Duke Wants to Run Its Nuclear Plants Until They’re 80 Years Old

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Duke Energy Corp., one of the biggest power companies in the U.S., is planning to run its fleet of 11 nuclear reactors until they’re 80 years old.

The company filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew the license for its Oconee power plant for 20 years, Charlotte-based Duke said in statement Monday. The South Carolina facility began producing power in 1973 and the extensions would keep the three reactors in service until 2053 and 2054.

The company plans to submit similar extension requests for its five other nuclear plants in the Carolinas, which all went into service in the 1970s and 1980s. Duke is part of a growing number of U.S. nuclear owners that are planning to keep their reactors in service for eight decades. Exelon Corp., Dominion Energy Inc. and NextEra Inc. have already been granted similar extensions, creating what will eventually be the world’s oldest nuclear fleet.

Environmental groups have a complicated relationship with nuclear power. While some are strongly opposed to reactors that produce deadly waste, others are recognizing the value of a power source that produces clean electricity around the clock. Reactors are the biggest source of carbon-free U.S. electricity.

The closure of nuclear plants such as Indian Point in New York, which was shuttered in April, or Diablo Canyon in California, which is scheduled to close in 2025, may lead to increased use of fossil fuels to replace the power. Some countries in Europe and Asia are struggling to meet carbon-reduction goals after closing nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power is a key part of Duke’s strategy to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company’s nuclear fleet have 10.7 gigawatts of capacity, enough to supply about half the needs of its customers in the Carolinas. The company said by email that the reactors have all had various upgrades to ensure safe operation into the future.

“Renewing these operating licenses is a significant step toward achieving Duke Energy’s aggressive carbon reduction goals, which cannot be achieved without nuclear power,” Oconee vice president Steve Snider said in the release.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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