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%.