"We're looking at the asset and considering seeking a second renewal to assure the plant is still available," Dominion spokesman Rick Zuercher said. "We have a team looking at it. … Nuclear emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and it's the cheapest electricity we produce in Virginia."
Exelon also has a team of executives preparing for a potential extension for Peach Bottom, spokesman Dave Tillman said. "The required years of review of plant design and performance data proves that it's battle-tested,'' he explained.
Owners often replace many of the electronics and other equipment at nuclear plants, like 43-year old Surry, where concrete and the steel containment vessel for nuclear material are original equipment, Zuercher said. Its license runs until 2032, but moving far in advance is not unusual: The plant's Unit 1 reactor license was first extended in 2003, a decade before the expiration of its initial term.
Nuclear power provides about 20 percent of U.S. electricity, roughly half as much as coal. By 2040 half of the nation's nuclear power plants will have been operating for 60 years, and by 2030 the United States could experience electricity shortages if a significant number of nuclear plants are retired in a short period, according to the industry's trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The nation's oldest nuclear plant won't see its 60-year license expire until 2029, the year before the administration's plan will require a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions from the electric power sector.
—By Tim Mullaney, special to CNBC.com