Put simply, annealing requires heating the metal of the pressure vessel to remove the damage created by radiation, possibly restoring it close to its original condition. "It's a very big job and very challenging," Was said.
"There are questions of how quick the damage will come back," he said. "Not all of these questions have been answered, but there's encouragement that even the pressure vessel could be replaced."
The United States has been well served by the caution of engineers who built the country's first generations of nuclear power plants, as seen in the ability of its plants to seamlessly cross the 40-year mark, MAI's Lee said.
"We know that with the margins that have been taken into account, they were so much over-designed that it is no problem to go beyond 40 years," Lee said.
While ultimately the decision of when to extend the lives of nuclear power plants will come down to utilities, Gaertner expects that those decisions will not be held back by structural problems.
"We feel pretty confident that there are technical solutions to all the issues," he said, "and that the cost will probably be worth it."
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500