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29 Comments

  1. Good article, Evan. You are spot on with your use of airplane manufacturing as a model for reactors, both large and small.

    A minor quibble: it did not take passenger ships “several weeks” to cross the Atlantic when jet planes came around. Roughly 5 days is more accurate, 3 days 10 hours if you were the SS United States traveling at 36 knots.

    One day in the future we will find out if nuclear-powered passenger ships can make trans-ocean passengers desirable again.

  2. This is also somewhat OT, but the NuScale reactor is rated at slightly less power than Shippingport was, and is physically larger.  This suggests that it could use a very similar thorium-uranium breeder core and probably operate 10 years between fuelings, maybe more.

    Those of you in the know, tell me the most likely limiting factor on breeder core lifespan in a small, natural-circulation reactor like NuScale:  cladding corrosion, cladding failure due to fuel swelling or fission gases, or accumulation of neutron poisons?

  3. This article explains how much the airline industry has grown. The boom in jets in Asia has reached unprecedented growth. With all those jets we really need to consider low carbon fuels. But it also demonstrates the difficulty in finding trained staff. If the nuclear were to convert to a new technology now there would be a need for a whole new set of teachers and text books to cover the non-existent cirriculum.

    Some interesting quotes:

    “Aircraft manufactures Airbus, ATR, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer delivered a whopping 1,543 new planes to airlines last year. That means a total of 30 planes rolled off their collective assembly lines every week – the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation….

    …experts are concerned because of the region’s rapid growth.

    There are currently 1,600 aircraft operating in Southeast Asia, Brendan Sobie, analyst at the CAPA Centre for Aviation, a consultancy in Sydney, told The Associated Press in December. He said Asia is the only region of the world where there are as many aircraft on order as already in service, “so the growth seems set to continue.”

    For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts. The figure is so high because planes often fly throughout the day and night, seven days a week, while pilots need sleep and days off.

    Right now, Asia-Pacific accounts for 31 percent of global air passenger traffic, according to the industry’s trade group, the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42 percent, as Asia adds an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.

    Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any region in the world, accounting for 40 percent of the global pilot demand…”

    RAPIDLY-GROWING ASIAN AIRLINES RACE TO FIND QUALIFIED PILOTS

    1. Rick noted that “For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts. The figure is so high because planes often fly throughout the day and night, seven days a week, while pilots need sleep and days off.”

      This could become the bottleneck which holds up factory production of Gen-4s. Yes this problem is likely 15-20 years distant, but I believe it deserves some thought now. Though some Gen-4s may be clustered together and need only one control room per site, there will still be a need for graduating/licensing teams of reactor operators and maintenance engineers at nearly the same rate of reactor production – whether that’s a unit per week or per month. For that reason I just don’t see the likelihood of rolling Gen-4 units out of the factory quicker than one per week: those power plants will be sitting unused (wasted capital!) while crews are trained and certified.

      A recent article in the Daily Mail stated that Gen-3 operators are trained for 2 years on a simulator before being allowed to work a shift in the actual control room.
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2927910/You-radiation-flying-standing-reactors-Secrets-nuclear-power-station-revealed-tour-plant-health-safety-notices-NEVER-ignored.html While each Gen-4 site will likely have a simulator room as well, perhaps those first several sites will also be needed as training sites for trainees? Would I be right in assuming that the training would likely be six to twelve months for Gen-4 personnel – or would it be more of a 2 year community college program? The passive safety seems to imply that there would be fewer layers of the redundant safety systems to master. Also the MSR’s *self-regulating* properties would mean less need to tweak the system to maintain steady output – though of course system monitoring would still need to be done constantly.

      I’m sure most here have noted the string of bad-luck the Asian airlines have had in the past year. They currently have many young, inexperienced pilots – and likely maintenance crews – which can’t be a coincidence! IMHO, it’s not too soon for the nuclear industry to begin outlining minimal requirements for training large numbers of *green-horns*. Or if I understand a Naval term correctly; will future nuclear facilities be run by 90 Day Wonders, or 90 Day Blunders?

      1. Hi Chris – I think you are overestimating the extent to which the core plays in the day to day tasks of a panel operator. The core is a small part of a large system of pumps, valves, heat exchangers, chemical systems, etc.

        I really don’t see the training time for operators decreasing much with Gen IV reactors.

        These reactors will still take years to build and so the time to train Operators and Engineers will still be there before commissioning of the plant begins.

  4. Evan,

    Your insights and comparisons in your article are very impressive. I have often thought that the public needs to understand that the commercial nuclear power industry has remained or been forced to remain at the “Ford Tri-Motor” level of development, while the aviation industry has been allowed to get the the “Jet-Age.”

    The public sure allowed alot of Ford Tri-Motors, DC-3’s, etc. to crash and kill many people without stopping the aviation industry from reaching the Jet-Age. The public/Gov’t needs to support letting nuclear power reach its “Jet-Age.”

    Of course, one enterprise involving nuclear energy, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, has gone from the Ford Tri-Motor to its Jet-Age in the most recent Naval reactor designs. This took the support of the Federal Government and the smarts and application of lessons-learned by those in charge of the program.

    Your article here is very timely with Senator Lamar Alexander’s remarks on the need for expanded commercial nuclear power to the Nuclear Energy Institute last week:

    http://www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=812096ea-7541-42b0-8821-aaa8ca64f174

    You may wish to share your insights with him; I believe he would appreciate it.

    Best wishes to you as you finish high school and decide on your future pursuits in engineering. I know the nuclear industry could sure use you upon completion of your engineering education.

  5. Test comment as well. I had a post disappear after hitting the submit button. It was 3 paragraphs, commending Evan, adding a few related thoughts and wishing Evan the best.

    1. The spam filters take captives capriciously, and require Rod’s personal intervention to free them.

  6. OK here is a retry:

    Evan,

    I wish to commend you on your insights and comparisons in your article. I have often thought that our nuclear industry is still in the “Ford Tri-motor” stage of development. We are still using 1st or 2nd generation design power plants. In Georgia and South Carolina, the new reactors under construction may be bringing the industry up to the “DC-3” level but we have not yet hit the “Jet-age.”

    You recognize the need for the nuclear power industry to get to the Jet-age and the need of the Federal Government to help it (as it helped the aviation industry get to the Jet-age). This is a matter of energy security and therefore National Security looking out over 20 years or more.

    A very successful program employing nuclear energy, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program has brought the most recent designs of Naval reactors to the “Jet-age.” We need to bring the smarts/lessons of that program as well as that from the aviation industry and apply it to commercial reactor development.

    Your article is very timely with Senator Lamar Alexander’s talk last week to the Nuclear Energy Institute on “The United States Without Nuclear Power:”

    http://www.alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=812096ea-7541-42b0-8821-aaa8ca64f174

    In his talk is a message that our Nation needs to take on as one of its highest priorities – expanding the use of nuclear power and fostering the development of next generation nuclear power plants. You may wish to share your insights with Senator Alexander; I bet he would appreciate it.

    Evan, best wishes as you finish High school and begin your engineering education. I know the nuclear industry would benefit from your analytical abilities when your ready to join.

  7. Nice article. Great effort Evan. But where is the organized international political effort to do away with air travel because it is so unsafe?

    1. Airports are good neighbors, …

      Do you live next to an airport?

      The housing around airports, even rather small airports, tends to be considered a “low-rent” neighborhood.

      In the most ideal of cases, the airport is located well out of town, with only a cluster of hotels and an asphalt desert of parking lots nearby to keep it company.

      1. You mean that you disagree in that you don’t live next to an airport?

        Yeah … I thought so.

        Oh and as for airports … I live not too far away from the second biggest cluster of major airports (after New York City) in the US (according to your map), the Dulles, Reagan, BWI region. I’ve been to those airports more times that I can count. When I used to fly more for business — particularly for international flights — I usually flew through Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world. I think that I know a thing or two about airports.

      2. Yes … you obviously don’t live next to an airport. Thank you, Mr. Ayn-Rand-fictional-character.

      3. So I should survey people engaged in protests, seeking asylum, or having holiday difficulties such as a lost passport about what it’s like to live near an airport? Was that supposed to be a joke?

        There are over two million people currently living in US prisons. By your logic, prison must be an absolutely splendid place to live!

      4. So I’m confused … are airports supposed to be “good neighbors” or “prisons”? You never made yourself clear.

        It’s amusing that you claim to “tire” of trolling, since that has been your entire purpose here and always has been, Mr. Anonymous Troll. (Perhaps you have met your employer’s monthly quota for comments and want to take the rest of the month off?)

        Not only do you not live next to an airport, but it’s perfectly clear to me that you have never visited a community that hosts a nuclear plant. I have, and I can tell you that the people are are not only happy, but proud to host one of these facilities. What’s not to like about clean air, good jobs, and a solid local tax base? That’s a good neighbor for you.

    2. @ John Galt:

      Seems to me you ought to be more concerned with trains. I think if people had a real choice many of them would take high speed trains with high tech tracks made from some exotic metal.

  8. Exceilent post, Evan. I was pleased to see Robert Hargraves name in your bibliography. When I began to look for ways to cut nuclear manufacturing costs, in 2007, Robert’s advocacy of the aircraft industry’s model was the best one I came across. Robert was an advocate of gas cooled pebble bed reactors at the time, and their large cores posed a problem for the model. Large cores meant that factory constructed cores would be difficult to deliver to their housing site. Barge delivery appeared to be the only viable form of delivery. I looked around for a reactor that could be factory built with a smaller core, and discvered Per Peterson’s findings on molten salt cooled pebble bed reactors. I was wuite familiar with molten salt reactors, because my father had played a role in the development of the MSR technology from 1950 to 1969. Then I came across Kirk Sorensen’s magnificent blog, Energy from Thorium. It became clear to me, that it was possible to solve most of the problems of nuclear power through rapid factory manufacture of MSRs. It was also possible to sove the CO2 problem and serve human energy demands, by building both thorium and uranium fuel cycle Molten Salt breeders.

  9. An excellent article. When we talk about “assembly line” production of SMRs or MSRs or whatever Gen IV configuration one is interested in, I’ve always used the metaphor of “Factory Built” to relate to air craft, as opposed to automobiles.

    While there is no real ‘line’ in an air craft plant, they are built in place modularity with many component factories feeding the point of assembly. it is not unlike shipbuilding. Once the keel is laid, the ship is built up from that…the keel never moves, all the modules for the ship come to it. The same with SMRs.

  10. Evan,

    Great article. The U.S. nuclear ship manufacturing industry has been able to achieve, more or less, the “assembly line” production methodology and cost efficiencies. This is especially evident in submarine production, where the cost of a new Virginia-class submarine is almost half the cost of the U.S.S. VIRGINIA (SSN 774).

    One major difference between “shop produced” airplanes and ships and a “field produced” nuclear power plant is the amount of work that has to take place in the field (site preparation, rebar and concrete work, etc.). It is difficult to spread the cost of these items over multiple nuclear plants (in the same manner that a shop produced item can spead the costs of tools, equipment, etc, over multiple airplanes and ships). It will be interesting to see if the modularization approach taken in the AP1000 design will be effective (especially if the current contractors are not contracted to build more of them).

    You right on target with the idea the nuclear power must reduce its capital costs if it is going to remain relevant. Changing the design approval approach is a good place to start. Designs that need fewer systems to operate and to accommodate emergency situations is another idea (as many of the newer designs do). I would also propose that reducing them amount of safety-related items, including concrete structures, (such as lowering those items classification level) while maintaining a safe design is another avenue (the cost increase for safety-related components can be over three times the cost of the exact same component made on the same production line by the same people using the same tools/machines!!!).

  11. Are you sure you’re “A. I.”? Because from where I stand you look like “S. P. A. M.”

    Please try to control yourself.

  12. Interesting comment since several hyperbolic towers the news media sometimes show as backdrops when they are talking about nuclear are in actuality cooling towers for coal plants.

    Soooo…. are you saying footprints of non-nuclear power plants that are in the media look smaller because they don’t show cooling towers? Or are saying the thousands of photos of TMI, Chernobyl and now Fuskusima that have been shown over the years have not had any frame of reference to a 1000 MW coal plant with the mountains of coal waiting to be burned?

    Just curious

    1. I have seen several nuclear plants up close as part of my job.

      I have also seen several coal plants. I have also witnessed the moving of mountains of coal as well as well as seen large diameter pipelines required to move the millions of cubic feet of natural gas used in natural gas plants.

      That being said you did not answer my question.

      1. How did you come to your conclusion that nuclear’s footprint “looks” larger then a coal plant or natural gas plant? Is that based on your own assessments of reviewing nuclear power plant layouts against comparable coal and natural gas plants? Have you reviewed actual drawings or maps or have you visited nuclear, coal and natural gas plants?

        Or is your perception of the NPP footprint based on articles that you have read and images that you have seen over the years?

        So, no my question is not a straw man. The general public’s perception of any power generation source is formed by media and those that would use the media for their own ends. The US has professional, well funded anti-nuclear lobbyists who have been feeding the mass media a constant stream of anti-nuclear opinions for decades.

        For years we have been bombarded by images from TMI, Chernobyl and now Fukushima with negative commentary attached to those images. People not employed within nuclear power AND are not employed by any other power generation company would have no frame of reference to compare the size of nuclear power plants to any other generation source other then that supplied by the mass media.

        The footprints of industrial wind, industrial solar and hydro are measured in square miles where the environmental damage is yet to be fully understood. Yet we are shown images of wind towers or solar panels with green backgrounds or pleasant sounding background music. Coal, natural gas and nuclear require a smaller footprint then industrial wind or solar. However we are shown images of cooling towers emitting “something” combined with gritty, dirty backgrounds and ominous background music.

        Comparably sized coal and nuclear power plants will have a similar footprint to each other. The steam and power generation equipment is relatively the same; a steam generator is a steam generator while a turbine is a turbine. Nuclear needs more support buildings then coal or natural gas but those don’t add significantly to the overall footprint of the power plant and would be balanced out by the mountains of coal required to run the coal plant.

        So the only real major differences between comparably sized coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants is the security buffer zone around a nuclear power plant However that buffer zone can add value to the surrounding area since it becomes a haven for local wildlife.

        Images matter and that is why I asked my question of how you came to the determination that nuclear power plants “look” bigger then coal or natural gas plants.

        1. One thing that can help improve nuclear’s image and environmental inconspicuousness should the nuclear community decide to do some real aggressive PR is to seek alternatives to unneighbor-friendly monstrous cooling towers that look ominous and alien to most folks and which way too many reporters actually mistake AS reactors (check most media images of a nuke — a giant cooling tower is ALWAYS there!). I also think that the nuclear community is fatally keeping its PR ace card welded in its back pocket by keeping a literal secret from the public the comparative accidental and operational casualties incurred by nuclear and oil and coal and gas and other energy sources. It’s truly insane not to hawk to the world that the amount of people killed by nuclear plants worldwide since its inception can be packed into a single Greyhound bus. What other industries outside basket weaving can make that claim?? No, it’s not the fossil-fuel companies and antis who are nuclear’s worst enemy…

          James Greenidge
          Queens NY

  13. OT again:  I’m informed that our old “friend” Bas Gresnigt has yet another site he’s no longer allowed to troll.

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