By Alan Zarembo and Ben Welsh | Los Angeles Times | Link to article
Turning up the power is a little-publicized way of getting more electricity from existing nuclear plants. But scrutiny is likely to increase in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.
The U.S. nuclear industry is turning up the power on old reactors, spurring quiet debate over the safety of pushing aging equipment beyond its original specifications.
The little-publicized practice, known as uprating, has expanded the country’s nuclear capacity without the financial risks, public anxiety and political obstacles that have halted the construction of new plants for the last 15 years.
The power boosts come from more potent fuel rods in the reactor core and, sometimes, more highly enriched uranium. As a result, the nuclear reactions generate more heat, which boils more water into steam to drive the turbines that make electricity.
Tiny uprates have long been common. But nuclear watchdogs and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s own safety advisory panel have expressed concern over larger boosts — some by up to 20% — that the NRC began approving in 1998. Twenty of the nation’s 104 reactors have undergone these “extended power uprates.”
The safety discussions have largely escaped public attention, but they could become more prominent as the Japanese nuclear crisis focuses more scrutiny on U.S. reactors. (full article)