Hotter Nukes For Cooler Rates?

Utilities want regulators to let them push the envelope

Karen F. Cornwell drives a 1966 Mustang with 330,000 miles on it and insists that, with proper maintenance, "the car will last as long as I want it to." She feels the same way about nuclear power plants. As manager of plant-upgrade projects for General Electric Co., Cornwell says some nuclear reactors could safely run longer and hotter than permitted in their original licenses. She is helping utilities ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for permission to turn up the heat and extend reactor lifetimes. If she succeeds, the result could be a boost for the utilities, a small reduction in certain electricity rates, and--critics charge--an increase in the risk of nuclear accidents.

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