I’m doing a little history reading today and came across a passage worth sharing. The source is Glenn Seaborg’s “The Atomic Energy Commission Under Nixon” St. Martin’s Press, NY 1993 pg 101-102.
In December 1965, the management of Northern States Power Company (NSP) reached an internal decisions that a new generating unit in the 500-electrical-megawatt range would be required by 1970 to meet anticipated service demands. Having just faced protracted public criticism regarding the predicted environmental effects of a large fossil-fueled plant then being completed, the company reasoned that it could avoid further criticism by making its next major addition a nuclear plant. A nuclear plant would neither produce the soot, smoke and noxious chemicals not be subject to the fuel transportation and fuel storage problems of a fossil-fueled plant. NSP reached the decision to “go nuclear” despite an analysis indicating that a coal-fired plant would be economically superior.
Early in 1996, NSP held discussions with the AEC regulatory staff and with Minnesota state officials regarding they suitability of a site near Monticello, Minnesota (population about 1,500), on the Mississippi River, about 40 miles upstream from the water intakes for the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. No objections having been expressed to the site, the utility contracted in August 1966 with the General Electric Company for installation of a 545-megawatt boiling-water reactor (BWR) nuclear power plant.
Directly after ordering the plant from General Electric, NSP applied to the AEC for a construction permit. The AEC then began its normal review processes. There was, first, an analysis of the proposed plant by the AEC regulatory staff to determine whether, in its opinion, a reactor of the proposed design an power could be operated safely at the selected site. The staff’s finding, contained in a long and comprehensive “safety analysis report,” was affirmative. While the staff was studying the application, a second, parallel study was being undertaken by the congressionally established Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), a group of fifteen recognized experts in the various technical disciplines involved. The ACRS too found, and issued a public report stating, that the application met the AEC’s criterion for issuance of a construction permit, namely, that there was “reasonable assurance that the proposed facility [could] be constructed and operated at the proposed location without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.” After issuance of the favorable staff and ACRS reports, the next step was a public hearing by an independent, three-man Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), where any person had the right to intervene as a party to the proceeding. there was no intervention in the Monticello case at this stage and the ASLB duly approved issuance of a construction permit. The AEC issued the permit on June 19, 1967; construction began the same day.
Take a hard look at that decision time line. The company decided to build a nuclear plant in December 1965. After just 18 months, they had permission from the regulators and started building.
What a time and money saving process that would be if it was still in place today!
Denouement NSP’s Monticello nuclear plant experienced one of the first contested operating license hearings after the antinuclear movement started forming out of the antiwar movement. Even though there was substantial opposition that frustrated the AEC and utility industry leadership (as told by Seaborg), and there was a year long delay in awarding the operating license, Monticello entered commercial service in June 1971, 5.5 years after the company first decided to “go nuclear.” (Seaborg, pg 111)
Why does that timeline seem kind of remarkable today, in an era with such fast computers and instantaneous communication around the world? Manmade decisions have created the currently interminable process; manmade decisions can unwind the tangled web to make the process move more smoothly once again. Let’s get started.