The Enduring Value of Nuclear Energy Assets

Long-term Operation Task Force

June 2020

Download the technical position paper

This World Nuclear Association technical position describes the benefits of long-term operation (LTO) of nuclear power plants, and the main considerations that need to be taken into account to ensure the longevity of nuclear operations in the years ahead.

LTO of nuclear power plants (i.e. operation beyond their original licence period or expected period of operation) allows these plants to generate reliable, lowcost, low-emission electricity for many years longer than originally envisioned and thus maximise their value. LTO has been successfully demonstrated and is now standard practice. While not all reactors will achieve longevity, most of the world’s currently operating fleet of nuclear power reactors are technically capable of doing so. In fact, the majority of recent nuclear plant closures are attributable to worsening market conditions or else governmental decree, rather than to ageing-related issues.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that LTO of nuclear plants reduces energy costs and helps to protect the environment as part of a clean and resilient energy strategy. In most markets, LTO is the lowest-cost option for generating electricity, and is expected to stay that way for decades to come. With climate change now an urgent global issue, countries cannot afford to retire reliable, low-carbon energy generators that support the entire electricity system.

While LTO increases the value of nuclear reactor assets – both to operators and society at large – a reactor cannot be expected to operate indefinitely. LTO serves as a bridge to new build, helping to preserve core industry competencies in the supply chain and elsewhere. Moreover, refurbishment and modernisation projects as part of LTO preparation develop project experience that can reduce future new build costs.

A successful LTO programme requires action from the industry, government and regulators. Plant operators need to:

  • Introduce a plant life management and design change management programme at an early stage.
  • Conduct an assessment of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental threats and opportunities prior to licensing and modernisation.
  • Take steps to amend the work culture to include a focus on modernisation projects and ensure the necessary human capacity, both internal and external, is in place.

Operators and suppliers should also ensure that components remain available over the increasingly long operating life of a nuclear plant. Innovation in an LTO sense should involve harmonising codes and standards internationally and the implementation of ‘commercial grade dedication’. New technologies – including digitalisation, additive manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence, automation and advanced nuclear fuels – will also play a key role.

Governments should not only allow LTO of nuclear plants, but also remain actively and vocally supportive of nuclear and ensure policy continuity. They should provide investment in the necessary infrastructure with resources for education and training as part of an industrial strategy and redesign energy markets to recognise the benefits of nuclear plants.

For regulators, LTO requires ensuring the compatibility of existing regulatory frameworks with clearly-defined LTO requirements.