GE BWR's Like Oyster Creek and Vermont Yankee Were Originally Designed For Power Uprate to 620 MWe
I came across an interesting statement in an article titled “Coal Industry Review” written by Alfred T. Wells, Jr. and published in the September-October 1964 issue of the Financial Analysts Journal. (I know, I need to find some more interesting hobbies besides digging through ancient magazine journal articles.)
Here is the quote that caught my eye, since I have been reading so much about Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek and the organized efforts to shut them down.
Possibly no other single development affecting this industry (this article is talking about the coal industry) in recent years has generated as much investor attention as the announcement in early 1964 of Jersey Central Power and Light’s planned Oyster Creek nuclear generating station. This plant, to be completed in 1967 under a $68 million contract with General Electric, is to have a designed capacity of 515,000 kw and is expected to be eventually operated at a maximum capacity of 620,000 kw. In a detailed report describing Oyster Creek released last February, Jersey Central estimated that the total operating cost at the 620,000 kw level would be 3.79 mills per kwh. Moreover, it claimed that this would make the plant economically competitive with fossil fuels delivered at Oyster Creek at a cost of less than 20 cents per million BTU. Thus, nuclear power generation would become theoretically competitive with coal in a great many areas of the country.
This document indicates to me that it was widely recognized within the electrical power engineering and financial community that the GE turn-key plants were going to initially operate at about 515 MWe, but were designed with a power output increase to 620 MWe in mind from the very beginning. Since these were early commercial nuclear plants being designed within a decade of the first BWR ever built, the engineers, plant owners and regulators were merely being prudent by initially operating at a lower output power level.
It is a fabrication to assert that the 20% power uprate that the NRC approved for those plants has put them into a situation that was not anticipated by the initial designers. One has to also recall that engineers in the early 1960s were a pretty conservative bunch of people who often gave themselves wide margins because their measuring tools were not terribly precise and they understood that a little extra steel or concrete was a cheap form of insurance.
I wonder if Arnie Gundersen ever shared this kind of information with the people he has been paid to advise? Based on yesterday’s vote in the Vermont senate to shut down the plant when it reached the end of its initial operating license, I would bet that the information that he sold as an expert consultant did not include this salient point. My guess is that this kind of early design information will be introduced at any lawsuits filed by Entergy for breach of contract or ex post facto laws that result in a taking of their property.
Update: (Posted 0447 on February 25, 2010)
The Guardian has answered my question about the advice that Arnie Gundersen provided to his clients regarding Vermont Yankee’s design and the provisions that its engineers made for later power output increases. Here is a quote from a February 23, 2010 article titled Obama’s nuclear vision suffers setback as Vermont plant faces shutdown:
Arnie Gundersen, a former industry engineer turned nuclear watchdog, said such leaks were indicators that the Vermont Yankee was nearing the end of its life span. “It seems like the plants that came on line before the Three Mile Island accident in the 1970s are predominantly the ones that are spring the leaks,” he said. “In the case of the Vermont Yankee the problems of an ageing reactor were compounded by the pressures of trying to generate a 20% increase in power. Nobody else has ever tried for a power increase of 20%.”
Again, the chosen consultant is factually wrong. Two other plants in the US (Clinton and Haddam Neck) have taken advantage of the designed power output capacity of their conservatively built plants to increase the power production by 20%.
Rod, even if the GEBWRs were not design with power up rates in mind, it still would in all likelihood be possible to safety up rate their existing design. Reactors are designed with sufficient tolerance to easily handle the added heat and pressure. The limitations of their heat exchange systems, which would not be a problem for a BWR, and of their turbines, which would be a problem, come into play, before safety considerations would.
Many plants were built that way. TMI-I was also, as we called back then “turbine limited.” Rancho Seco (The B&W portion of Rancho Seco and TMI-II are essentially identical other than some last minute AEC/NRC “ratchets”), and to some extent TMI-II were also turbine limited. Only the HP turbine needed replaced, along with the uprate review package. All was lost/forgotten after TMI-II. The info is readily apparent on the heat balance drawings for these plants if you know what you are looking at.
This “hidden” capacity caused problems during initial startup at those plants as they had steam driven feed-water pumps. The FWP Turbine was sized for the full MWT (megawatt thermal) capacity. That extra 20 percent of FWP capacity made for a very difficult control loop. And worse yet, there was a start-up FW control valve, Main FW control valve and then the variable speed FWP Turbine. Take a FWP designed for a ~1,000 MWE plant and put it in a ~800 MWE plant. Now try and control a flow at 20% through a eight inch control valve, with the turbine at half speed (that is all the slower the manufacture would let it go.) I spent several days tuning those loops.
Did you know Oyster Creek only cost (about) $60 Million.
Rich – thank you for the detailed information. It is always nice to hear from professionals with experience.
It really is amazing to think about the moderate cost of the initial plants and their small or non-existent cost and schedule overruns. One of the biggest numbers driving the total cost of some of the later plants was interest on the loans taken out to finance construction. In an era where the prime lending rate approached 20% (late 1970s early 1980s) delays were incredibly expensive. That fact led to other cost increasing processes – like keeping specialized welders on site for weeks just so there would be no delay when their services were needed. (I had a friend who built a tidy nest egg during that time. He collected a lot of per diem, read a lot of books in his hotel rooms, and ate some very nice meals. When I knew him, he owned a jewelry shop in Tarpon Springs where he put to use some of the skills that he learned welding in nuclear power plants.)
The vendors also had a lot of negotiation power with their customers about component pricing. Labor leaders also took advantage of the looming expenses of delays to keep work rules and wages higher than they would have been under normal circumstances.
For a while, the utilities did not mind too much. They knew they would get the costs back in the rate cases. The party ended when the PUC’s stepped in with “prudency” hearings and questioned the expenses and delays and did not allow full cost recovery.
Truly a mess that we all need to understand so that we can avoid a repeat. There will be no third chance to get it right if we do what we did in the 1970s and 1980s. The failure to control costs handed the opposition their biggest stick with which to beat us down. Customers would have been far more supportive of nuclear plant construction if they had not seen rate increases every time a new nuclear plant got completed. They would have been our biggest allies if they had seen even moderate rate decreases.
Since EVERYONE is an electricity customer, we need to understand that we have a great tool for building support – simply keep cost under control. We can afford to sell power at a lower cost than the competition. It is a well proven way to win friends and influence people.
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