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 Dominion, owners of the Millstone Power Station, filed two applications with federal regulators Thursday that could extend the life of its two nuclear reactors by two decades.

If the applications are granted, the Millstone 870-megawatt Unit 2 reactor, which started operating in 1975, would be operational until 2035, while the station's 1,150-megawatt Unit 3 reactor, which started operating in 1986, would be operational until 2046.

When nuclear power first came into commercial use on a widespread basis in the 1960s, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted 40-year licenses to operate nuclear reactors. But as the reactors have aged, the industry has said that they remain safe and economically viable, prompting the commission to amend its rules by allowing 20-year extensions.

“Our regulations say you can apply no sooner than 20 years before expiration of the license, so there is an ample window for them to apply,” said commission member Neil Sheehan. “We actually encourage them to apply early so we can have an orderly process.”

Of the 103 operating nuclear power reactors in the United States, 24, including two owned by Dominion in Virginia, have been approved for 20-year extensions. The nuclear industry anticipates that all remaining reactor operators will eventually apply.

The oldest operating nuclear plants in the country are at the Oyster Creek plant in Lacey Township, N.J., and the Nine Mile plant in Lycoming, N.Y., both of which came on line in late 1968. Neither has applied for extension, according to Sheehan. The first plant to apply for renewal was the Calvert Cliffs plant in Lusby, Md.

“They decided to take the plunge first,” Sheehan noted, explaining that the application process is expensive and rigorous. “This is not a rubber-stamp process.”

Dominion and the NRC estimate it will take two years to review the Millstone applications. “These are not simple or easy reviews,” Sheehan said. “They cost millions of dollars; they involve a tremendous amount of manpower. ... We look at how they manage the plant, how they would manage the plant going forward.”

Pete Hyde, a spokesman for Millstone, said both reactors are constantly being upgraded.

“One of the things about a nuclear power station is, it's a lot like an airplane,” he said. “During outages or refuelings, that's an opportunity to upgrade the system and to replace components, so there's really no such thing as an old nuclear plant.”

Recently, Hyde pointed out, new turbines were installed at Unit 2, and in 2005 Dominion will replace the reactor vessel head.

A major concern, however, is that the reactor walls, made of six-inch-thick steel, could become brittle over time. “Embrittlement is an issue,” Hyde said.

But according to the NRC, inspectors pay especially close attention to that in the review process.

“There's no reason it can't last for 60 years,” said Sheehan. “Every year they have to check on the conditions of the reactor vessel and make sure there's no embrittlement or cracking. That's something we've really focused on.”

Millstone employs roughly 1,200 people and translates to millions of dollars for the local economy, according to a recent study by an industry group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“Basically, we're talking about a $515 million impact on the local economy over the course of a year,” Hyde said.

Millstone's Unit 1 reactor was closed down in 1999 after 29 years of operation.

Asked whether there was a possibility that Dominion could build another plant, Hyde said, “I would never say that we've ruled it out, but it's very unlikely.”

I had a good time working there for pete beck,and mark brooks in containment and s/g ,but the pay  and per diemis on the low end for sure for that area.

Mike McFarlin:
I worked in Construction Safety/ALARA back in 1987. It was a good place to work. Not great, just good.

I worked in-house there for 11 years, doing in processing and working in Training.  I think most people will agree the conditions have worsened since Dominion took over.  The area is very nice, but fairly expensive in most peoples' opinions.

just finished u2 outage.  work for pete beck or mark brooks on nights and its pretty good.  area kind of a drag, but the plant people were pretty decent.  still doesn't pay commensurate with the aggravation, but hey,  which plant actually does?


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