Dominion Files to Extend Surry Nukes

Surry Nuclear Power Station

Dominion Energy has filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew operating licenses for its Surry Power Station for an additional 20 years, the company announced today.

Like all nuclear units, the three-loop Westinghouse pressurized water reactors, capable of generating 1,676 megawatts each, were originally licensed to operate 40 years. Under its current licenses, the two nuclear units are allowed to generate electricity through 2032 and 2033. A second re-licensing would extend their lives through 2052 and 2053. The units account for about 15% of the electricity consumed by Dominion customers.

Dominion also has applied to re-license its two units at the South Anna power station. Between the four units, the utility estimates that it could spend as much as $4 billion on the re-licensing program.

Critics are certain to attack the proposal on the grounds that the power company should not make a long-term commitment to an expensive electric generating source even as the cost of solar power, wind power, and battery-powered backup continue to decline. Dominion argues that the nuclear units will provide a reliable, CO2-free source of base-load electric power. In essence, the critics are advocating a zero-nuclear, renewables-intensive energy policy similar to Germany’s energiewende, which has resulted in high electricity rates and burns CO2-intensive coal to replace the lost nuclear power.

It will make a fascinating debate.

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11 responses to “Dominion Files to Extend Surry Nukes

  1. As I understand it this is step one of a long process, and in recent filings down at the SCC the company has said it will decide later whether to actually seek authority to make the necessary upgrades and extend the life of the plants. The current cost estimates are blacked out, secret, and I suspect that is because the cost is a showstopper. With the price of alternatives dropping I don’t see this happening. Using the term of art, to extend the life of these antiquated (in tech terms) would not be reasonable or prudent. On that the SCC will have a say – unless the GA repeats itself and orders the SCC to accept unreasonable and imprudent costs.

  2. both Nukes and Coal are baseload and basically incompatible with renewables. It’s never been a baseload vs renewables argument except
    in the minds of those who oppose renewables.

    Because baseload runs 24/7 and does not modulate – it cannot run in concert with solar/wind that vary in output.

    Solar/Wind cannot be primary fuels unless they are paired with generation that can modulate (or batteries) and baseload does not do that.

    And the thing about Nukes – if they are so good -how come they are not on a single island in the world that uses diesel fuel instead? That should tell us reams about their cost-effectiveness. If they were cheaper than diesel – they’d replace the diesel generators on the world 10,000 populated islands.

    • Does England count? It’s got some new nukes under construction. Seriously, Larry, this is the weakest argument you’ve ever come up with. Most of those 10,000 islands have no need for the large generation a nuke would provide, and the cost of construction in such a place would be hugely higher. The enviros and screamers have pretty well killed the nuclear industry but we’ll miss the carbon free and low cost energy when its all gone.

    • LG, I agree with Steve that the problem is one of scale: nuclear only makes sense, if at all, in the context of a huge grid where the max output of all non-cycleable generation never exceeds the minimum load (typically, the load at 3 am on a mild weekend night). “Non-cycleable” clearly includes nuclear. There are very few islands on this world short of continent-sized where the loads and the grid are that large — maybe New Zealand, the UK, are the exceptions that prove the rule. Now I’ll grant you, if we develop cheap batteries to allow more time shifting, just like pumped-storage hydro, we could consider having nuclear generation in excess of minimum load — but if and when that happens the ability to shift output cheaply would also encourage more solar generation than daytime load, which would likely further undercut the economic attractiveness of nuclear — so don’t hold your breath for a nuclear development craze taking off on islands like Puerto Rico or Hawaii.

    • Also, LG, you are right, nuclear is not cost effective these days compared to just about every other form of generation including that most expensive fossil-fueled option, diesel-powered, and that’s true even if the grid were large enough that nuclear only served base-load. That is why the South Carolina regulators are having such a hard time coming up with justification for SCANA to finish that new nuclear plant under construction down there, and that’s the biggest obstacle to Dominion buying their system.

  3. I believe the proposed/new German coal plants are generally much more efficient by utilizing Cogen and other design techniques than our U.S. utilities do not usually like to do so much.

  4. Here’s an interesting chart of electricity prices in Europe – makes one wonder what the difference are since they are similar geography but one thing we do know is that the price of electricity in Europe is a lot higher than in the US and as a direct consequence they use much less :

  5. Pretty strong correlation between the taxes and levies and the final price. Net out the taxes and the prices would look quite level. Crossing from Germany into Hungary the prices of gasoline dropped about 20 Euro cents per liter, and the difference is 100 percent the higher German taxes. I bet you’d see the same on electricity.

  6. SH, that is correct. Also Germany has made a commitment to retire all nukes for ideological reasons and accordingly has placed a huge bet on renewables including distributed generation and water-heating (i.e., homeowner rooftop solar); they are going to test the limits of what solar can do by pushing solar’s share of the grid load well above 30%. That means lots of batteries and lots of new fossil generation to carry the dark-hours load and it may end up being fairly expensive power when it’s all said and done. Also there’s a strong west-European grid that allows them to buy, e.g., hydro from Norway in the off hours. As TBill notes they are doing what they can to make the new fossil plants more efficient with cogeneration, more than we typically do, although one can argue that they have gone beyond what makes economic sense with the cogeneration in order to make a “green” political statement to offset the obvious fact that by building coal-fired generation to replace nuclear, they’re committing to more carbon, sulfur and NOx emissions.

    • As I recall from school, Germany has a long history of making very ideological decisions. Let’s hope this one works better than some of the earlier ones.

  7. I think carbon emissions have gone up in 2 of last 3 years in Germany despite the renewable investment. And with more nuclear plants going offline, that will probably continue, so if it is a “green” political statement, it may ultimately need some sort of asterisk.

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