC/DOE/Industry workshops have identified the Primary Roles and Responsibilities for research in the Utility Industry:
- Industry: Identify technical issues, initiate needed research, develop solutions, and develop management strategies
- NRC: Ensure safety through focus on important, independent, confirmatory research
- DOE: Facilitate research and development and coordinate national laboratory efforts
- Research Community: Industry, national laboratories, academia, and international organizations should collaborate on necessary research and development
Already the NRC/DOE/Industry working groups have identified a large number of areas as key research areas for Industry:
- Material aging mechanisms, effects and analyses methods
- Environmental and radiation impacts on current and new materials
- Develop better inspection, diagnostic, prediction, proactive repair methods
- Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) and radioactive impact on SSC of nickel-based alloys and stainless steels
- Coatings important to protect structural materials and piping
- Understanding complex aging mechanisms at microstructure level
- Develop concrete damage models and mitigation technologies
- Improve welding processes and weld repairs
- Improve non-destructive examination (NDE) techniques
The nuclear industry is ever evolving and every indication is that it will be a critical energy player for the long-term. The DOE has stated that, to significantly reduce carbon emissions, the United States will need 300 Gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050.2 Given this environment, the need for continued research in both new nuclear technologies and enabling existing nuclear technologies to continue to provide this much needed generation will continue for years to come and presents a significant opportunity for Utility Tax Departments to leverage the R&D Tax Credit.
1 Excerpt taken from “Research and its Vital Role in Safety” Prepared Remarks for The Honorable Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Workshop on Extended Plant Operation Washington, D.C., February 22, 2011
2 Overview of NRC/DOE February 19-21, 2008 Workshop on U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Life Extension Research and Development (“Life Beyond 60”); R.L. Tregoning; Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; CSNI IAGE Metals Subgroup Meeting April 1–3, 2008; Paris, France