Despite very little in terms of construction of new reactors, the United States has been able to dramatically increase its production of nuclear energy over the past few decades through the process of “uprating.” Since 1977, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “has approved more than 6,500 megawatts worth of uprates…the equivalent of building six new nuclear reactors,” according to Brad Plumer of Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog on WashingtonPost.com.
Plumer states that there is more than one way to “uprate” a reactor, including:
- Upgrading sensors and other devices that measure reactor capacity
- Subbing in new parts for outdated components
Both of these can increase output by a few percentage points. The end result is more energy production without having to construct all-new costly and contentious reactors.
Then there is a process known as “extended uprates,” which can increase electricity production by 20 percent by changing out major components or even utilizing “more potent fuel.” This has nuclear critics concerned that the uprated reactors aren’t as safe as their previous incarnations.
However, Plumer notes the success of the process so far, coupled with the relatively lost cost of uprating as compared to building new reactors, means uprating is unlikely to go away any time soon.
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