Associated Press file photo
Steam rises from cooling towers at Exelon Generation's nuclear plant in Byron.
CHICAGO -- Exelon Generation it has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 20-year license extensions at its Byron and Braidwood generating stations, which would allow the plants to operate into the middle of the century.
The two reactors at the Braidwood plant, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, currently are licensed to operate until 2026 and 2027. The Byron plant, about 95 miles northwest of Chicago, also has two reactors, licensed until 2024 and 2026.
Exelon spokesman Paul Dempsey said companies can start the renewal process, which the NRC said typically takes two to three years, anytime within 20 years of license expiration. He said Exelon thought "it was a good idea" to apply for extensions at the same time because they are similar and began operating about the same time.
The Braidwood and Byron plants are among the company's newest in Illinois — Braidwood's reactors began commercial operation in 1988 and Byron's in 1985 and 1987, respectively. Exelon said the plants together generate enough electricity to power more than 4 million homes.
Nuclear plants initially are licensed for 40 years, after which they can receive 20-year extensions. Approval is not unusual, because companies are continually maintaining and upgrading plants, so many can last longer, NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said.
She said the agency first must accept Exelon's the applications for review. After that, the company's application, including documentation, will become public.
The time frame for review could be extended if there are petitions from the public or others to intervene in the process, she said.
"It's a really thorough and very involved process," and will include reviews of company documents as well as on-site inspections, Mitlyng said.
She said the NRC will consider the company's ability to manage safety equipment as it ages but not past problems — including leaks of radioactive tritium at Braidwood and Byron — because those issues are dealt with separately.
Exelon owns six nuclear plants in Illinois, with a total of 11 reactors, more than any other state in the U.S.