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Utility Asks to Run SC Nuclear Plants For 20 More Years

FILE - Reactors at Oconee Nuclear Station
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
FILE - Reactors at Oconee Nuclear Station

The utility that runs three nuclear reactors in northwestern South Carolina is asking the federal government to allow them to keep making power for at least 30 more years.

Duke Energy filed an application earlier this month with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the licenses to run its reactors at the Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca for 20 more years.

The licenses would run until 2053 and 2054, the Greenville News reported.

The extensions are part of Duke Energy's plans to seek 20-year license extensions at its six reactors at three sites in South Carolina, utility spokesperson Rita Sipe told the newspaper.

The utility also owns the Robinson Nuclear Plant in Hartsville and jointly owns the Catawba Nuclear Station near Rock Hill.
The process to renew the licenses will take at least 18 months and involve public comment periods, officials said.

Older nuclear plants are good bets to get license renewals because their construction costs have already been paid off and the technology and materials used in the plants and reactors have not dramatically changed, said Travis Knight, a University of South Carolina professor and director of its nuclear engineering program.

Regulators will review physical components like the concrete in the structures to make sure they are still strong, functional and safe, Knight said.

Also, the technology is not available yet for renewable energy sources to match the amount of power generated by a nuclear plants, Knight said.

Only two states generate more nuclear power than South Carolina, which allows utilities in the state to sell the excess electricity.

This story was first published on June 26, 2021. It was updated on June 30, 2021, to correct the number of nuclear reactors that Duke Energy operates in South Carolina. The utility operates six reactors in the state, not five.