Cook nuclear power plant has potential for extended lifetime

plant

The Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman is pictured Sept. 7, 2013. The plant is one of the 60-70 percent of existing nuclear power plants in the U.S. to be viable candidates for an extension. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BRIDGMAN — If the powers that be have their way, the D.C. Cook Nuclear Plant has the potential to renew its license well past 2034.

Joel Gebbie, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for Cook, said during an interview Tuesday with The Herald-Palladium’s editorial board it is one of the 60-70 percent of existing nuclear power plants to be viable candidates for an extension.

However, another extension would depend on its parent company – American Electric Power.

“We would like to make our decision within the next five years or so,” Gebbie said Tuesday. “It’s a long planning horizon that you want to undertake. Just to be clear, AEP is not committed to that, but that’s what it would take to do that. That’s an ongoing discussion I’m having with the people back in Columbus,” AEP’s home.

Gebbie said if AEP committed to applying for another extension, it would take another 30 months for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review and approve the application.

This is the same NRC that signed license renewals for Cook plant’s Units 1 and 2 in 2005, extending the life of both units for an additional 20 years. With the renewals, Unit 1 is licensed until Oct. 25, 2034, and Unit 2 is licensed until Dec. 23, 2037.

Preparations for that license renewal process began in 2001, where the application was eventually submitted to the NRC in late 2003.

“So much has changed in 10 years, it will be hard to project what happens in 20 years. But (the extension) is very feasible,” Gebbie said. “We are part of the industry group that’s looking at the technical considerations for it. There’s a financial piece and the optics to consider as well.”

Plant spokesman Bill Schalk said AEP’s decision would have to come down to whether an extension is cost effective for an additional 20 years.

Trump’s plans for energy

Gebbie also addressed the changing landscape that Cook plant faces with a new-look Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“As an industry, we’ve tried to read the tea leaves from those close to (Trump). Right now it’s unclear,” Gebbie said. “They’ve made very definitive statements about the coal industry. But I do know they like the fact that the nuclear industry creates jobs.”

While Trump’s administration hasn’t given nuclear industry leaders a signal as to whether they want more or less nuclear power, Gebbie said they think the new administration hasn’t gotten to that form of energy yet.

After the president gets through a Supreme Court justice nomination, Gebbie said they’ll look closer to see whether they will signal their intentions for more nuclear power.

Revamping a visitors center

A lot of work has been done to Cook’s visitors center from 2014 to 2015.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Schalk said the plant limited its access to school groups. Even then, it was only a couple thousand students a year.

“We put about $1 million into the building and are getting more use out of it internally,” Schalk said. “We’ve been bringing folks in, for like key stakeholder tours. A security plan realignment might get some folks up there.”

Gebbie said among the good things about the visitors center is how close it is to the plant. However, because of security reasons, that’s a negative as well.

In an effort to give the community more access and make it easier for workers to get in and out, Gebbie said the plant is making some physical modifications to its security plan.

“We recognize people want to come and see the plant,” Gebbie said. “Of all the plants I’ve been to, this was the best visitors center I had ever seen. It was right on the lake and so close to the plant. We’d like to have it more for general community access, but we’ll never be like we were before (Sept. 11).”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 25, 2017)

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