Most nuclear power plants have a nominal design lifetime of up to 40 years but many have been approved to operate for longer.
The possibility of component replacement and extending the lifetimes of existing plants are very attractive to utilities, especially given lingering public opposition to constructing new nuclear plants, while some governments see them as a way of limiting carbon emissions and power price rises.
But economic, regulatory and political considerations have led to the premature closure of some power reactors.
Below are details of those plants that have been granted life extensions in Europe:
Belgian utility Electrabel in 2009 began preparing safety cases for extending the operating lives of the country’s oldest reactors Doel 1 & 2 and Tihange 1 by 10 years. The three plants have 40 year licenses and are due to close in 2014-15.
A 10-year life extension to 40 years is under consideration for the Czech Republic’s Dukovany power station. The four reactors at the plant began producing power from 1985-87.
Fortum’s two units at Loviisa, which began commercial operations in 1977 and 1981, were originally licensed to run for 30 years but were given 20-year license extensions in mid 2007, which will allow them to run until 2027 and 2030, subject to safety evaluations in 2015 and 2023.
TVO’s two 870 MW reactors at Olkiluoto began commercial operations in 1979 and 1982 and their lifetime has been extended to 60 years, subject to safety evaluations every 10 years, which means they will close in 2039 and 2042.
All 34 of France’s 900 MW reactors, most of which were started in the late 1970s or early 1980s, had their lifetimes extended by 10 years in 2002.
In October 2006 France’s regulator cleared all 20 of the country’s 1,300 MW reactors to run for another 10 years, providing some modifications are made during their 20-year outages planned for 2005-14.
Life extensions for nuclear plants hinges on whether Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives win a majority in general elections due in September 2009.
The conservatives have said they would reverse a 9-year old deal to shut all 17 remaining reactors by 2021, with no extensions to life cycles planned at the moment.
Any other government would stick to the closure program.
In May 2009, the environment ministry denied approval for Vattenfall Europe to keep its Brunsbuettel reactor open longer.
In 2005 the Hungarian parliament decided on a 20-year life extension for the Paks nuclear power plant south of Budapest whose four reactors started up in 1982-87 with a capacity of 440 MW each.
The reactors which would otherwise have closed after 30 years are now expected to run until 2032-2037.
One unit at Lithuania’s only nuclear power plant, Ignalina, was closed in December 2004 as a condition of the country joining the European Union and the second 1,300 MW reactor is due to close at the end of 2009.
The 452 MW Borssele power plant, connected to the grid in 1973, is the only nuclear reactor in the Netherlands and is expected to shut in 2034 after a conditional extension of its operating life in 2006.
An upgrade program on Bohunice units 3 and 4, which began producing electricity in 1984 and 1985 is under way with a view to extending operational life to 40 years (2025).
Slovenia shares a 696 MW nuclear reactor with Croatia which was connected to the network in 1981 and was designed to run for 40 years. A 20-year extension is being sought.
SPAIN The government has until July 5, 2009 to decide whether the 500 MW Santa Maria de Garona plant, which will be 40 years old in 2011, can run for another 10 years. In June 2009 Spain’s Nuclear Safety Council recommended that a 10-year extension to the plant’s license, which runs out in 2009, be granted.
Spain’s other seven nuclear reactors are licensed to operate until at least 2021.
Sweden has 10 nuclear reactors at three plants — Oskarshamn, Ringhals and Forsmark which came on line between 1972 and 1985.
Earlier plans to shut all Sweden’s reactors by 2010, largely in response to the Three Mile Island accident in the United States, have been shelved as Sweden’s biggest political parties warm to nuclear as climate and security of supply concerns grow.
But no extensions to their 40-year expected operating lives have been granted, so they are due to close between 2012 and 2025.
Britain’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) granted permission to run Oldbury 1 for another two years in March 2009, after Oldbury 2 was approved to operate for another two years in December 2008, instead of being closed down at the end of 2008.
Approval to run the 1,000-MW Wylfa nuclear power station in Wales for at least nine months beyond its planned closure date of March 2010 was granted in June 2009.
British Energy’s twin reactor Hartlepool power station, which began operations in 1984-85 and two Heysham 1 reactors, which opened in 1985-86, have been cleared by the safety regulator to run for another five years beyond their scheduled closure in 2014.
British Energy’s new French owner EDF plans to decide by 2011 whether it wants to run the plants until 2019.
Sources: World Nuclear Association, Reuters research, International Atomic Energy Agency.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; Additional reporting by Michael Kahn and Vera Eckert)