The U.S. May Soon Have the World’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plants

Preface. This is nuts. Sea level rise threatens many nuclear power plants and drought has shut plants down since they need cooling to operate.

As nuclear reactor age, they require more intensive monitoring and preventive maintenance to operate safely. But reactor owners have not always taken this obligation seriously enough. Given that older reactors require more attention from the regulator, not less, it is perplexing that the NRC wants to scale back its inspections of the aging reactor fleet and its responses to safety violations. Six years ago, the US Government Accountability Office pointed out that “NRC’s oversight will soon likely take on even greater importance as many commercial reactors … are reaching or have reached the end of their initial 40-year operating period.” (Lyman 2019).

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Natter, A. 2020. The U.S. May Soon Have the World’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plants. Bloomberg.

In December federal regulators approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to let the facility’s twin nuclear reactors remain in operation for another 20 years beyond the end of their current licenses. By that point they’ll be 80, making them the oldest reactors in operation anywhere in the world.

“That’s too old,” said Rippingille, a lawyer and retired Miami-Dade County judge who was wearing a blue print shirt with white sea turtles on it. “They weren’t designed for this purpose

With backing from the Trump administration, utilities across the nation are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s as they run up against the end of their 60-year licenses.

“We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame.”

Indeed, the move comes as other nations shift away from atomic power over safety concerns
Critics such as Edwin Lyman, a nuclear energy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argue that older plants contain “structures that can’t be replaced or repaired,” including the garage-sized steel reactor vessels that contain tons of nuclear fuel and can grow brittle after years of being bombarded by radioactive neutrons. “They just get older and older,” he said. If the vessel gets brittle, it becomes vulnerable to cracking or even catastrophic failure. That risk increases if it’s cooled down too rapidly—say in the case of a disaster, when cold water must be injected into the core to prevent a meltdown.

The commission’s decision doesn’t sit well with Philip Stoddard, a bespectacled biology professor who serves as the mayor of South Miami, a city of 13,000 on about 18 miles away from the Turkey Point plant. He keeps a store of potassium iodide, used to prevent thyroid cancer, large enough to provide for every child in his city should the need arise.

“You’ve got hurricanes, you’ve got storm surge, you’ve got increasing risks of hurricanes and storm surge,” said Stoddard, 62, from the corner office in a biology building on Florida International University’s palm-tree lined campus. All of this not only increases the likelihood of a nuclear disaster, it also complicates a potential evacuation, which could put even more lives at risk. “Imagine being in a radiation cloud in your car and you’re sitting there running out of gas because you’re in a parking lot in the freeway,” he said.

Climate change is also one of the main cases against extending the life of Turkey Point, said Kelly Cox, the general counsel for Miami Waterkeeper, a six-person environmental group that has joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth to challenge the NRC’s approval in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. New data show sea level rise in the area reach as high as 4.5 feet by 2070, but regulators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission didn’t take those updated figures into account, said Cox.


Lyman, E. 2019. Aging nuclear plants, industry cost-cutting, and reduced safety oversight: a dangerous mix. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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One Response to The U.S. May Soon Have the World’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plants

  1. OdidOpera says:

    Today, I am thankful for Operation Opera, but all of us are firm against using any Nuclear, Chemical and Biological weapons against the people and the environment in Iraq – and everywhere else

    In 1982, a report attributed to Oded Yinon has predicted all what has started to happen in Syria – down to the nuts and bolts – as if he was reading a scripted future.

    It must have been a similar unpublished report authored around the 1950s, at the latest, about what was going to happen in Iraq from 1950 onward!

    Destroying the nuclear power plant near Baghdad in 1981, before entering service, has also been done for reasons related to Energy – Nuclear Power Plants Require External Power Supply to Run.

    And, it is that ‘External Power Supply” what has not been planned-for for Iraq to have – to date (or it will increasingly be consuming a big chunk of its own oil and gas, decreasing the total amount dedicated for export into the world Energy market)!

    With BLM Movement, and what we hear now about armed Militias for BLM – the Nuclear Industry in the US remains a hostage to the reliability of external power supplies, largely coming from burning fossil fuels.

    Art Berman thinks “U.S. [Fossil Fuels] ENERGY DOMINANCE IS OVER”.

    Licenses for nuclear might be extended for another 100 years by bureaucrats, no matter how the cores of running nuclear reactors have become brittle.

    The question is – if there will be enough fossil fuels to run and repairing them?

    If the assumption I made above about the pre-knowledge of the pre-planned unavailability of a reliable power supply in Iraq – is true – then one can understand that the World actually knew Nuclear is Fossil Fuels-Derivative since 1950s, if not much earlier.

    See Ernest Rutherford’s ‘moonshine’ comments on the viability of turning nuclear-fission to excess energy.

    Wikipedia states Rutherford was wrong – yet Wikipedia has overlooked to audit how much fossil fuels were burned to extract more fossil fuels for the industrial base that builds a nuclear reactor and running it – and then make Rutherford look wrong!

    No matter how much Energy in the atom, now we understand – Energy, like time, flows from past to future.