Duke to Seek 20-year License Extensions for 11 Reactors

  • Duke Energy Announces Plans To Extend Operation Of Entire Nuclear Fleet by 20 Years
  • At the IAEA Atoms4Climate Meeting China’s CNNC Talks About Its Confidence in a ‘New Era’ for Nuclear Energy

Duke Energy New Logo(NucNet) Duke Energy (NY:DUK) has announced that to achieve its aggressive carbon emission reduction targets it plans to extend the life of its entire fleet of nuclear power plants.

The North Carolina based company said in a statement it will pursue second licence renewals which, if approved, would enable the 11 nuclear power reactors the company operates at six sites to keep operating for another 20 years beyond their current lifespans.

The company expects to submit a licence renewal application for Oconee nuclear station in 2021, followed by its other nuclear stations. Oconee is the company’s largest nuclear station, with three generating units that produce more than 2,500 MW.

Duke Energy’s nuclear plants are at six sites across the Carolinas: Brunswick, Catawba, Harris, McGuire, Oconee and Robinson.

duke nuclear fleet

Duke Energy Nuclear Fleet

Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet marked its 20th consecutive year with a fleet capacity factor – a measure of reliability – greater than 90%.

The first Duke Energy nuclear power plants will approach the end of their current operating licenses in the early 2030s. The company said rigorous preventive maintenance programs across the nuclear fleet and technology upgrades and investments over the years at all stations have contributed to their continuing strong operating performance. In 2018,

Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet plays an important role in the company’s efforts to lower carbon emissions. Half of all the electricity used by Duke’s customers comes from these 11 nuclear plants.  In 2018, the Duke Energy nuclear fleet generated more than 72 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and avoided the release of about 54 million tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to keeping more than 10 million passenger cars off the road.

The company has set aggressive carbon reduction goals of at least 50% by 2030 and net-zero by 2050, and keeping its nuclear fleet operating is key to achieving these goals.

License History & Process

U.S. nuclear facilities are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and were originally licensed to operate for 40 years based on economic considerations, not technology limitations. Regulations allow nuclear licensees to renew their licences for up to 20 years at a time. (NRC backgrounder on license renewal)

NRC License Renewal Process

Nuclear Reactor License Renewal Process. Image; US NRC

All Duke Energy-operated nuclear units have previously received one renewed license for an additional 20 years. The process to renew licenses for a second 20 years requires a comprehensive analysis and evaluation to ensure the units can safely operate for the extended operation period.

According to the NRC, the agency uses a 22-month schedule to evaluate license renewal applications, but it encourages utilities to start work on them much earlier, perhaps as soon as five years prior to the end of the current license.

Renewing the nuclear licenses will provide significant value to Duke Energy customers, as well as continue to support communities where the utility provides power through jobs, tax revenues and partnerships. Duke Energy employs about 5,000 workers in its nuclear group, with additional contract workers supporting refueling outages and project work.

Duke Abandoned More than 6 GWe of Planned
New Nuclear Construction

However, this significant move to preserve the existing fleet comes at the same time that the company has over the past few years abandoned plans for more than 6 GWe in new builds. The firm cancelled two 1100 MW AP1000s at the Levy County, FL, site, two more AP1000s at the William States Lee site, in NC, and a third set of two AP1000 plants at the Harris plant also in NC.

Duke decided to decommission to Crystal River reactor, and replace it with a natural gas plant, rather than make repairs to the damaged containment structure that resulted from a failed effort by Progress Energy to replace the unit’s steam generators.

Duke has made no secret of its deep reluctance to engage in any new builds for two reasons – flat demand for electricity, following the 2008 recession, in its enormous multi-state service area, and the uncertainty of being able to contain costs for “bet the company” projects in a time of weak economic growth.


Duke Energy Service Area Map. Image: Duke Energy

The company’s caution flag under the rationale of being a “prudent investor” is mirrored by similar actions by DTE for Fermi III and Dominion’s plans for North Anna III.

Small modular reactors may be in the future though Duke has not invested in any designs. The firm has talked about them on its website, but hasn’t made any commitments. Meanwhile, other utilities are taking action.

For its part Dominion has expressed interest in the newly announced GE-Hitachi 300 MW SMR.  It has made a financial commitment to the design work taking place in Duke’s backyard in Wilmington, NC.

In Idaho NuScale has a customer, UAMPS, for its planned new build of dual six-packs of 50 MW SMRs.  NuScale has said it will break ground in 2023 and complete the first unit by 2026. (See Neutron Bytes interview with NuScale CEO Jose Reyes)

Several U.S. firms are working on smaller, advanced fast reactors including molten salt and sodium cooled designs, but these projects are unlikely to see commercial success in the current decade.  Challenges include building and testing prototypes, developing and qualifying unique fuels, navigating the NRC’s licensing process, and most of all, convincing a skeptical publicly traded nuclear utility that it can make a profit with one of them at a competitive construction cost per kilowatt relative to new gas plants. (See INL/Gain list as of September 2019)

No other U.S. nuclear utility has plans for a new start to build a full size nuclear reactor. The collapse of the V.C. Summer project in South Carolina, (two 1100 MW AP1000s) which left rate holders with a $9 billion headache and the cost over runs at the Vogtle project  (Two 1100 MW AP1000s) in Georgia are events that are clearly visible to Duke’s stockholders and the company’s executives.

At IAEA Meeting China’s CNNC Talks About its Confidence in a ‘New Era’ for Nuclear Energy

cnnc logo(WNN) Nuclear power is “irreplaceable” and international cooperation in the technology “indispensable” in reducing global CO2 emissions, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) President Jun Gu told delegates at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power in Vienna.  (Atoms4Climate) (Closing IAEA Conference Press Statement)

Climate change may in fact be an “opportunity to create a new era for nuclear energy”, he said, and CNNC (company profile) “is willing to work with all countries” to bring about a clean energy transition and mitigate climate change.

Of the 449 reactor units in operation in 30 countries today, 47 are in China. At nearly 50 GWe, they place the country in third ranking in terms of installed nuclear generating capacity.  However, Russia leads China in its export efforts with new reactors completed and/or under construction in China as well as India, Iran, and Turkey.

Like China with its international ‘Belt & Road’ program, Russia uses nuclear energy exports as a means of projecting influence and power in the global realms of economic trade and political influence.

China also has 11 units under construction with an installed capacity of about 12 GWe, ranking the country first in the world in that respect. In 2018, nuclear power generated 287 TWh of electricity in China, accounting for 4.2% of national power generation, and Gu said he is “fully confident” that China will add a further six-to-eight units each year over the next 10 years. That’s a total of 60-80 Gwe by 2030.

“We have developed the capacity to manufacture equipment for eight to ten units every year,” he said. “At present, more than 85% of the key equipment and materials of our own HPR-1000 can be produced in China.”

“With technological progress, the world is entering an age of clean energy with less dependence on fossil fuel,” Gu said.

“The shares of natural gas, nuclear energy, solar power, wind power and hydropower in energy production and in consumption are increasing markedly. In some countries, clean energy takes about 60% of the energy mix. However, we think that hydropower is highly restricted by regional resources, and wind and solar power also have natural constraints. They can hardly be the main power producers without a breakthrough in energy storage technology.

Also, nuclear power has been demonstrated as an important option in replacing coal-fired power plants on a large scale. Nuclear power is an important baseload option to avoid price fluctuation and the grid risk from renewable energy.”

The country’s international cooperation in nuclear power is is visible in its use of reactor designs that include French PWRs, Canadian CANDUS, Russian VVERs and US AP1000s. It is also working on its own design, the HPR-1000, AKA Hualong One, and is developing an indigenous equipment supply chain.

The Long Reach of the Hualong One

The HPR-1000, also known as Hualong One, is a Chinese pressurized water reactor design developed by CNNC and the China General Nuclear Power Group. The first HPR-1000 units to be constructed will be Fuqing units 5 and 6, followed by Fangjiashan units 3 and 4, and Fangchenggang units 3 and 4. Gu said that Fuqing 5 had entered the commissioning stage and would achieve power operation by the first-half of next year.

Hualong One Cooling Systems Schemata

Active and passive cooling systems of HPR1000 (aka Hualong One) nuclear reactor. Red line; active systems; Green line; passive systems; IRWST – in-containment refueling water storage tank. Source: Science Direct http://bit.ly/2EzKjus Author: Ji Xing, Daiyong Song, Yuxiang Wu

There are five Hualong One reactors planned for Pakistan – four at Karachi and one at Chashma, of which two are under construction at Karachi. Construction of another HPR-1000 is planned to start next year in Argentina assuming the financial terms o the deal can be satisfied for both countries. Export prospects for the Hualong One also the U.K. at the Bradwell site.

China is one of five bidders for construction of two full size reactors in Saudia Arabia. The tender is expected to be released in 2020. Due to Saudi Arabia’s insistence on the right to enrich uranium, it may not be abe to complete a 123 Agreement with the U.S. That outcome would improve the prospects for China to sell the Hualong One to Saudi Arabia.

Prospects for SMRs and HTGRs

CNNC is working on new nuclear technologies, CNNC’s Gu said, including small modular reactors, nuclear waste transmutation and treatment, accident-tolerant fuel, high-temperature reactors, fast breeder reactors, nuclear fusion technology, and used fuel disposal.

In July, CNNC announced the launch of a project to construct an ACP100 small modular reactor at Changjiang in Hainan province. Construction of the demonstration unit – also referred to as the Linglong One design – is scheduled to begin by the end of this year.

China’s work on small modular reactors, using LWR-based designs, for use at military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea has been seen as a means of cementing its influence in that region.

CNNC’s HTR-PM, a 200-megawatt high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (GEN IV Forum briefing), can supply industrial heat of above 750 degrees Celsius, he said, and is expected to have “broader prospects” in hydrogen production. He revealed that the first unit will be in operation by the end of next year, “laying a solid foundation for further commercial application.”


Yujie Dong, INET, Tsinghua University, China, January 24, 2018 (PDF file)

This statement may indicate that CNNC has now positioned the HTR-PM, which is a pebble bed fueled fast reactor, for process heat applications and production of hydrogen rather than as a primary source of electricity.  At one time CNNC had plans for building 20 units in configurations of two reactors for each turbine. These plans were later shelved as the state-owned firm took a second look at performance issues. The new focus on alternative uses of the design apparently revives China’s plans for use of high temperature gas cooled technologies.

CNNC Ended Work with TerraPower in 2018

The company was forced to abandon its joint development effort with TerraPower in 2018 due to President Trump’s ill-advised trade war with China.

The decision to end the work in China followed a new set of U.S. government rules on export of nuclear technology to China. The rules were issued in October 2018 in response to repeated instances by China of stealing intellectual property related to nuclear energy from U.S. firms.

TerraPower formally set up an agreement with state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in 2013 to build its first of a kind half size version of its Traveling Wave reactor. The design is unique in that it is based on the use of depleted uranium to run the reactor.

“We had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the US have made that unlikely,” Gates wrote in a blog post.

Since then TerraPower has spun up its work on a molten chloride salt reactor. Working with multiple partners in the U.S., TerraPower’s research and development of the MCFR project has already expanded into design and testing activities.  The company has published an ambitious timeline that calls for commercialization of the design by 2030.


In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a five-year, $40 million cost share award for continued research and development into TerraPower’s MCFR project. This award served as the impetus for a new public-private MCFR project development partnership that includes TerraPower, the Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute and Vanderbilt University.

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