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  1. I have been looking at the nuclear efficiency/costs problems of the nuclear industry since 2007. My conclusion has been that while Light Water Reactor technology is fairly efficient, it may not be efficient enough, and its inefficiencies lead to cost problems that are significant problems for nuclear power and the post carbon economy. There are ways to overcome these problems, but they require the adoption of a new technology. By choosing to explore Molten Salt coolant/moder/fuel carrier technology, many of the problems created by adopting conventional Light Water Reactor technology can be solved. I do not commend these views on my own expertese, but on the expertese of some leading reactor design innovators, people like Per Petersen, David Leblanc, Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan. The nuclear Industry would do well to look at the path these innovators have chosen to follow.

    1. @Charles Barton

      Your suggestion isn’t a near term solution. It also would result in abandoning valuable capital assets.

      Besides, it ignores the fact that many of today’s cost drivers were promoted by people who did NOT have pure motives for improvement.

    2. Might I suggest that the existing nuclear industry is the rootstock upon which future nuclear industry must be engrafted, and improving its economic health, to the extent that the underlying technology will allow, is necessary in order that the new growth may flourish.

    3. You clearly think that advanced reactors will be significantly less expensive. I think that they are a technological solution to what is mainly a policy and regulatory problem (the root of both being public attitudes, i.e., a deep prejudice against all things nuclear). Given this, I do not think that advanced reactor technology will be sufficient, without a fundamental change in mindset (and requirements), to address or avoid nuclear’s ever-escalating costs. If we go on holding everything nuclear to a standard of perfection, no reactor design will be cost-competitive.

      For example, I agree that these reactor designs have many profound, fundamental safety (and simplicity) advantages over existing large LWRs. However, unless those fundamental properties/advantages are used as an argument for substantially reduced requirements (staffing, component fab QA requirements, etc..), they will not be significantly less expensive than current plants (especially if the reactors are small).

      If we don’t manage to do that, and stick with the old (everything must be guaranteed/perfect) way of doing things, we will have reactors that are orders of magnitude safer (still) but are no less expensive. And that won’t help at all. We don’t need more safety (nuclear is already the safest). We need reduced costs, period.

      IMO, the (current) battle over the requirements that will apply for SMRs (and their component fab, etc.) is nothing less than the battle that determines whether nuclear will have much of a future.

      1. I agree 100%, Jim. In my view, what the global maritime industry has done with the slow speed diesel engine is the standard which small nuclear plants need to achieve.

        If commercial ships are ever going to be nuclear powered, the reactor and propulsion plants need to be crewed by not much more than what is current for diesel engines. This would be around 15-17, even for power plants well in excess of 100 MW. And they need to be from such maritime power houses as the Philipines, which the entire shipping world has great success with as mariners, officers and not.

        1. I should say that atomic-powered ships can tolerate higher costs if they also exhibit higher productivity. We have to look at a different operating model from the present day. It doesn’t take much more cost or volume to put a 30-knot atomic plant into a ship than an 8-knot plant, so we should be talking about making three or more round trips in an atomic-driven container ships while an oil-burner makes one.

          1. Even with the relatively low cost of fuel and ability to make more round trips, the productivity jump from 8 knots to 30 knots is 3.75, but the change in required power is almost 53!! Power and revenue don’t scale linearly for ships and that is going to be an extraodinary challenge if nuclear propulsion machinery costs thousands of dollars per kW and not hundreds. Even the price of fuel is relevant as the initial fuel load is going to be purchased upfront or debt financed. At 8% interest, which isn’t even as high as it gets in the maritime industry, high capital costs become millions of dollars per yer very fast.

      2. Jim, I think you are spot on with this. The new SMRs have to lead a new way of thinking about what you really need to run this safer, less “human factored” technology. Otherwise, wash, rinse and repeat…this industry is so poor at advertising our benefits over the past 50 years, it’s actually astounding to me. Meanwhile, oil and gas just keep plugging along at how “clean” they are getting. The accountability across these industries compared to nuclear couldn’t be more night and day.

        Has anyone even seen a rough plan on what a new supply chain is going to cost to get started for SMRs? We certainly won’t be cheaper if we’re still relying on foreign forging facilities that can’t even keep up with current LWR designs.

      3. You clearly think that advanced reactors will be significantly less expensive. I think that they are a technological solution to what is mainly a policy and regulatory problem (the root of both being public attitudes, i.e., a deep prejudice against all things nuclear)

        Actually MSRs will offer both. That said, you are right in saying that the ALARA policy mindset must change or, for example, the NRC could demand containment structures capabable of withstanding airline impact even though the threat of biosphere radiation release is hugely diminished. I would think that Americans in particular should wish godspeed to the Advanced Nuclear legislation being put forward through both Congress in both the house http://tinyurl.com/hkepax7 and senate http://tinyurl.com/jzj865z . The proponents know that any remaining competitive advantage of America’s nuclear energy technology is at stake and they are not willing to cede that any further.

  2. Massive cuts to the ridiculous Security requirements is an absolute must if Nuclear Power is serious about this. The fact that Security is the largest department at my Plant is…..how can I say this…..batsh*t CRAZY.

  3. It’s encouraging to hear this. This is something that I’ve been advocating for years. It’s the thing that MOST needs to be done, by the industry. It’s true that nuclear *deserves* to get tangible financial credit for its non-polluting nature. In fact, it deserves to be treated the same as renewables. However, it is not enough for the industry to focus only on obtaining such credit, in order to forgive its ever-escalating costs. If nothing is done about the cost problem, eventually even financial credit equal to what renewables get will not be enough.

    In other words, it’s encouraging to hear that the “drunk” finally realizes that it has a problem, which is the first (of 12?) steps to recovery.

    I’m encouraged when I hear about how they are asking for staffing and operational cost data, by year (over the past many years/decades), broken down by areas (e.g., security, etc.). If I were tasked with trying to solve nuclear’s cost problems, that is the exact sort of data I would ask for, as a start.

    While these steps are encouraging (along with the potential for new reactor fuel to allow large power uprates and thus significantly reduce per MW-hr costs), I personally fear that it will not be enough. What’s mainly driving these ever-escalating costs are ever-escalating regulations and requirements, which the industry does not have direct control over. At some point, the NRC, as well as policy makers in general, need to be confronted.

    The industry needs to demand that all requirements and regulations (new and old) be subject to rigorous cost/benefit analyses. Requirements that do not pass need to be removed. For competing industries, all regulations have always been required to pass cost-benefit analyses (e.g., EPA regulations on coal, etc..).

    Bonds 25 raises what may be a good example of this, i.e., security. I’ve heard mixed messages on how significant this is. Some data I received suggested that security costs are still only a fraction of a cent/kW-hr, but then I also hear (from recent articles, as well as Bonds 25) that security is the largest part of plant operation costs and staffing.

    If it is as significant as Bonds 25 suggests, to me this is a prime example of how requirements need to be confronted by the industry. The industry needs to point out (to congress, etc.) the FACT that if terrorists simply showed up at a typical high school with machine guns, they would have a ~100% chance of success and would kill MORE people than a worst-case meltdown event would. They should also mention all the other targets that have *larger* potential consequences but are far *less* secured, such as oil refineries, LNG terminals, chemical plants, dams, tall buildings, and large gatherings (e.g., sports events). They should then go on to ask why nuclear plants only are required to repel an attack by 12 professional attackers (or whatever it is), whereas no such requirements apply to all those other sites. They should go on to demand that security staff levels and costs be reduced by a factor of several.

    Either that, or have the govt. (vs. the industry) pay for it. That is, if the govt. insists on having such extreme security requirements, due to the *political* (not tangible) impacts of a nuclear release (i.e., due to baseless radiophobia), then they should pay for it, since it is not a legitimate exernality. Is there any precedent for this? Is the security for large events like the Super Bowl entirely paid for by the industry (NFL), or does govt. contribute?

    1. NFL profits make security at sports stadiums miniscule compared to how Security is done at a nuclear power plant. Yes, at every plant I’ve been at, Security is the largest organization and it is directly tied to the NRC’s requirements for what has to be protected, searched, authorized, etc. Strangely enough, the NRC regulations don’t care what it “costs” to actually have enough security personnel on site to actually fluidly support the day to day plant operations. This is a significant problem. Either the station has to pony up more headcount and acknowledge that Security needs enough bodies to protect and support the plant, or the station ignores this fact and a Security organization is staffed to the minimum, halting even the most mundane task from getting done in certain areas. It’s a huge issue; the regulator did not do the industry any benefit after 9/11 when it ramped up the new Security Orders almost monthly. We’ve never looked back since.

      1. Security is very important. Like last year some idiot came on to Watts Bar property. When security challenged him, the idiot shot at the guard, which had everybody calling for the national guard to be sent in. I’m thinking the key expenses weren’t so much 9/11 as the hours rules that limiting hours that could be worked/week. Security has the tightest restrictions, which requires more staff to man the shifts. But, if it keeps some yahoo from making an attempt, I’m for it.

        1. Making an attempt at what? You’re ok with a Nuclear Power Plant shouldering the heavy financial burden of having hundreds of Security Officers employed because it will prevent some idiot (yahoo) from making an attempt?

          You also bring up another dumb situation in Nuclear Power…….fatigue rule restrictions.

          1. Omitting the staff needed to service the inmates, how large a security staff is required to watch over a modern prison the approximate size of an average NPP?

            James Greenidge
            Queens NY

          2. 20….maybe

            Proper risk assessment could cut 180 head count alone.

            Why attack a Nuke Plant? If you’re looking for sources for a “dirty” bomb…….just go to a hospital or food irradiation plant. If you’re looking for the magical “melt down” button…….it doesn’t exist. If you’re looking to steal special nuclear material……taking (if you possibly have a transportation method) and using this material would result in over exposures to the thieves.

            Get rid of the Nuclear Security Officers and bring in the heavies……paid for by Uncle Sam via the NRC.

  4. Yes, to government paying for security. Same as TSA. Once government carries the cost, they can decide budget and how much is enough versus utilities spending and preparing continually to satisfy the NRC at high cost

  5. Jim Hopf, as others often have, hit on the central dilemma for nuclear power, it is neither understood nor valued by the public as it should be. When Jim states, “I think that they are a technological solution to what is mainly a policy and regulatory problem (the root of both being public attitudes, i.e., a deep prejudice against all things nuclear, he is absolutely right, but that is the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, there has never been a co-ordinated effort by ALL nuclear stakeholders collectively to remedy this. It almost seems that the fear, uncertainty and doubt so often alluded to when discussing nuclear pervades the very industry trying to produce and promote it.

    Perhaps 2015 might presage change. The Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase held by Third Way as well as the creation of the the Nuclear Innovation Alliance and their subsequent white paper “Strategies for Advanced Reactor Licensing” are positive developments. Passage by the House of HR 4084 “The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act” and the announcement by the DOE of the “Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) are hopeful signs.

    In the final analysis the Nuclear Industry must courageously be its own strongest advocate, as other industries are for themselves. Nuclear must consistently and continually seek to burnish its image, developing and deploying Positive Marketing Campaigns ! Take a page from the 1950s Walt Disney’s “Our friend the Atom” updated for the new century with the help from some of Today’s Disneys. Many industries, most notably in this context the Fossil Fuel Industry, do it all the time

    Having said the above I’ll move on to today’s Atomic Show topic. Maria Korsnick said in her opening remarks,

    “We stepped back and looked at the value proposition for nuclear”

    Thank goodness people like Maria and others finally made the nuclear industry snap to that. It seems unfathomable that this effort just began at the end of last year. American manufacturing awakened to their non-competitiveness in quality and cost visa vis the Japanese and others back in the 1970’s. At that time the techniques pioneered by Walter Shewart, then further developed by W. Edwards Demming and Joseph Juran were adopted by much of industry.

    Our Nuclear Industry does not suffer from a standpoint of quality, rather the public perception and awareness problems mentioned earlier. Competition from Natural Gas though has raised the question “at what costs” (i.e. greater dollars for construction and/or operations, reduced safety and security, What?) As if cost and quality always have a direct and linear relationship. (The higher the cost, the higher the quality). The Japanese automotive industry under the tutelage of Demming demonstrated that they could produce a higher quality product at a lower cost than Detroit.

    Techniques like Process Mapping, Pareto Analysis, Statistical Process Control, Continuous Improvement and many others were instituted with great results. These are not new concepts or techniques that have to be invented. They exist and just need to be learned, understood and properly utilized by the Nuclear Industry in order to achieve the marked improvements NEI desires.

    1. Can’t speak to LA Times, but to say it could be worse. No mention at all was made of the controversy over LNT, or where the 4,000-9,000 possible deaths figure came from, or Greenpeace’ 100,000. But

      “(Biologist Anders Moller) is convinced the radiation is causing DNA changes in wildlife in the zone, adding: `We won’t see the long-term effect on humans yet. It will take more than 30 years, but we are definitely seeing the changes in mice and swallows.'”

      Fascinating. If he actually is seeing radiation-induced DNA mutations — as opposed to (possible) radiation-induced tissue damage — in higher animals, its trinkets time from Stockholm. That should motivate (almost) anyone to take a hard look. The question is how to get from there to an unbiased assessment.

      CNN has published a more nuanced opinion:
      Before the Next Chernobyl by Debra Decker.

      1. Reference: Integrated Molecular Analysis Indicates Undetectable Change in DNA Damage in Mice after Continuous Irradiation at ~ 400-fold Natural Background Radiation. Environmental Health Perspectives DOI:10.1289/ehp.1104294 August 2012.

        Should clarify my criticism. DNA can indeed be damaged by high levels of radiation. Inheritable genetic mutation is a different story, as far as I know not being demonstrated in birds or mammals. RERF certainly hasn’t seen any in humans. Though perhaps beyond a short LA Times piece, Moller might somewhere clarify what was the integrated radiation background for the animals he studied, and how he integrated it.

      2. Fascinating. If he actually is seeing radiation-induced DNA mutations — as opposed to (possible) radiation-induced tissue damage — in higher animals, its trinkets time from Stockholm.

        Beware. Møller and his collaborator Tim Mousseau at the University of South Carolina are outliers in the field of studying the aftereffects of the Chernobyl accident. Both of them are strident antinuclear activists. I would feel far more comfortable with their conclusions if other researchers could reproduce their results, but in spite of an impressive output of journal papers by the two (which makes me wonder whether quantity trumps quality), as far as I know, no independent researchers have been able to substantiate their claims.

        In addition, Anders Pape Møller has a somewhat checkered past. I would take any claims made by him with an enormous grain of salt if I were you.

        1. Thanks Brian, and indeed I have. Just neglected to close the implied skepticism tag in my comment above. (HTML error, my bad). Interestingly, the LA Times piece followed their Møller comment with

          “Mike Wood of Salford University, who is also tracking wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone using cameras, is not so sure.

          “There appears to be little impact in terms of overall species,” he said. “But it’s a pity 30 years on that we don’t have more definitive answers and there are still so many conflicting theories in the scientific community. The sad fact is we still don’t know.”

          It is a pity. Null results are notoriously hard to pin down, particularly for those convinced they aren’t. Part of the human side of science. Thanks again for the warning, and the additional info r.e. Møller and his research Tim Mousseau.

  6. The worst cost multiplier I have witnessed is the change in attitude as to how the plant is operated and how the regulations are administrated from “Safety” and “Conformance” perspective. Years ago the BOP (Non-NSSS) of a NPP was treated just the same as the turbine hall of a coal plant. Not now. Why? What additional safety is achieved. Many of the things that a plant does are done simply to minimize the potential of getting a violation. Several examples.
    In the early 70’s plants had “administrative” limits that were about 25% less then each and every “regularity” requirement for radiation dose. Additionally there were weekly limits, to help prevent exceeding the monthly limits, thus preventing a “Violation.” Then, the NRC, in their great wisdom, started giving violations for “Failure to comply with administrative procedures” for each and every non-conformance to these procedures. Thus the plants quickly made all plant procedures the same as the NRC requirements.
    Little needs to be said here about ALARA. Get rid of ALARA and set a limit in hard numbers. Period.
    A NPP is not a Submarine. Yet INPO has instilled an attitude like it was. Have you ever read about a fire that the plant operators at a coal/NG power station put out with the standard fire extinguisher? Yet, if the coffee pot in the NPP CR catches on fire it is front page in every major news paper in the USA and beyond.
    If the safest thing to do is to shut down, then why is the plant given a violation for “Un-planed” shutdown? If a component needs repaired then shut down the plant, fix it and start back up. Why are they given violations for unavoidable component failures when the operators satisfactory perform their job?

  7. In my non-american view. the high costs are a self-inflicted injury to nuclear technology. NSG and non-proliferation act were invented to prevent the upstarts from progress in nuclear know-how but results were tangential, as usual.
    Asians and Russians make the most cost-effective nuclear reactors. Indian PHWR in India being the lowest cost per MW. The natural result is that Indians are interested only in importing nuclear fuel under iaea safeguards to ensure that it is used only for power production. Purchase of reactors other than Russian ones is not progressing.
    The Chinese crossed the nuclear line well in time and are more forthright.
    Nobody has been able to control the rogue breakaways Pakistan and N. Korea from going nuclear. The US and NATO partners have financially crippled their nuclear industries. Russians have most export orders including Iran and Asians got the UAE job. I wish americans well, particularly for going soft on import of nuclear fuel by nIndia.

    1. @Jagdish Dhall

      I agree, to a certain extent. Keeping the cost of nuclear power high enough to be competitive with fossil fuel, even after the dramatic rise in oil, gas, and coal prices during the 1970s, required the cooperation of “the nuclear industry” as it was constituted at the time. It wasn’t terribly difficult to achieve that cooperation; most of the companies in “the nuclear industry” were also members of the global hydrocarbon industry in one way or another.

      Besides, it was easier and more lucrative to allow costs to rise as long as upstart competitors could be discourage from taking advantage of their lower cost structure to capture market share.

      This situation is a bit different today. Many of the players in nuclear are not leading members of the hydrocarbon establishment, so they will be more aggressive about taking advantage of nuclear fission’s inherent ease of logistics, lack of need for pollution control equipment, and low cost fuel.

  8. “Ms. Korsnick described the early steps of the program, which took place in the fall of 2015, as a group of Chief Nuclear Officers “shined the flashlight” into all areas of plant operations, focusing specifically on cost information. Member companies were asked to provide their last ten years worth of financial information with expenditures broken down into major categories like work management, training, and the corrective action program.

    After reviewing the information for several days, the group established focus areas where spending had increased significantly or where the area represented a large portion of the total expenses. A Chief Nuclear Officer was assigned to be in charge of each focus area. The CNO’s gathered a team of cross-company and cross-functional subject matter experts from the industry to engage in detailed investigation.

    The number of assigned team members is approaching 1,000 if all of the working teams are included. Industry employees don’t have to be formal members of a team to submit ideas for evaluation and possible implementation.

    Early screening produced an initial list of approximately 180 areas that could be targeted. Since that is too many to address at one time, the list was narrowed to the 35 or so items that seemed to have the largest potential gain or could be implemented quickly for early wins.”

    Doesn’t this information hit home with anyone but me? There are no comments on it. “Someone” needs to tell this entire group of CNOs to listen to their gut. And act on it from a united front. I can applaud NEI for being the central initiator for focus on the problem and bringing an effort together to solve it. But really? They identify 180 areas for potential targeting? And can’t see (or refuse to) what the problem is? And why it takes almost one employee/MWe to run these plants today? Here’s a clue, cross reference the 180 area list to the organization that requires them and has issued edicts on how to implement them. There’s your problem, and you probably know it, but disagreeing with WXYZ is still a career ending move. Why are you able to pare the list down to 35 items; are the other 145 just useless programmatic fluff contributing to your plant killing O&M costs?

    As Bonds 25 noted, the security staffing issue has a totally different initiator than the other embedded problems. And as such needs a totally different unified level of effort to get resolved.

  9. I have three very old documents displayed on my office wall that are based on commercial non-nuclear industry’s positions that are all relevant to the runaway costs sounding the potential death knell for a wonderful environmentally friendly source of energy.

    Slogan 1:
    “One thing Detroit doesn’t seem to understand is that you cannot cost reduce yourself to profitability. Sometimes processes as well as Management direction must be figured in and held accountable”
    Source: Martin Leach, then CEO of Ford of Europe

    Slogan 2:
    “A Management Team that is distracted by a series of short term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half hour”
    Source: Sergey Brinn Co-founder of GOOGLE

    Slogan 3:
    The Three Laws of Conservative Decision Making (a position founded and fostered as a way of life in the nuclear industry)
    1. They are always the easiest to make. (although they are not always technically justified Reactor decisions notwithstanding)
    2. They are always the most difficult to reverse (though in many cases technically justifiable – see MJD comment above on career ending decisions)
    3. They are ALWAYS the COSTLIEST to implement, more personnel, more time etc.(the industry approach…as long as we could afford it, who cares.)

    Also, I cannot disagree with some of the comments on this blog relative to the size of our security staffs, but compare costs with the overinflated salaries of the hundreds of presidents, vice presidents and upper management at some of our companies. Oh well, it’s been a good run for a long time. I hope & pray it continues until long after I’m gone.

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