The aging of electrical cables has been the subject of substantial research and development (R&D) projects performed by national and international laboratories, universities, and private organizations for many years. This R&D was conducted to develop guidance, equipment, and techniques to support aging management of in-service cables in industrial facilities such as nuclear power plants, research reactors, waste facilities, and fuel fabrication plants. Through these research efforts, condition monitoring technologies have been developed that can determine the severity of age-related degradation that occurs in industrial cables and insulation polymers during service. This paper summarizes the results of aging assessments that were performed for cables installed in two U.S. nuclear power plants, one a pressurized water reactor and one a boiling water reactor. These cables had been in service for over 40 years and during plant operation were exposed to harsh environmental conditions including elevated temperatures and radiation.

For these assessments, a comprehensive series of measurements was performed to assess the aged condition of the cables. These cables came from different manufacturers, were manufactured in different years, and were constructed with a variety of jacket and insulation polymers including chloro-sulfonated polyethylene (CSPE), cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE)/cross-linked polyolefin (XLPO), neoprene, and ethylene propylene rubber (EPR). The goal of these assessments was to determine the current aged condition of the cable polymers and provide an estimate of how long the cable insulation materials could remain exposed to their in-service environmental conditions before reaching their end-of-life condition. Both nuclear power plants have received license renewals to extend their operation from 40 to 60 years, and the utilities need objective evidence to show that critical components such as cables will be able to function safely and reliably during the extended operating period.

The results of these assessments showed that the cables exhibited different aged conditions depending on the type of polymers they were constructed with and the environment they were exposed to during service. Some of the cables and insulation polymers showed signs of significant age-related degradation and were estimated to have approximately 5 years of remaining service life. Other cables exhibited no signs of significant age-related degradation and were estimated to have 50 years or more of remaining service life. Using the results of these cable aging assessments, plant personnel were able to (1) determine the overall aged condition of cables and insulation polymers using objective test results, (2) identify aged or degraded cables before they caused operability issues, and (3) avoid unnecessary and costly replacement of cables that can continue to operate safely and reliably.