1. I must admit that most of my colleagues consider nuclear doomed: natural gas prices too low and CO2 not considered a problem. Many consider themselves lucky that they are close enough to retirement age. Maybe a good pitch to the choir is still needed and not just for the few that can attend conferences.

  2. Was the name/number of the funding opportunity announcement provided or is it still too early for that?

  3. I’m encouraged by the Trump representative’s words, especially the part about how the govt. has hindered nuclear development. But I’ll wait and see if it’s just lip service.

    Most of the “regulatory reform” I hear people talking about (e.g., credit for lack of CO2 emissions or grid reliability, etc..) is actually what I would call policy reform. Actual regulatory (and QA) relief is far more important, IMO, and I don’t hear anyone talking about that. Would Trump et al, actually be willing to reduce regulations for nuclear, like they are for fossil?

    “To do that, however, he emphasized the fact that the industry has to identify and prioritize the actions that the government should take.”

    Sounds great, but I have a feeling that the industry won’t have the balls to ask for the meaningful changes (regulatory/QA relief) that are needed. How do *I* get on that panel, that will advise the govt.? Me. Jim Hopf. I’m serious.

    1. Jim,

      I agree. We’ve chatted before about the QA aspect in nuclear driving up costs and may not have always agreed, but the bottom line is that the implementation of our current nuclear regulations (including QA) is extreme and has created a negative feedback loop that is strangling and killing the industry. We need to rethink every single aspect of how we regulate our industry, paragraph by paragraph, and (more importantly) look at the culture within the regulator itself.

      If I were writing to Trump, I’d say something to the effect of:
      Completely rethink the 10 CFR codes and reform the NRC
      Revise the radiation protection codes to allow higher, more reasonable exposures
      Simplify the design certification process (if the plant is using accident tolerant fuels, is a “low pressure” plant (like molten salt designs), or is in some way a “walk away safe” design then the reguatory review and any nuclear QA requirements should be minimal) with a focus to limit reguator involvement for the entire life of the plant as much as possible
      Revise the tax code to foster an environment where investors will want to invest in new projects or designs
      Revise and reduce the plant security requirements for nuclear plants
      Allow US companies to more easily sell our nuclear designs and technology around the world

      1. Rtk,

        We’re in total agreement. Concerning QA requirements, I saw Rod post this in his Twitter feed:

        “Couple of reasons: oil & gas modules don’t have to meet NRC inspection criteria. Shaw wasn’t careful about SSC classification”

        Indeed. I’m convinced that competing industries don’t face anywhere near the same standards, and it’s critical that nuclear QA standards (e.g., SSC classification) be in line with actual hazards. The industry needs to push back hard, and not give away the store in this area.

        This is particularly true for SMRs, given their inherent safety and much lower potential release. Developers are saying that even if everything fails, there wouldn’t be radiation levels above the range of natural background anywhere outside the site boundary. It leaves me wondering why almost everything isn’t NITS. Certainly, ITS components should be limited to the NSSS itself, which would be completely built at the central assembly line factory.

      2. Rtk,

        You spoke of the need for a grounds up rethink of the entire body of regulations and QA requirements, and also of cultural issues.

        Again, I totally agree, especially for SMRs that are essentially incapable of harming the public. SMRs make a large sacrifice of economy of scale to achieve huge, fundamental safety advantages, and we need to “take credit” for those advantages if they are to be economical. In PRA terms, we don’t need a release frequency of 10-10. We need to ask what requirements can be relaxed for SMRs (e.g., NuScale) so that we are back at 10-6.

        We need to essentially start over, for SMRs, but there may be some material out there that we can use. I’ve heard that research reactors face much less daunting processes (licensing, fab QA, and operation), due to their lack of ability to cause significant harm. Well……, since that is also true for SMRs, perhaps we can use the research reactor process as a model, or starting point at least.

        Another notion would be to use how dry storage casks are regulated as a model. Once a cask is designed, you can build and deploy as many copies as you want, w/o further licensing activity. Deploying casks at different sites requires no NRC licensing, but only a modest evaluation which shows that key site parameters (seismic, temperature ranges, etc..) are bounded by the generic licensing analyses.

      3. Rtk,

        You also referred to culture and the (anal) implementation of requirements, in addition to the requirements themselves. IMO it’s not only NRC, but many perhaps most people within the industry itself.

        I’m almost at the point where, if it were up to me, I’d go with an inherently safe SMR design, but I wouldn’t let anyone who’s worked in the industry over the past decades anywhere near the project. Nobody who has been indoctrinated in nuclear industry “safety culture”. Instead, I would hire people from the oil industry perhaps, or anyone else who has a “get it done” attitude, as opposed to people prone to beard-stroke endlessly over minor issues.

        As for NRC culture, they will probably not be willing to make any of the changes you and I have discussed. Note how they’ve been ignoring the petitions to abandon LNT. This makes me wonder if they could be forced to make changes through a court challenge. Refer to the post I’m about to make in Rod’s more recent article about an LNT petition drive.

      4. The guidelines for testing/evaluating simulators are based on legacy LWRs. There were difficulties convincing the NRC that the AP1000 simulator test coverage was fully addressed by standards that were designed around BWRs and PWRs. Evaluating simulator response with reference plant data was also a challenge.

  4. While I understand the value in trying to avoid despair, whistling past the graveyard can be counter-productive. Maintaining morale is one thing, but letting people think that “things will still be OK” and that they will be able to go on doing what they’re doing, w/o significant change, is not a path forward. This moment needs to be a wake up call.

    Contrary to the event title, new nuclear is NOT affordable. At current cost levels, the “case for nuclear” is weak to non-existent. If you let people think that, despite extremely high costs (even vs. renewables), people are still going to build nuclear plants for weak/lame reasons like fuel diversity, grid reliability or national security through maintaining nuclear leadership, they are going experience profound disappointment in the future. Ain’t no one going to make new build decisions based on such things (not at these costs, anyway).

    1. Nuclear can tolerate a somewhat higher cost than competitors. However, the construction cost and schedule must be predictable and the operation reliable. The AP1000 failed on the former. We’ll see how well it operates next year.

  5. I am curious as to how other large (10 to 20 billion dollar) construction projects have fared over the past 10 years in the US. How much of the failure is due to the “nuclear” aspects of the job? What are some other infrastructure projects of this magnitude, and how did they do on cost and schedule?

    I’m sure there is plenty of blame to go around among those involved in the new construction: Westinghouse, CBI/Shaw, SCANA, the NRC, and various intervenors. And I’m not minimizing that, rather I’m looking for lessons learned. Are there successful projects? What do they do differently?

    1. The biggest problems were the fact that WEC was still designing the plant as it was being constructed and problems with the supply chain both in vendor quality and adherence to schedule. I would say these were the fatal problems.

      I was talking with someone involved in the construction/startup of St. Lucie 2, which was considered a great success in the early 1980s. He was surprised that there were 5000 people constructing the “modularized” AP1000.

      About 90% of the components were delivered to the site. The big cost remaining was labor. Labor productivity never seemed to improve. Part of the reason was idleness while waiting for design packages. Another problem was the difficulty in getting the required numbers of nuclear quality workers. The AP1000 containment is pretty tight so once work had to be done inside it would have to be well coordinated.

      Could SCANA have had better oversight? Sure, but remember Southern was also in the same boat. When SCANA finally did get an opportunity to look at the internals they must have blanched.

      There was some inconsistency on the part of the NRC, some of it HQ vs Region which I have seen at other plants. I don’t believe these were a significant cause of the delays. Intervenors played no significant role in the failure. They were almost invisible.

      1. 5000 onsite workers does sound like a lot, I don’t really know. Don’t forget they were building two units almost simultaneously. But still, 5000 at say $150K a year is $750 million for payroll, or $3 billion over 4 years (first concrete: March 2013). Huge, but not 25 billion huge.

        I heard the construction was using the same work controls for the balance of plant as they were using on the safety related work. Can that possibly be true? Why would anyone think that is a good idea? I can see that doubling the cost of the BOP construction.

      2. Yes, it is apparently true that the BoP was being built to the same standards as the nuclear island.

        The $25 billion also includes the additional 3 years beyond the late 2020 date provided by WEC’s fantasy forecast. These people had to be paid whether they were doing useful work or waiting for paperwork.

  6. James,

    Our nuclear culture is like a cult (maybe even a death cult). We worship ALARA and follow it to areas beyond reason. We worship technical thoroughness only to lose sight of the ability to actually build and operate something. We have become completely divorced from reality, and it is our own fault. We never stood our ground and let requirement-creep advance and advance and advance and now we are near the edge of the cliff.

    Nuclear, as it is currently done, is not cost competitive. Period. Why would anyone ever invest in it? Nuclear is too full of red tape for most people to want anything to do with it. I believe that we have to be (to use religious imagery) purged of our own wretchedness if we are going to survive. It will have to get worse before it gets better.

    While it is bad, I still have hope. The signs are that things are starting to change at the grass roots level. We need to build up this movement and force the regulations and culture to change. The NRC will not change enough. It is too invested in the status quo for that. Our culture could change, we enough people let it (but that would require the dissolution or restructuring of many of the established institutions / companies…) We need something new/different. Its time to hit the reset button and start over.

    1. Cult is an appropriate term. How many meeting are opened with the rote recitation of one of INPO’s pillars of nuclear wisdom? After about the 375th time, you start to tune it out.

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