On Saturday, May 11, 2013, the Tampa Bay Times published a lengthy piece by Ivan Penn titled Levy nuclear plant more costly than a natural gas facility that uses a detailed analysis with substantial “error bars” around cost estimates to show that under nearly all scenarios considered, the two reactor installation that has been proposed for Levy County, Florida is a more expensive option than a natural gas power plant.
The effort is a serious attempt to raise questions about the proposed facility and to ask hard questions about the company’s statements about the reasons that they are going forward with the project. Despite my unreserved support for nuclear technology development, I believe the nuclear industry needs to understand the implications of the results and consider taking action to that will encourage unbiased observers to change the underlying assumptions.
The primary action we need to take is to develop a cost aware culture that understands that losing control of cost is almost as hazardous for the health of the general public as losing control over quality or safety. A “cost is no object” approach to quality and safety cannot be sustained because it results in a culture where even the tiniest issue can result in responses that have almost no upper limit in capital expenditures or man-hours. Anything that gets reported becomes a high priority item; which often skews resource allocation and prevents or delays actions that may be more important.
There is an ever present danger of political pressure to move as slowly as possible to make effective regulatory decisions. We must never lose sight of the fact that people who oppose the use of nuclear energy are well-funded, well-connected, and highly motivated to add as much cost and delay as possible. It is often politically easy for the regulator to announce that they are going to review every change and analyse every issue in an unconstrained manner that pays no attention to the cost associated with the imposed delay.
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