PSEG Nuclear Wants to Boost Power Output of Hope Creek Plant

Tom Johnson | July 21, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Company waiting on approval of application submitted to Nuclear Regulatory Commission to increase output capacity by 1.6 percent

Hope Creek nuclear generating station
PSEG Nuclear is seeking approval to increase the power output of its Hope Creek nuclear plant.

In an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, PSEG is asking to increase the reactor’s licensed output by 1.6 percent, a step that would boost the electricity generated by the plant.

The application is part of a process that allows the operator of nuclear plants to ramp up their output, a practice often used by energy companies since the early 1970s. The NRC has approved at least 154 so-called power uprates, increasing electricity output by more than 7,000 megawatts.

With few new plants being built, the industry has used power uprates as a way to add capacity, so much so that the added capacity through the upgrades is roughly the equivalent of seven new nuclear plants.

The NRC oversees three types of power uprates. The one being sought by PSEG is dubbed a MUR, or Measurement Uncertainty Recapture. Essentially, it involves upgrading monitoring equipment to more precisely calculate reactor power. By doing so, it reduces the uncertainty in the power level, helping analysts predict the ability of the reactor to safely shut down under possible accident conditions, according to the NRC.

“We are always looking to upgrade the equipment as needed,’’ said Joe Delmar, a spokesman for PSEG. “One of the benefits of installing this monitoring is to increase output.’’ He declined to say what the company is investing in the project.

Salem I and II, the other two nuclear units at Artificial Island had the same type of power uprate, which limits the output upgrade to less than 2 percent, back in 2001, as did Hope Creek. In addition, Salem I had a so-called stretch power uprate approved in 1986, which allowed the unit to increase its output by 2 percent.

Hope Creek had the most extensive power uprate of the three units in 2008, when it increased its output by 15 percent. This a major undertaking, involving upgrading and replacing big pieces of equipment such as turbine generators and pumps.

The application for the uprate comes at a difficult time for the nuclear sector and PSEG, with many plants having a tough time competing with electricity generated by natural gas-fired units.

PSEG executives, citing the benefits of producing carbon-free electricity, are pushing state policymakers for financial incentives to keep the units open, as has been done in other states, like New York and Illinois.

The company is requesting the NRC to review and approve the application by March 2018, with hoped-for implementation in April 2018. In order to accommodate the uprate, the company would make modifications to the plant’s high-pressure turbine and install new flow meters.