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Units first licensed in mid-1970s, now set to expire 2034, 2036

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

According to an economic analyst, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby is one of more than three dozen U.S. nuclear reactors at risk of early retirement.

Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, released a report Wednesday titled “Renaissance in Reverse: Competition Pushes Aging U.S. Nuclear Reactors to the Brink of Economic Abandonment,” arguing that 38 reactors in 23 states, including Calvert Cliffs, are at risk of closing before reaching the end of their licensed lives.

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Calvert Cliffs units 1 and 2 were first licensed in July 1974 and August 1976, respectively. Both units’ licenses were renewed May 23, 2003, and are set to expire July 31, 2034, for unit 1 and Aug. 13, 2036, for unit 2.

“Constellation Energy Nuclear Group has no information to suggest our facilities will retire before their licensed operating lives are up,” CENG Director of Communications Cynthia Angus said in a statement Thursday morning.

CENG, which owns Calvert Cliffs, is owned by Electricite de France and Exelon Corp.

Angus said in the statement, “Due to the nature of our company’s structure, any decision to retire a plant early would have to be made by the board and our parent companies, EDF and Exelon.”

Cooper, who has written several reports on the nuclear industry, including “Policy Challenges of Nuclear Reactor Construction, Cost Escalation and Crowding Out Alternatives,” claims in the report released this week that the purpose of the report is not to predict which reactor will be the next to retire, “but explain why we should expect more early retirements.”

Cooper used 11 risk factors, ranging from economic and operational factors to safety issues, to determine which reactors may be at a greater risk of early retirement. The risk factors include competition from lower-cost energy sources, declining demand, safety retrofit expenses, repairs and rising operating costs. All 38 at-risk reactors Cooper details in his report exhibit at least four of the 11 risk factors.

In the case of Calvert Cliffs, six of the risk factors are present, including four economic factors, one operational factor and one safety issue, according to the report. The report does not detail any plant specifics for any of the 38 plants, but does cite cost, age, the duration of the license, long-term outage and multiple safety issues in Calvert’s case.

In his report, Cooper states that the purpose “is to inform policy makers about and prepare them for the likelihood of early retirements. By explaining the economic causes of early retirements, the policy makers will be better equipped to make economically rational responses to those retirements (or the threat of retirement).”

During a news teleconference Wednesday afternoon, when asked about the potential for sites that have multiple reactors, such as Calvert Cliffs, to be shut down or for one of those reactors at a site to be shut down, Cooper said he wasn’t going to say whether one or more sites would or could be shut down.

“You’d have to look at the specifics of the situation,” Cooper said, adding that the shutdown of an entire site is plausible, but he isn’t making any predictions.

He said the report demonstrates that nuclear reactors are “on the edge” and that a “precipitator,” or risk factor, “comes along and pushes it over the edge.”

In his report, Cooper states that the key to the fate of at-risk U.S. reactors is “the extent to which these factors will persist over the next couple of decades when the retirement decisions will be made.”

Cooper said during the teleconference that the risk factors also call into question the economic value of license extensions or reactor power “uprates,” or the process of increasing the maximum power level at which a commercial nuclear power plant may operate.

Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont Law School, former member of the NRC and former utility commission chair in New York and Maine, said during the teleconference Wednesday, “No U.S. nuclear plant has ever closed because it reached the end of its licensed life. Instead, cost challenges to their continued profitability has usually been the cause of shutdowns. Dr. Cooper’s new work shows this to be a widespread and an enduring problem, one that further undermines nuclear power’s claim to being a promising bulwark in a serious climate policy.”

ascott@somdnews.com