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  1. There is a large problem not clearly described by anyone. I want the global production of CO2 to be vastly reduced. The U.S. makes about 13% of the world’s CO2 per year currently. If the U.S. gets to zero, there’s still the 87% left.

    The U.S. can design an array of reactors for different markets and purposes, but how does that help the world? The U.S. does not have the skill to cost effectively build these reactors. The U.S. does not have the policy to finance these reactors. The U.S. does not have the will to market the reactors. I’m sure Mr. Kerry is more concerned about proliferation than the best CO2less nuclear design.

    The best U.S. world policy would seem to be to design, demonstrate, and give the rights to another country or company who would build fleets of reactors. Kind-a-like the AP1000.

    1. The Chinese are already building a larger version of the AP1000, the CAP1400, for which they will have the IP and export rights. Kerry was part of the Clinton administration that effectively ended US research on new nukes, but he claims to have changed his mind.

      1. @John ONeill

        I don’t know about you, but I have changed my mind on numerous topics and issues in the past 25 years. Clinton’s decision to defund advanced nuclear research was made in 1993.

        Given Kerry’s current position, I’d like to have him on our side.

  2. Was the cost impact of uniquely strict and burdensome regulations and QA standards, etc.., and the huge increase in those burdens since the first wave, discussed at all? I consider that issue to be related to the public perception issue listed in the 2nd to last bullet above. If the public’s perception of risk can be reduced, can’t unnecessary requirements be reduced as well? If not, what would the benefit of more accurate public perceptions be, given that cost is the main issue for nuclear?

    Both construction costs and staffing levels per MW have increased by a factor of ~3 or more since TMI, and I believe that increased requirements are the primary reason. But it seems like many current nuclear commentators, and studies about how to reduce cost, are ignoring/avoiding the elephant in the room, and are trying to find ways *other than* regulatory/QA relief to reduce costs.

    To me, the main thing about SMRs is that their inherent lack of hazard may offer sufficient (and obvious) justification for fundamental relief with respect to regulations and QA standards. It’s the main reason why the may possible be cheaper (despite loss of economy of scale). Yes, assembly line production also helps.

    1. @James E Hopf

      I sometimes wonder how much of the extra staffing levels after TMI were happily accepted by the industry and the nuclear focused academic world?

      After all, if there had been no new construction AND no increases in staffing at each plant, both the industry and the academic pipeline would have been even more depleted.

      But we are now approaching a point where the jobs may grow a lot faster than the number of qualified applicants.

      1. You’re raising provocative questions that have also been asked by Brett Kugelmass. I wonder about those things as well, and think that there is a good chance that Kugelmass is right, to some degree at least. It really does seem that the industry did little to fight back against regulatory burdens that are unlike those faced by any other industry. That begs the question as to why.

        Speaking of overregulation, this article just ruined my whole day. Can’t believe that the (new) NRC is even considering *increasing* regulations, and giving (illegitimate) groups like Beyond Nuclear and Ed Lyman even more deference. Even more time and industry money addressing their endless “concerns.” They’re even threatening life extension! Thought we were past that, given new awareness of nuclear’s benefits.


        Statements in the article suggest that the industry (NEI, etc..) supported the NRC direction under Svinicki, as opposed to Baran and Hanson. So, apparently there’s a limit to how much regulatory burden the industry will accept. Perhaps they’re finally figuring out that those burdens (that employ more people and “maintain our nuclear expertise”) have reached the point of threatening the industry’s existence.

        My biggest fear concerning a Dem administration was what NRC commissioners they would appoint, and it appears that my fears are being realized. I’m wondering if these appointments will offset the beneficial impacts of any other things Biden may do (climate policies, etc.), making the Biden administration a net negative for nuclear. Retirements will continue and even accelerate, esp. with these NRC appointments, if nuclear doesn’t get subsidies or financial advantage over gas generation, and *quickly* (this year!).

        In other words, I’m not sure I agree with your last sentence, which suggests any kind of renaissance for nuclear. It would be nice to have an environment where no one felt the need to invent “issues”, burdens and tasks in order to keep people employed.

  3. With respect to redesign for different locations (5th bullet), to what extent is that due to actual, practical issues, and to what extent is it one more example of nuclear’s unique regulatory burdens? Do non-nuclear industrial facilities have to do as much in the way of design modifications and additional analyses for each site? Is this all about seismic, and is it about more than max G-loads? I thought that the great majority of US plants were built to the same seismic standard (with only a few Western plants needing to meet a higher G-load).

    I worked in the dry storage cask industry. For casks, once a generic license (showing that the design was safe) was issued, casks could be built at will, w/o any further licensing. For different sites, all you had to do was a cursory (72.212) evaluation which showed that the primary environmental parameters for the site (max G-loads, range of ambient temperatures, etc..) were bounded by the licensing analyses performed for the generic, approved cask design. The 72.212 evaluation was not even sent to NRC for evaluation. It was placed on file, and could be reviewed by NRC inspectors if they wished. No additional licensing activity was required.

    Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but I think a similar approach could be justified in the case of SMRs, given their inherent safety and lack of significant hazard. (Yes, the “72.212” analyses would be more involved, but…) SMR developers are saying that no credible circumstance or scenario (or component failures, etc..) could result in a release sufficient to cause significant deaths or health impact to the general public, outside the site boundary. NRC is considering much smaller (perhaps even site boundary) EPZs for those very reasons. It all begs the question as to why such less burdensome procedures are not acceptable, given that NRC itself appears to recognize the lack of off-site hazard. Is my understanding flawed?

    Such new approaches will be necessary if SMRs are going to make a significant contribution within the time frames over which we’re trying to decarbonize (2035?).

  4. I look forward to the day when: the US Congress is sufficiently frightened by Russia and China seizing nuclear reactor export markets, that they scared beyond what they are now doing: printing a few tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and dishing it out in DoE grants to small and micro reactor start-ups (easy peasy); but also: hire Jim Hopf to direct the thorough reformation of the Nuclear Strangulatory Agency. The latter would entail actually standing up to Big Oil and Gas interests, and will therefore require that they have the living shxt scared out of them. This may happen soon. Yes, rooting for Russian and Chinese success in foreign markets is the only way I see to possibly, maybe, lead to reform of that stinking mess.

  5. Honestly, I would short any nuclear startup. Nuclear is a socialistic state affair and private finance should stay away. I don’t understand why people hype up the outsider startup and try to raise money for bootstrapping new organizations when there are large conglomerates that can build reactors today. The engineers in those conglomerates are better (know more) than the podcasters and youtubers and recent MIT grads that seduce the pro-nuclear faction of the environmentalist movement. I know everybody on the podcast thinks they are fighting the good fight, for the future of mankind and the environment, but these ventures and organizations seem so Quixotic to me. It’s just not time for nuclear power outside the spheres of influence of China, Russia, Korea. Only governments can build nuclear power stations. Once built, they can be spun-off to private companies for operation.

    1. @m.scarangella

      Nuclear energy might have started as a state affair and it might have remained a state affair ever since.

      But that is not a permanent condition. It was a decision made by humans and changeable by humans.

      Conglomerates have had their chance and have failed miserably in growing the use of nuclear energy to approach its technical potential.

      You and I have both experienced a failure that was an attempt by two large corporations to try to do something innovative. I obviously took different lessons away from the experience.

      1. There’s a seed of truth in what both of you are saying.

        Obviously, the differential equations describing a nuclear reactor aren’t “special.” They have boundary values and stability criteria, just like those describing, for example, airflow over a wing, and solutions are physically possible if everything is approached rationally.

        Yet, it’s equally clear that the high-capex problem is caused by people. Designing better equipment isn’t going to fix the NRC being dysfunctional, and the NRC can stop anyone from building anything, no matter how good it is. Right now, only large and well-capitalized companies can run the gauntlet. That’s not inherent in the technology, but it is inherent in the people who are running it.

        I don’t see the point of spending time and money on the engineering side instead of the people problems. The NRC hasn’t fundamentally changed. Environmental law and administrative procedure haven’t fundamentally changed. Why would it be different this time?

        Yes, you are good at spotting good technologies and good companies. Yes, these technologies and companies would be better than what we have now. But that doesn’t mean that anyone will let you do it.

        The established nuclear industry can’t do the job, clearly, and new people and new ideas are needed. But – the industry would already have turned over several times if the NRC had allowed it. They don’t, and won’t. They’re bigger than you.

        Lots of people are venture capitalists, and lots of people are engineers. Very few people who understand reactor physics can communicate with the public, and that’s what you’re good at, Rod. Why not use your skills to keep advocating for deregulation? NRC reform would lift all boats, and be just as much of a contribution as the engineering and business side.

        1. @Stewart Peterson

          Thank you for the kind words about my communications skills. But why do you want me to box myself in? Isn’t there good evidence available that illustrates the potential impact that people who combine good communications savvy, financial strength and broad-based engineering vision can have?

          People with multiple skill sets can attract others with complementary skills and those teams can become strong enough to stimulate change even in a resistant bureaucratic body like the NRC.

      2. Rod,

        I don’t want you to box yourself in; I want you to do this in the right order. Energetic, capable, skilled people get stomped by the real world all the time. That’s not a good thing, just a fact, and a big part of strategic planning is making sure that these people are properly set up to succeed before they start. The time to “prepare the ground” for these people is before these people start to contribute to your burn rate.

        Why would you want to have these people sitting on their hands with a completed design while you fight City Hall? Do the politics first.

    2. “Only governments can build nuclear power stations.”

      I think this conviction of your is exactly why we are not seeing competition in the power sector using Nuclear. People waiting until the “authorities” give permission. Since the oil companies have chosen to be fossil fuel rather than power companies I think it is time to look at a new paradigm.

      Over the years I have seen many opportunities for the use of Nuclear power that have been overlooked or ignored. Usually because it is expensive and scary as currently configured. Large conglomerates have engineers who are constrained by the limits placed on them by the corporation. Smart they are – but constrained.

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