1. The cost associated with nuclear isn’t so much LNT as it is the regulatory burden behind the precautionary principle people Obama has put in charge.

    1. So – I guess the regulatory burden magically appeared in the past 20 months? Give me a break and spare me your political theories. This is about money, not about ideology.

  2. Rod – Er … perhaps I’m missing something, but doesn’t your reference contradict the point that you’re trying to make? For example:
    “Concurrently, experience with various geometries, loads, operating regimes, and manufacturing controls showed that cobalt alloys are not the most wear-resistant material for many applications. This experience suggests that it is feasible, without development of new materials, to remove cobalt alloys extensively from existing nuclear power plants. …
    Pilgrim maintenance records show that the internals of the two 14-in valves were replaced four times in the first six years of station operation. In 1977, the cobalt allow hardfaced parts were changed to type 420 stainless steel (420 SS). No materials development work was done; the procurement lead time was negligible compared to that for cobalt alloy replacement parts; and costs were about half those for cobalt alloy parts. Since then, the valve seats have been lapped once.

    It sounds to me like getting rid of the cobalt was a good thing.

    1. @Brian – in the very particular case described by people who were professionally engaged in the LNT driven effort to eliminate cobalt, you are correct. It seems to have been easy to find a different material for the valve internals at Pilgrim. Many of the replacement efforts have not been so easy. Some are continuing to add cost to design and manufacturing efforts.

  3. I have been wondering recently about the breakdown of personnel at a nuclear plant. The the number of people be less if the ALARA of reasonable were changed.
    Surely, many of the decommissioning rules would change.
    Defining a new “reasonable” would require many examples. I hope industry insiders can contribute to your list.

  4. Here is a compilation of the major evidence I have been able to find against LNT. I ihad ntended to include links to actual evidence supporting it but neither I nor any reader has been able to find any. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/03/low-level-radiation-evidence-that-it-is.html
    While the term LNT may not be used the it is the only justification for keeping radiation release below what is found naturally in many parts of the world. End that & allowable releases could be hundreds of times higher & “safety” cost reductions more than proportionate. I remember reading (sorry don’t know where) that the “decommissioning” of Dounraey in northern Scotland involved importing large amounts of limestone chips because the local granite had a higher level of radioactivity than they were going to be allowed.
    A different case is the decision not to build the origiinal Orion spacecraft, with a larger armoured plate & very strong spring beneath which atom bombs were to be exploded! It would have moved – still would! This can put hundreds of tons in orbit & was, in 1960, intended to reach “Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970”. The problems were the Test Ban Treaty, which itself works on the assumption that a very small amount of extra radiation is harmful, & that the LNT theory predicted 01.-1 excess cancer worldwide per launch. Obviously with hormesis it would tend to be 0.1-1 lives saved.
    I do not think the effect of the LNT theory in making a “bogey man” of a nuclear industry which, for 40 years has provided 20% of world electricity, can be easily overstated.

  5. Hi Rod,
    I’m somewhat surprised that your article stated ALARA concepts (perhaps work practices and plant design) are the driving force for much of plant costs. Using a crude rule of thumb, total nuke plant costs consist of 70% capital, 20% O&M, 10% fuel. The majority of nuke costs (70% capital) are based on a installing plant functions designed in accordance to 10CFR50 Appendix A – General Design Criteria. The GDC’s are based on the ensuring that during ANS Conditon IV events (bounding accident scenarios), personnel dose does not exceed threshold limits identified in 10CFR100 which is 25 REM/Hr at the site boundary. Thus the regulations permit a radiological releases with potential health consequences to responders – with the expectations that the general public will not suffer adverse consequences. I wouldn’t want to argue that the nuclear industry is burden by excessive radiological restraints based on the permissible 25 REM/HR at site boundary criteria. The point being the design of nuclear plants requires capital that results in very low significance to radiological effects.
    Much of the remaining costs (O&M of 20%) is spent on plant operations, corrective and preventative maintenance, and plant equipment. Much of these activities support maintaining the design of the functions needed to mitigate the GDCs or plant production. Very little of these costs directly involve ALARA activities. Yes its true that ALARA plans have been put in place that decrease production goals. But if we eliminated every RP position and rewrote procedures to delete all ALARA requirements, the overall O&M budgets would have minimal impact.
    It is true that a very small portion of plant design costs involves radiological boundaries (like crane wall) or monitoring (like rad monitor sytem). But again, these built in radiological barriers/monitors are crucial to assess accident events, allow personnel to perform manual plant manipulations, and ultimately protect the health and safety of the public. The point is nuclear plants are not required to implement designs whose costsI personnally wouldn’t call 25 REM/Hr part of the LNT
    the basic thermal – electrical power conversion and the NSSS. The overwhelming costs of NSSS design directly relate to GDC criteria – which is tied directly to keep dose levels during ANS Condition IV accidents below 10CFR100 limits – generation plant
    These costs are typically higher than coal and natural gas, and can be substantially higher than in combined cycle applications.

    1. @Brian – the GDC’s are also based on the assumption that a major fraction of the core is magically released into the containment in a form that can be readily dispersed to the plant boundary. The regulators do not have to propose any realistic mechanism to make that scenario happen – the regulations in place require the plant designer to prove show how the safety systems reduce the probability of plant events that are somehow supposed to cause that kind of release.
      No one ever says exactly how that kind of release can happen even under melting conditions in a light water reactor composed of uranium dioxide fuel that is inside a thick steel pressure vessel. Ted Rockwell and a group of very qualified and hard nosed investigators published an article in Science in September 2002 about the results of the TMI investigation showing how little of the core material was allowed to leave even when really bad conditions existed in the core. As they concluded – few, if any, health effects in the general population even when none of the safety systems come into play.
      You keep bringing up natural gas combined cycles as a low cost, low financial risk alternative.
      How much do you think it would cost to obtain gas with more than a 5 year contract at a predictable price? How many bankruptcies were caused as gas prices rose by 400% between 200 and 2008? Have you ever heard of the California energy crisis of 2000-2001? What about companies like Dynegy, El Paso, or Calpine?

      1. Rod, while I think your point about gas being too expensive, long term, is valid, I have a question about the Ca. Energy Crisis: I thought that was found to have been created by Enron?

        1. @Jeff – I do not believe that a single company had enough control over the energy markets to almost bring the state with the largest economy in the United States to its knees.
          There were many contributing factors in California, but one of them was that the price of natural gas had gone up very rapidly as a result of a lack of adequate transportation infrastructure. That trend accelerated in a step fashion in August of 2000 when an explosion on an El Paso Gas Company pipeline ruptured, killing an extended family of 12 who were on a fishing trip on the Pecos River near Carlsbad. The explosion reduced the pipeline network capacity by about 30% for more than 6 months. (Of course, CA would not have needed much gas if they had simply kept building nuclear plants.)
          The gas companies talk a lot about the vast supply that they have discovered in hard rock formations, but they do not talk about all of the infrastructure challenges of extracting that gas and getting it to the markets that need it.
          BTW, even ignoring the extraction and transportation challenges, the natural gas resource number is not all that impressive. Including proven, potential, possible and speculative formations, the total resource base in the US is just 2000 TCF for a commodity whose annual US consumption is 23 TCF. Even without gas capturing any markets from coal, gasoline or nuclear, the total resource would last about 90 years. Of course, the current extractors want to sell it as quickly as possible so that they can pocket the money instead of some distant relatives being about to benefit.
          Gordon Gecco would be proud.

          1. @Rod, thanks for the reply. Interesting points – I didn’t know about the gas line explosion. Did the gas explosion which destroyed part of San Bruno just the Sept, have a similar effect on power prices in California? I suppose since it wasn’t the middle of the summer, demand wouldn’t have been as high, so any disruption to gas supplies might have been less acute.
            Also, just double-checking: TCF would be Trillion Cubic Feet? I didn’t realize our natural gas supplies were so low compared to demand. I really think we should try to consider preserving some of that natural gas supply as a ‘strategic reserve’, instead of burning it ASAP.
            That’s one thing I never seem to hear anyone talk about with regards to Coal and Natural Gas – instead of trying to extract it all over the next hundred or 2oo years, shouldn’t we leave it as a legacy for future generations, to use during a time of war or national emergency, when access to a relatively ‘cheap’ fuel supply which can be brought online faster than building nuclear plants, wind, or solar, is needed? Or when the country is in such deep economic peril that there is simply no way building new nuclear/wind/solar is financially feasible (which we are NOT yet in that bad of a situation), to help them have enough ‘cheap’ energy to get to that they can stabilize the economy and restart building more sustainable energy sources again?

            1. @Jeff – First of all, let me share the link to the National Transportation Safety Board report of the August 19, 2000 pipeline explosion.
              As an interesting side note, here is another link from more than 4 years ago that came up on the first page of the search that provided the above link – some people just keep repeating themselves. 🙂
              I suspect that the San Bruno explosion will not have the same impact on supplies and prices because it is internal to the state and does not affect movement of supplies into the state. It does appear that it was a fairly large transportation type pipe, so it might have an impact on local supplies because of its effect on movement between areas. Like electricity lines, however, there is a certain amount of redundancy and “excess capacity” (which I happen to like, by the way) that prevents any one line from stopping the flow – there are ways to route around.
              Even in the case of the Carlsbad explosion, part of the long term effect was the requirement imposed on the pipeline owner to operate at lower pressures on undamaged lines until full inspections could be completed.
              I agree wholeheartedly with your feelings about our current selfish use of valuable resources. We should not be burning off all of the world’s store of easily reached hydrocarbons, even if it is theoretically possible – with enough input energy – to manufacture more. Those materials are useful and will always be useful in the form in which they are found. Having to make them from scratch adds a tremendous burden in cost and schedule to folks in the distant future.
              You also bring up a very good point about our current economic situation. From an historical perspective, capital is very cheap right now so we should be investing heavily into machinery that will be productive for many years into the future using low interest loans. Back in the late 1970s, when nuclear power plant construction came to a grinding halt due to economics, interest rates were skyrocketing. I recall being able to obtain 18% interest on a certificate of deposit when I was in college. (I had some savings because the generous taxpayers were paying me to attend school.) Yesterday, I locked in a 30 year fixed rate mortgage on a home for 3.875%.
              For many of the nuclear plants completed in the 1980s, the cost of the interest on construction work amounted to 2-3 times the cost of the equipment and labor associated with the plant.

          2. I was stationed at Edwards AFB during the power crisis of 2001. The increase in gas and electric prices used up our O&M budget midway through the fiscal year. We had to get AFMC to increase our budget so we could keep the lights on. We also took measures such as turning off a lot of lights in our buildings, keeping just emergency lights on in the hallways. The crisis was felt all the way to New Mexico (maybe even further) where farmers couldn’t afford the electricity to pump water. Non-use of water led to loss of water rights for some of them.
            As far as costs of regulation, Merril Eisenbud’s book, “Environmental Radioactivity From Natural, Industrial, and Military Sources, 4th Ed” has a few good pages on costs per death adverted for exposure to radiation. From the book: “This can involve an expenditure of $10 million [1980 $] per fatal cancer adverted if the risk is taken to be 1E-4/rem…Society seems prepared to spend far more to prevent death from radiation exposure than from many of the more commonplace hazards that exist.” What can we do, radiation is scary.

      2. Rod,
        OK, that’s a good critique of the GDC, but the main point of Brian’s post is that ALARA is not as significant a cost consideration as your letter claims. If it is a minor contributor, how do you balance the cost savings with the inevitable headline, “New regs will quadruple radiation exposure to N-plant workers?”
        Question: your critique of gas is that future price fluctuations will be similar to those of the past couple decades. Can we assume that given the rise in recoverable reserves? It doesn’t seem that Wall Street is.

  6. I’m torn on this subject. I absolutely do agreee that there is much unnecessary cost associated with belief in the LNT hypothesis, but at the same time the attention to detail and serious forethought that it engenders has actually done the nuclear pwoer sector a great deal of good. You example of using exotic materials where much commoner industrial alloys would be better, is probably one of the stronger cases.

  7. I don’t think cobalt is the best example for LNT-related costs. A lot of operational hassles, and required shielding, were a result of cobalt contamination and hardware. I also don’t believe the costs of removing cobalt are very significant, certainly in the grand scheme of things. If LNT went away, I think they’d still stick with the low-cobalt components, and just relax the shielding and operational requirements even more (as that would save more money).
    Anyway, no issues like cobalt could ever result in a significant reduction in nuclear’s costs, on the same scale as the increase after TMI. I don’t think anyone here is being sufficiently …..couragous….. in their suggestions as to what would, or should, change if we truly did throw out LNT, and the associated mindset.
    I believe that all of our fundamental philosophies about nuclear are driven by the entrenched notion that a severe accident event at an LWR is capable of causing mass casualties, and that this must be prevented and/or mitigated at all costs. This notion is largely based on LNT. Note that even at Chernobyl, no members of the public in the surrounding area (e.g., Pripyat) received an acute dose. Did any members of the public receive a dose of more than 10 Rem (the apparent threshhold) in any given year? Sure enough, actual statistical evidence of health effects (other than perhaps thyroid cancer) is sketchy at best.
    If you truly adhere to the Rockwell school about the potential impacts of an accident at an LWR (as do I), then you must conclude that none of these extraordinary (and expensive) measures are necessary. These measures include the huge array of safety systems, containment domes and (most of all, and my personal favorite) the extremely onerous (NQA1) quality assurance procedures that only the nuclear industry as to follow (and which more than doubles the cost of just about everything, as Rod pointed out in one of his posts long ago). Never has so little public health and safety benefit been purchased with so much money. Even w/o a containment, an LWR would release much less than Chernobyl did, and Chernobyl has little impact if you discount LNT……
    The fact that even the nuclear advocates on this site will probably label me as “crazy” for suggesting these things is an indication of just how politically impossible it would be to ever relax nuclear’s regulations/requirements so that they would be remotely comparable to those that fossil fuels enjoy. Thus, the only way for a playing field that is remotely fair to be approached is to greatly increase the requirements on fossil fuels, i.e., hold them to remotely the same standards as nuclear, where all toxins/wastes are completely contained, with a negligible chance of release.
    I would, again, ask all those “pro nuclear” yet anti global warming policy folks how they think nuclear could possibly have any future, under such a grossly unlevel playing field. My question to them is always the same, “so what will you be doing in your next (non-nuclear) job?”

    1. @ Jim,
      I have been thinking for the past year or so that Nuclear is not “dangerous enough.” That is to say, that the number of deaths related to the nuclear aspect of the business is so low – approaching zero – that we are being over cautious. We commonly accept risk in every part of life and if those risks are known and can be mitigated reasonably we do so. Like pumping my own fuel at the station. A risk of a spill, followed by a cigarette thrown in the area is a real risk with far more likelihood than a heavy metal core being widely dispersed. When I worked for UPS, I was a supervisor when one of our smaller trucks – gasoline not diesel – developed a leak. I was trying to clear the area when my cigar smoking boss came around. I asked him to put it out, with a fairly strong fear we were about to go up in a fireball since we were about 50 to 60 feet from the leak in a warehouse. “Ah No problem, don’t worry about it.” Was his reply as he kept smoking. We didn’t blow up. Thankfully! But he was very willing to accept the risk.
      Why should we “guard” nuclear so strongly that there is no risk at all? What makes risk from radiation so special as opposed to other types of risk? Selling Geiger counters at the local hardware would be one way for people to get used to the real risks and safety of radiation. It is just NOT common enough and used enough for people to understand. But if they did use it and work with it personally the level of comfort and understanding would rise. LNT directly prevents that common association.

        1. In 2007 an international summit on low-dose radiation held in Carlsbad, NM issued a report. Just protecting workers from low-dose exposure at clean-up sites was estimated to cost $200 billion.
          I recommend that anyone wondering about how to get out from under the dead hand of LNT read the report and consider the usefulness of an ultra low-dose laboratory to conduct some definitive studies. Both LNT scientists and threshold scientists at the conference agreed that such a lab would help put an end to controversy.

    2. @Jim – No – you’re not crazy. Of course you aren’t. I agree completely – based on what I’ve read, which isn’t much at all – I don’t know enough to form an intelligent judgement – but the problem is that if you go to the public, you’ll be labeled an extremist. “Radiation isn’t dangerous? What the heck are you smoking! OF COURSE IT IS! Look at how they build those plants! Look at the lead smocks I have to wear when I get a dental X-ray!” The nuclear community always managed to control radiation pretty well. Now the controls are self-reinforcing. Why do we control radiation so much? Because it’s highly dangerous. Why is it highly dangerous? Because they take all sorts of dramatic steps around it that reinforce that belief.
      I know it’s so unfair; it is, absolutely. Life is unfair. But changing this belief is a gargantuan task – it’s the real “elephant in the room” – it’s just such an immense mistaken belief that it makes everything an impossible nightmare for the industry, and, so, it limps along on government life support, the generosity of the power companies, when they can spare a dime or two, and the visionary spirit of dreamers, like Rod, who just think, “if only people knew.” But how can the man on the street know – it requires specialized knowledge that the ordinary guy out of high school or college won’t have.
      ‘My question to them is always the same, “so what will you be doing in your next (non-nuclear) job?”‘
      That’s a good question. I’d like to go into the nuclear field. Really, I would. But the only way I could gain the necessary knowledge is to set off on a ‘voyage’ down the only road where the knowledge is plentiful outside of a NPP, a national laboratory, or engineering school – engineering school not being the right place for me right now; not enough self-discipline or self-confidence. The road I’d have to ‘voyage’ upon (or beneath) is a very hard road to follow, and though the spirit might be willing (though the spirit has not yet really considered it in the spirit’s ‘spiritual bones’), the body is weak, and I’m not sure whether the gate is barred due to past stupidity.

      1. @Anonymous Coward – Reading between the lines, I suspect that you are considering taking the same challenging – but rather inexpensive from an upfront capital perspective – “voyage” that I took to learn about nuclear energy. If self discipline is a problem for you, maybe some externally imposed discipline will do the trick, but do not count on it to overcome too much inertia.
        As the billboard near the Cosgrove Bridge in Charleston SC used to tout – there are some “colleges of nuclear engineering” that are about 300- 00 feet long, black and silently operate below the surface of the water. (I used to see that billboard every day on my way to work at the off-crew office. It was the source of some amusement among my fellow sailors when I was the Engineer Officer and teaching some of the classes.) There are some other “colleges” that operate on 1100 foot long high speed air fields.
        Good luck in your voyage decision processes. The experience is valuable and worth the effort.

    3. “I would, again, ask all those ‘pro nuclear’ yet anti global warming policy folks how they think nuclear could possibly have any future, under such a grossly unlevel playing field. My question to them is always the same, ‘so what will you be doing in your next (non-nuclear) job?'”
      Well, perhaps they could study a foreign language?
      Moi, je parle le fran

      1. Brian,
        You may be right that a price on CO2 will not be *sufficient* to cause substantial new nuclear build, but it will definitely be *necessary*. No amount of other reforms (regulatory, etc.) that are remotely politically possible will ever make nuclear as cheap as coal, unless we have CO2 limits or a massive tightening of (other) pollution regulations.
        Personally, I do think that requiring CO2 emissions to be dramatically lower at some point in the future is sufficient to ensure largescale growth in nuclear. It’s possible that people will be able to avoid nuclear over the short term (i.e., for the first bit of emissions reductions), but to do something like an 80% reduction, renewables would have to provide all of the power; something that everyone here knows is not possible. Thus, hard reality would set in at some point, and nuclear will become necessary.
        A carbon price only helps gas by giving it an advantage over coal. The result would be more gas use in power generation, at the expense of coal. This in no way hurts nuclear. Increased gas demand will only increase its price, making nuclear more competitive. The final result would be a reduction in coal use, and its replacement by some combination of gas and nuclear. That is fine by me, even if nuclear is a small fraction of generation that replaces coal. After all, reducing coal use is the main reason I’m pro-nuclear.

        1. Jim – Are you familiar with the statistics of US coal plants?
          The majority of them are (1) small, (2) old (50 years old or more), and (3) grandfathered into a system whereby they don’t have to adhere to modern pollution standards. This is why coal is cheap. If all coal plants were required to adhere to the latest environmental standards, you’d see hundreds of coal plants close tomorrow, leaving a huge gap of capacity that would need to be filled.
          The economics of new coal plants depends heavily on their location. If you plan to build a plant along the Appalachians, where there is still plenty of coal, then a new coal plant makes sense. The latest technology is quite efficient. If you have to haul all of that coal down to Florida, then the economics change.
          I don’t have anything against gas; in fact, I use it to heat my house. My ideal situation would be a system consisting of nuclear for baseload and natural gas for reserve peaking capacity. Burning gas for baseload, however, is just foolishness, but it is the kind of foolishness that the US and much of Europe is about to double down on, because gas is perceived as cheap and environmentally friendly.
          New coal is only considered when someone begins to worry about the volatility of natural gas prices in the long term.

  8. From a layman’s point of view this is politically risky information. Were any anti-nuke spokes people to read this it would be typically used as fuel for their fire. But you are right to educate people about this. The tritium stories seem to be the most abused. It would go much further if someone did a comparative analysis to show just how much Tritium is truly risky, layed out in very clear terms the relative strengths for instance of radiation from a doctors visit, radiation from coal ash fallout etc.

  9. You may have read that Google is testing cars that can drive themselves. They were running safely at speeds of 60 miles an hour. They face the hurdle of convincing government and consumers that their lives would be safer with machines that run themselves. When will that be provable? Seems like a paradox. The test results will never be provable unless huge numbers are tested but someone likely has to risk death before there are measurable results. This has already happened with Nuclear plants. The ones we imagine should have been exposed like Weinberg and Wigner lived long healthy lives. These are other persuasive arguments to make the same point.

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