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  1. The ESBWR is probably the best Gen III+ reactor design. It has outstanding passive safety features, and it has been a disapointment that the movement from design to regulatory approval has been so slow. It would appear that the better a reactor design, the more the NRC drags its feet on approval.

  2. Boiling water reactors are supposed to be simpler and cheaper to build than PWR’s. And, I think the E in ESBWR stands for ‘Economic’, because this design eliminates pumps, etc. and the goal was to make it less expensive than the ABWR.

    So, can someone explain why I’ve seen a cost estimate of $10B (or was it $11B) for ONE reactor in Michigan. OK, first of a kind etc., but is that reasonable?

    1. @SteveK9

      While GE has earned its reputation for engineering exceptional products, it has never attempted to be a price leader. It is a company that places a high value on its products and expects generous margins. It doesn’t like competing in commodity businesses where it doesn’t have a well-protected IP portfolio.

    2. OK, first of a kind etc., but is that reasonable?
      Made me wonder as well. On top of that, why should the lead customer be expected to pick up the foak costs? Look at aircraft manufacturers, they offer their lead customers discount prices and a range of other benefits. They only expect to make money on the n-th of a kind deliveries, where n is quite large.
      Areva, on the other hand, is involved in a string of costly court battles with its EPR lead customer. Definitely not the way to gain more customers.
      GE should be financially powerful enough to offer attractive conditions to its lea ESBWR customer, and ensure smooth delivery so that other customers follow.

      1. “On top of that, why should the lead customer be expected to pick up the foak costs? Look at aircraft manufacturers, they offer their lead customers discount prices and a range of other benefits. They only expect to make money on the n-th of a kind deliveries, where n is quite large.”

        EXACTLY! I don’t believe commercial nuclear power will see net growth until this issue (among others such as NRC reform) is addressed.

        1. Um, who *do* you expect to “pick up” the FOAK costs? The reactor vendors can’t do it, their pockets aren’t that deep. For example, Westinghouse (the nuclear part) was bought lock, stock & barrel, by Toshiba for $5 billion. So the entire company is worth a fraction of the cost of the first unit. Google says, a new 777 is about $300 million; and Boeing’s market capitalization is $93 billion.

          1. @gmax137

            There are “app developers” whose market capitalization approaches $10 billion.

            Agreed that vendors are not capable of financing a typical extra large reactor; in fact, even the largest utility companies in the world generally seek partnerships to spread the risk in a single project.

            That is one of the many reasons that I have been advocating small nuclear plants — “atomic engines” if you will — for more than two decades. Designers and builders need to be intimately involved in the first of a kind; in fact, they should own the machine with whatever warts they have not yet solved. In my opinion, that model will drive both innovation and responsible, evolutionary development.

          2. Another issue is that the large reactors like the AP1000 and the ESBWR need several hundred people to operate and a cast of thousands to refuel/outage maintenance. These outage workers look like the cast of “Cocoon”. Many of the younger workers, just out of college don’t have the patience for nuclear grade inertia.

            While an interesting intellectual challenge, worrying about core loading patterns every 18 months is also something we need to get away from.

            It would be nice to have Tech Specs that aren’t the size of the Manhattan phone book and require lawyer-like interpretations.

            Not saying that the AP1000 or the ESBWR are bad, but they are NOT our saviors, even if they work as designed.

    3. The other things I like are, as with all BWRs, you don’t have steam generators, and you don’t have the higher pressures that you have in PWRs, so challenges to containment integrity are somewhat less severe. The steam generator issue alone has cost us two plants and three reactors in the last few years (CR3 and SONGS). Throw in simplicity for load following which is more or less inherent in the BWR design and you have a pretty strong case for going with it.

      That’s not to say PWRs are poor designs, but have fewer areas for cost reductions than the advanced BWR systems. And reduction of capital costs is one thing (among others) that the industry really has to address to become competitive again.

      1. As a BWR senior reactor operator, another big thing about BWRs is how simple the EOP responses are compared to PWRs.

        The ATWS contingency is rather complex, but everything is is simply dump water in the core, and blowdown the core if you can’t dump enough in. The EOPs are graphic flowcharts, not book procedures. I find it much easier to manage. And you don’t have anything like a steam generator tube rupture response.

  3. First the ESBWR has a significantly higher power output than the AP-1000. The ESBWR is expected to produce 1.5 GWs of electricity, vs. 1.1 GW for the AP-1000. Being first of a kind probably inflates costs by 30%. So we have with serial production of ESBWRs a cost of $5 billion per GW, not terrific, but not bad either, TransAtomic Power believes they can lower nuclear costs to $3.4 per GW, while Terrestrial Energy expects to take it even lower. The latter two projections believe thanb nuclear costs can be substantually lowered by switching to Molten Salt Nuclear Technology.

  4. I’m only a physicist, but from an armchair engineering perspective, the ESBWR does indeed look like a very promising design. Contrast, for instance, the coolant pumps with the troubled AP1000 design. If one of the canned motor pumps fails, the reactor has to be shut down and is in for a lengthy repair similar in complexity to a steam generator replacement.
    The ESBWR, on the other hand, has no recirculation pumps and is designed to run at full power on 3 out of 4 feedwater pumps, so these are essentally hot-swappable.
    The feature I find somewhat strange though is the 2-tiered spent fuel pool arrangement with the inclined transfer tube. This seems to provide a way to accidentally drain the top pool.
    I wonder why they did not go for a very deep single pool on the outside of the containment. If the fuel handling machine can reach into the depth of the reactor vessel (the core seems to be 30 m down from the refuelling floor water level), it should be able to do the same in the SFP.

    1. “I wonder why they did not go for a very deep single pool on the outside of the containment. If the fuel handling machine can reach into the depth of the reactor vessel (the core seems to be 30 m down from the refuelling floor water level), it should be able to do the same in the SFP.”
      Just guessing, but to move a FA from the Rx directly to a storage pool outside containment, with one machine, would require the machine to pass through a large breach in the containment.

      “The feature I find somewhat strange though is the 2-tiered spent fuel pool arrangement with the inclined transfer tube. This seems to provide a way to accidentally drain the top pool.”
      From the ESBWR General Description Book (page 128, discussing Inclined Transfer System):
      “There are no modes of operation that allow simultaneous opening of any set of valves that could cause draining of water from the upper pool in an uncontrolled manner.

      1. mjd, thanks for your response. Just guessing, but to move a FA from the Rx directly to a storage pool outside containment, with one machine, would require the machine to pass through a large breach in the containment.
        In a BWR the containment lid is always open during refuelling, as the SFP’s are always outside the containment. The inclined fuel transfer tube passes through the reactor building wall. In an older BWR that kind of transfer would be done using a transport cask and the overhead crane, using a vertikal shaft down from the refuelling level onto the lorry at street level.
        What I was suggesting was to have the fuel pool inside the reactor building, but to the side of the containment, and very deep. The water-filled fuel transfer channel would go from the centre to the side of the containment and then down into the abyss of the pool.
        There are no modes of operation that allow simultaneous opening of any set of valves that could cause draining of water from the upper pool in an uncontrolled manner.
        I have no doubt that such a system could be made safe, but it somehow contradicts the passive and simple design philosophy. Nothing beats a deep pool with no penetration on that account.

        1. This is exactly how the BWR/6 plants are. We have an inclined fuel transfer system, with a small upper pool and a very large lower pool outside containment next to the containment itself.

          The fuel transfer system is flanged closed during operation. It is allowed to be administratively opened for a certain number of hours per cycle only for the purpose of staging refuel equipment or testing/maintaining the equipment.

    2. The inclined transfer tube is similar to the BWR/6 design. It is flanged off during normal operation by a spectacle flange, and only opened during fuel moves for limited amounts of time per cycle (per the license). Additionally the transfer tube is physically positioned such that water cannot lower below 23 feet above the fuel.

      The BWR/6 plants can dump their upper pools into the suppression pool for extending containment cooling and providing additional inventory to make up for leakage losses and the weir well filling up. We disable these valves and deactivate them during outages.

  5. Hey Rod,

    Off-topic for this particular post, so I apologize about that, but I heard in the news today that 3 scientists received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on DNA Repair. I think that makes for an excellent opportunity to leverage that, which is currently in the news and on people’s minds, to do another article about how yes, DNA does get repaired, and is part of why low level radiation is not a huge threat to life, and may even be hormetic.

    I know that’s a topic you’ve written on pretty frequently, but this seems a particularly ideal time for such a post, dovetailing with the awareness of the issue brought by the Nobel Prize Award today.

    1. John Timmer has an excellent review at Ars Technica. It’s indeed significant recognition of fascinating pioneering work conducted in the last decades of the 20th century. However, this work appears directed at single-strand repair mechanisms, and single-strand damage is by far the most prevalent.

      However, anti-nuclear activists will still ask “Yes, but what about double-strand breaks?” which increase in frequency for instance with alpha-radiation exposure. Yes, alpha radiation is non-penetrating and one must make some effort to become exposed, but such are the head-of-a-pin type arguments one must address, and which today’s Nobel Chemistry recognition seemingly does not.

      Personally, while today’s news may certainly be worth mention, I think we’re doing well focusing on epidemiological and whole-organism exposure results. In this respect James Conca’s recent post, which includes discussion of stress-related gene expression, may be at least as significant, and might tie in with yesterday’s NRC blog post Examining the Reasons for Ending the Cancer Risk Study, which Rod covered last month.

  6. The NRC explanation for ending the report is a belated and week response to widespread criticism and FUD about the decision. Just one more example of how ill served the NE industry is by who ever is heading their absurdly inadequate and incompetently applied PR program. By now, far more people have been exposed to the media pieces condemning the decision, accusing the NRC of “hiding” damaging science, than will be exposed to this feckless little blurb on the NRC website. This effort to reverse the criticism is so weak, and belated, that it is rendered laughable in its inadequacy. It will be used to further criticize the decision, and will renew media exposure of the decision. Gads, one PR blunder after another.

    1. I think you’re right on this one, POA. Just look at the comments on the nrc blog. Admittedly, the comments are from the usual suspects there (eg, “trillion $$ eco-disaster” CaptD). There is some merit to the notion that those commenters will never be happy with anything nuclear, but still… I think the message heard in many ears is, the “nuclear industry” quashed the study. One commenter there said that reasons for cancelling the study should have been obvious before it even started. I think that’s true; in my mind the study never should have been started if it couldn’t be finished properly.

      1. Speaking of “Captd”, he is all over the internet, blasting NE as the energy source of the devil. The tragic truth about his efforts is that I rarely see them countered with any expertise by NE advocates. Posting on sites such as Rod’s, advocates are doing little more than preaching to the choir. You aren’t reaching John Q.

        1. I’ve gone up against him or folks like him at the NRC site before.  When you pin them down to specifics they suddenly get very quiet.  The problem is that this is very time-consuming, the moderation delays are ridiculous allowing their nonsense to stand alone for days, and they do the same thing on the very next post.

          1. Yes, that site is only moderated M-F, NRC work hours and all posts wait for moderation. Another problem is some posts (articles) are written by NRC subject matter experts, but NRC response comments are by the PR guys. On several occasions I have asked for a specific clarification by the expert. It gets ignored. They will also never address a question asking if the Staff disagrees with the Commission on a particular issue. I have seen comments on technical issues saying “You did not answer so-and-so’s question, you changed the subject.” Gets ignored. IMO it is mainly a PR thing for whomever thinks it has value. It should go the way of the NRC “live chat”; and for the same reason live chat stopped.

  7. This was a good article.

    This link from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that Michigan alone has about 3600 MW of power plants that have or are reaching their End of Life (EOL).

    http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/images/catalyst/sp13-ripe-for-retirement-generating-capacity-lg.gif

    Maybe thiis new styled BWR is the way to go. Seems like these units had some operational advantages for refueling since the rods came up the bottom and there was less in the way when it came time to shuffle fuel. On the other hand the radioactive wet steam made turbine work harder. is the water chemistry simpler too (no Boron additions)?

    1. I worked at a BWR for 35 years, primarily in operations (SRO licensed) with the last ten years in maintenance. Water chemistry is very much less complicated in a boiler. Pure water, some hydrogen and a little zinc (the hydrogen and zinc can be left out). As far as the notion of primary steam in the BOP (balance of plant i.e. turbine, feedwater heating etc,) complicating outage work this is true but to a much less degree than most would imagine. If operated properly, i.e. no fuel leakers, BOP related work is not impacted too much. In the early 2000s during a refuel outage we replaced 6 feedwater heaters with the craft in street clothes. During normal refuel outages, within hours after shutdown, the steam areas in the BOP were accessible in street clothes with very low dose rates, way less than posted high radiation areas.

      1. It was amazing to me to see a video of a BWR outage wherein the turbine rotor was being replaced (after a normal usage cycle, it wasn’t damaged in any way, just being replaced for normal wear and tear). People were working in street clothes, no anti-c’s, nothing. There was a rad tech who checked exposure rates on surfaces and also did surface wipes and everything came up clean. I was expecting some residue from the steam flow but evidently any contamination was either non-existent or had been swept out during coastdown and decay after shutdown.

        I’m thinking improvements in fuel cladding integrity have helped on this score. I know it has made life a little more complicated for estimation of primary-secondary leakage rates in PWRs. Time was you could look for fission products in the main steam lines and based on their concentration and reactor power estimate the primary-secondary leak rate. Now we have to look for nitrogen-16 on the secondary side because of the paucity of fission products. I am looking at ways to estimate flow rate using 16N decay and measurements on the primary side. It’s nice because it is non-invasive and doesn’t need ultrasonic sensors.

        1. It was more than fuel cladding. The barrier fuel that GE introduced in the 80s did not provide as much protection as the industry thought, and the industry started seeing fuel leakers again as they restored their ramp rates to ‘normal’.

          Today’s ramp rates for GE fuel are about 0.5 kw/ft/hr, with a change in ramp rates not to exceed roughly half of that for any given power change. Full core ramp rates are typically limited once you get above about 35-40% to 100 MWe per hour and drop all the way down to like 10 MWe per hour as you get closer to rated.

          The ramp rate limits and extensive core modelling we do before any reactivity change, Combined with huge improvements in foreign material controls, is what greatly reduced the number of leakers.

          Some plants still have leakers pretty often (lasalle cough). but some plants have had none ever (clinton)

    2. Additional information to my previous post. The use of hydrogen in current BWRs is to mitigate IGSCC and zinc is use for dose reduction. The use of both of these coolant additives could be eliminated if the ESBWR is designed with different metals or fabricated in a different manner for the reactor vessel and components. The use of the term “wet” steam is incorrect. The steam leaving the reactor, after passing through the moisture separator and steam dryer in the reactor vessel. is 99.9% dry, meaning 99.9% quality.

  8. As a regulator in the State of Michigan I enjoy reading all your comments. DTE Electric will continue to evaluate and lay some groundwork, however all indications are that a build/no build decision on Fermi 3 is a long ways in the future. I believe the cost estimates presented are close, and would point out that when you have a $9-$11 billion dollar plant rated at 1500MW that operates at a 90+% capacity factor, the levelized cost of energy per MWhr comes in competition with nearly everything.

  9. DTE’s COL application gives a cost estimate (including contingency) of $4500/kWe in 2008 USD. For the ESBWR at 1535 MW, that would be $6.9 billion, which would be $7.4 billion today.

    1. Based on the most recent statements I have heard from the utility, I do not believe they would present a figure as low as $7.4 billion if they filed to build today. I am not sure why, but maybe it has something to do with EPA 316(b) and cooling water standards that are different now than when DTE filed the COL initially.