WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. nuclear safety regulator said on Thursday it has extended the operating life of the nation’s largest nuclear power plant, the three-unit Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona for an additional 20 years.
After more than two years of review, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said no safety or environmental concerns precluded renewal of the operating licenses for the three reactors run by Arizona Public Service Co, a subsidiary of Pinnacle West.
Since March 11, when an earthquake and tsunami crippled a Japanese nuclear station, a number of anti-nuclear groups in the United States have called on the agency to suspend its relicensing activity until it completes a full review of the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
This week, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the NRC to set more rigorous standards for allowing aging nuclear power plants to keep operating.
NRC officials have said the Fukushima crisis would not slow the relicensing process because any changes identified through its 90-day review spurred by Fukushima will be ordered at all operating plants immediately.
PG&E Corp’s Pacific Gas and Electric utility last week asked the NRC to delay final processing of its application to extend the life of the two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the quake-prone California coast to give it time to complete a seismic study.
Arizona Public Service filed the Palo Verde renewal request in December 2008. Unit 1 can now operate until June 2045; Unit 2 until April 2046; and unit 3 until 2047, the NRC said in a release.
The Palo Verde units, located near Wintersburg, 50 miles west of Phoenix, began operating between 1986 and 1988 and were licensed to operate for 40 years.
The NRC uses the renewal process to determine how an operator will manage a reactor as it ages. The two-step process includes safety and environmental reviews.
Of the 104 operating reactors in the United States, the NRC has renewed licenses for 66 reactors and is considering 16 applications. The NRC has never denied a renewal application.
APS owns a 29.1 percent stake in Palo Verde. Other owners include the Salt River Project, Edison International, El Paso Electric, PNM Resources, the Southern California Public Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Eileen O'Grady in Houston; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid