George Chapman at Amarillo Power continues to fascinate me, partially because he does not make much noise. Information about his project’s progress only surfaces once in a while. I try to share it with you as soon as I have time to digest and verify my own understanding of the implications of what is being said.
(If you are not a regular reader or if you are new to this blog, you might want to enter the search term Amarillo Power in that blank block near the top left hand corner of this blog page. You know the one, it is the white space to the right of the white B on orange background with the text “Search Blog” to the right of the blank. You will find a series of articles dating back to August 3, 2006 discussing Mr. Chapman and Amarillo Power.)
After a six month news silence I found the following article in my automated news feed this morning Navigating the nuclear greenfield: Developer pushes ahead with Amarillo site plan. According to that article, Mr. Chapman’s project has been making significant progress, enough so that his partners at Unistar Nuclear (a partnership of Constellation Energy, Areva, Bechtel and EDF) are impressed.
“I think this (proposed Amarillo Power plant) remains one of the most exciting greenfield sites,” UniStar Senior Vice President Joe Turnage said, using the industry term “greenfield” for land that does not contain an existing nuclear power facility.
“I should say that we are looking at other greenfield sites. But they don’t have Amarillo Power’s passion behind them.”
I sometimes wish there was a bookie in Vegas that was taking bets on the winner of the reactor race – the project that will have the first operating nuclear power plant in the Second Atomic Age. I am sure that I could get some pretty reasonable (potentially profitable) odds for a bet in favor of Amarillo Power. Mr. Chapman is not a big name, he has chosen a location in the Texas Panhandle where water is a precious commodity, he has never run a nuclear operating company, and he is planning to build on a greenfield site instead of in a location where there is an existing nuclear power plant. By all conventional wisdom, his project has a lot of hurdles to overcome.
However, he has an advantage that no other participant in the race has – he is an wealthy entrepreneur in a company with a small board of directors. He has a short approval chain for any decision. He also has done the math and read the Energy Policy Act of 2005. He knows that there are several hundred million reasons for being first or second in the reactor race. In an article published on Amarillo.com in March 2007 titled Nuke plans shift Developer to work with new reactor partner you can find the following comment:
He (Chapman) said he feels good about Amarillo Power’s position in the race to complete the permitting and licensing process and secure federal incentives for the project.
“If we didn’t think we were going to win it, we wouldn’t get in the race,” Chapman said.
That confidence and short decision chain gives him some tremendous advantages and incentives in an industry that has a reputation for ponderous processes governing every shift in direction. Here is another example quote from Navigating the nuclear greenfield that should make you want to go and read the whole thing for yourself:
“We’ve picked out the specific acreage in Amarillo we are targeting,” he said. “And it’s enough to support a fleet (emphasis added) of units.”
Turnage, who has visited the site, referred questions about its exact location to Chapman, who declined comment.
Turnage said the site has “plenty of land and water rights to support our vision.”
The greenfield choice might also pay off in the end. Most articles and public statements from industry and government leaders about new nuclear power plants assume that the most likely place for the first new plants is a site where there is already an existing reactor or two. (See, for example, statements by Dale Klein, the Chairman of the NRC, in another article on Amarillo.com titled Greenfields face long process.)
There are a lot of strong and logical reasons why that may be true. There is a trained workforce; there is existing community support from people who are knowledgeable about the good neighbor characteristics of a well run nuclear plant; there are often sufficient water and transmission infrastructures in existence; the site environmental conditions have been studied in extreme detail; and there is already a site emergency plan in place.
All those advantages aside, the existence of operating nuclear plants and their security requirements will also have the effect of slowing down the construction progress for the new plants. Anyone who has ever tried to visit a nuclear facility, especially in the post 9-11 era, knows that it is an extraordinarily time consuming process to obtain access privileges. That will limit the rate at which the construction and architecture firms can bring on new people who need new background investigations. At least twice each day, there will be a shift change that requires a new batch of construction workers to navigate the detailed inspections that are part of the routine and cost of operation for a nuclear power plant. I wish that those restrictions were not in place, but they seem to be well entrenched. They will pose a burden and slow the rate of progress at any site that includes operating plants.
Those operating plants also provide a path for challenging the licensing process. I expect that at least some time will be taken up in the reviews with explanations and procedures to prove beyond a legal shadow of doubt that adequate provisions are in place to prevent the new construction from impacting the operating units. Some of that effort (a word that I always translate into additional cost) is already underway. The head of the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company told the audience at the ANS Student Conference about how carefully his company is approaching the task of selecting and segregating the people assigned to the new construction from those who continue to operate the existing, highly profitable, and important operating units. It is not a huge obstacle, but one that is bound to consume some time and money.
Here is a quote from my September 28, 2007 post.
Let the race continue. I personally think that this is going to be a bit like a marathon where there are far more participants that you might initially imagine and there is plenty of room for some dark horses that are still kind of hiding in the middle of the pack. (Hmmm; the silence out of Amarillo is kind of deafening to me. Wonder what Mr. Chapman is up to these days?)
After six months of searches, I have finally found a partial answer to the question I asked then.