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29 Comments

  1. Comanche Peak faces more significant hurdles in terms of getting investors to line up to pay to build it. Luminant’s parent Energy Future Holdings is carrying way too much debt to support new investment in twin 1700 MW nuclear reactors. EFH would have to sell Comanche Peak to a new investment consortium to get it built. In any case, demand for electricity in Texas is way down which could push the need for the reactors well into the next decade. A delay of one-to-three years in certifying the Mitsubishi design won’t make the Japanese firm very happy, but even if it were approved tomorrow it might not make much difference.

    1. @Dan Yurman

      You have apparently accepted the NRC’s logic that sales need to come before licensing. My own experience is that finding customers to commit to an unlicensed product is virtually impossible and finding financial backing for an unlicensed product that does not have any committed customers is so darned close to impossible as to be indistinguishable from it.

      In other words, a predictable, proven licensing process is fundamental to enabling the nuclear industry to function. It is far more important for our success than any “loan guarantee” program or any other kind of subsidy.

      Take a good look at the interest and excitement in the UK as they move smartly forward in their enabling efforts to allow the construction of safe, reliable new nuclear power stations.

  2. Rod,

    I, like you, voted for Obama. As of right now, I don’t like any of the Republicans any better than him for a second term.

    If, however, one of the Republican field is elected, I think Jaczko’s job as chairman will be short lived. He is far too political to survive in a Republican administration. It is a shame that Dale Klein’s ‘No Bozos’ rule did not apply to commissioners.

    Bill

    1. Jaczko’s job as chairman is protected by law. I think a former US President (Roosevelt) once tried to remove a top ranking official (like Jaczko) from his position and the Supreme court did not allow it. There is jurisprudence on that type of situation.

      If Jaczko’s job is taken away, it will be by a court decision and most probably linked to obstruction in the Yucca mountain case.

      I hate the guy.

      1. @Daniel

        Jaczko’s position as a Commissioner is protected; his position as the Chairman is not. I do not have to point back to the Roosevelt era to find a precedent backing up that statement; Dr. Dale Klein was the Chairman until President Obama demoted him in favor of Jaczko.

        http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2009/05/gregory-jaczko-named-nrc-chairman.html

        Dr. Klein decided to resign rather than serve with the current chairman, though he would probably phrase his decision differently.

        http://djysrv.blogspot.com/2009/10/dale-klein-to-step-down-from-nrc.html

      2. The Supreme court ruling in question regarding Roosevelt is:

        Humphrey’s Executor v. United States

        1. Thank you Daniel, an interesting read, the commission in that case was specifically founded to be non-partisan and not subject to the specific control of the president. Is the chairmanship the same for the NRC?

  3. The NRC upper management are not without knowing that further delays in the AP1000 will put a lot of light on their work and the way they run their business.

    The Chairman is already under a lot scrutiny, and possibly legal obstruction for Yucca, and I do not think that he enjoys that.

    The AP1000 will be certified on time. Not doing so will be a tipping point for the NRC. Enough is enough. The impermanence of things applies everywhere and the NRC’s way of doing things could come to an end when the entire base of the nuclear industry (those employed by it directly or indirectly) manifests itself in a strong fashion.

    I am therefore confident for the AP1000 certification.

    1. Rod,

      And will go as far as stating that it will be certified before mid Jan 2012.

      If this does not happen, there will be considerable forces going against the NRC.

    2. President Lincoln will come to te rescue. This too applies to the nuclear industry :

      You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

  4. The NRC is our standard of course, there is no other. But, will it remain the ‘gold standard’? That is, a standard used around the world in place of adequate local regulatory expertise. I doubt it.

    China is well on its way to completing the first 4 AP1000s. They did not wait for the NRC. When the questions about the redesign of the shield building came up, they incorporated changes in the reactors not yet under construction, but they did not slow down for one day on the reactors already being built.

    We clearly need to fix the NRC for nuclear build in the United States, but for the rest of the world it will become irrelevant. It’s sad to say, but GE-Hitachi, Babcock & Wilcox and others may need to look OUS to find customers for their first plants.

  5. Maybe you should just outsource running the NRC? Mike Weightman and and the chaps at the ONR seem to have got the EPR through UK GDA, are well advanced on the AP1000 (Westinghouse are holding matters now until its confirmed they’ve got a sale), and are saying they’re close enough to completing the post-Fukushima work to start assessment on the ESBWR.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/12/us-britain-nuclear-idUSTRE79B1QT20111012

    (Sorry, can’t help being just a little smug…;-D)

    Seriously, though, looking in from the outside, it’s a little hard to fathom this “NRC Gold that, Standard” concept. I’m not sure what it is from a technical perspective that justifies that idea and more generally, the NRC looks both ponderous and politicised.

    1. I wonder why countries such as the US, Canada, and the UK at least can’t rely on each other to approve a design. I’m sure each of these countries perform equally thorough design reviews. this could save a lot of time and money. the Canadians could provide review for the CANDU reactors, the US the AP1000 and the UK the GE/Jitachi reactor.

  6. The RMV/DMV would be unnecessary if everyone who wanted to drive was required to get a minimum of $100k in insurance – the insurance companies would simply refuse to insure (or require prohibitive premiums) from anyone who was a dangerous driver or didn’t know how to drive.

    Same thing with nuclear reactors. Provided nuclear plants are able to get private liability insurance of say $100 billion, I don’t see why the NRC would be necessary. After all, Fukushima and TMI II proved that Western NPPs are only really a hazard to property when they fail, not to life.

  7. If the NRC is the gold standard, why does Korea build reactors for half the cost of US reactors? I do not know the answer, but would like to find a study of the Korean method as opposed to the US methods.

    First, I would expect the NRC rules cause higher costs than the Korean rules. The study I would like to see would detail the rules and the costs.

    Second, I would expect that union work rules are really different. The study I would like to see would detail the work rules differences and assign costs.

    Third, I would expect that fleet planning (5 to 10 reactor plan) is a major cost reduction factor. I would expect to see a Korean 10 year plan where expertise can be moved from one job to the next. I the US there is no fleet planning concept. How much does that affect cost?

    Fourth, I would expect to find plans built in about 36 months in Korea and 50 months in the US. No study is needed to see a lot of cost reduction of interest-during-construction.

    Just think of the effect of nuclear construction costs reduced by 50%.

    Is the Korean regulatory body the gold standard?

    1. Martin,

      All of the existing US fleet was built under Part 50. All of the reactors now under NRC review will be built under Part 52. One of the main reasons for Part 52 was to reduce uncertainty and regulatory delay.

      As of now, the 4 AP1000s’ in the US under construction are on or below budget. It will be a few years before we see if Part 52 lives up to its promise.

      I understand why, as of now, Mpower is going with a Part 50 build for the first unit but B&W understands this to be a somewhat risky shortcut.

      Bill

        1. Rod,

          My guess is that another part of the reasoning for TVA going with Part 50 for the Clinch River site is the fact that some of the site characterization work done for the Clinch River Breeder project would still be applicable (certainly with some updates) for the proposed first installation of mPower units.

          That is only my guess though.

      1. European regulators do work closely together, DV82XL – for example the issues around control and safety system (over) integration on the EPR were the subject of a joint challenge by British, Finnish and French regulators – who worked with Areva to come up with a solution acceptable to all three.

        Indeed, ther is supposed to be a simlar agreement in place concering transaltantic collaboration – but, to all accounts the NRC simply doesn’t listen to anything from outside the US

        1. I was referring to the U.S. the U.K. and Canada, the three countries mentioned in the previous comment. All three have made a point NOT to approve the reactors of the others to protect their internal markets from offshore competition.

          1. I’m a skeptic on this one. I think that all three have tacitly agreed to make it as difficult as possible for reactor manufacturers to achieve scale economies by serving larger markets with identically designed reactors that only have to go through the licensing process one time. They do that because all three have politically powerful fossil fuel interests to protect.

            The “nuclear industries” in the three countries have not done themselves any favors; they actually do see their domestic markets as something to protect from other reactor vendors. Some of that is due to an incredibly narrow view of the market (they think they are competing for customers only against other nuclear systems) and some is because there really are no “nuclear industries.” There are a few organizations like AECL that are focused on nuclear technology, but government employees are not really very good at competition. There are other organizations like GE and Rolls Royce that would just as soon sell combustion gas turbines or wind mills as sell nuclear focused structures, systems and components. They really do not care what the heat or motive force is for their machinery.

        2. Rod,

          ” I think that all three have tacitly agreed to make it as difficult as possible for reactor manufacturers to achieve scale economies by serving larger markets with identically designed reactors that only have to go through the licensing process one time. They do that because all three have politically powerful fossil fuel interests to protect.”

          I doubt that very much (at least in the UK case) – not only do we work jointly with other European regulators (Finnish, Franch and UK regulators have used “workshare” deals on the EPR), but we have an explict deal with the NRC (although to all accounts it’s not been overly fruitful).

          The ONR has published (in 2009) this document concerning collaboration and recognition of overseas regulatory assessments:

          The relevant statements are probably these:

          “Our strategy for using information from, and working with, overseas regulators
          during Steps 3 and 4 is built on three main strands:

          ■■ using information that already exists;

          ■■ working in co-operation on new assessment work;

          ■■ participating in international forums for multi-national information sharing between
          regulators.

          20 Given that the Canadian company AECL has withdrawn the ACR1000 reactor
          from GDA and GE-Hitachi have asked us to suspend work on the ESBWR, it is
          appropriate that, for assessment of AP1000 and EPR, we work particularly closely
          with the nuclear safety authorities from USA (the AP1000 country of origin), and
          France and Finland (the EPR is under construction in both countries).

          Using overseas regulator information that already exists

          21 It should be noted that the prime objective of NII’s assessment is to consider
          the designs against UK requirements. However, where it is considered that an
          overseas regulator’s assessment can provide substantial/significant additional
          assurance, as a result of its scope and rigour, then we will take this into account
          during our detailed assessment work.

          Conversely, where another regulator’s
          assessment identifies issues of concern, then we will use this information to help us
          focus our assessment efforts. In some areas, this may help us to agree common
          positions with overseas regulators. In deciding to draw upon overseas assessments
          we will consider the strength of evidence available to support them and how this
          can best be taken account of in our own work.

          22 Therefore our strategy here is to:

          ■■ consider what information already exists and establish initially whether this may be
          useful to us. This work is already underway and will continue during Steps 3 and 4.

          Examples of the types of information that is relevant are given in the IAEA IRRS
          report;

          ■■ as part of their assessment work, our specialist inspectors will, as far as time
          and resource allow, familiarise themselves with the information that is available
          within their technical area and take this into account within their own plans for
          additional assessment work, areas that require sampling, and areas that have
          been studied sufficiently already etc. This may require technical meetings and
          exchanges with overseas regulator specialists;

          ■■ our specialists will use these insights to take the work of overseas regulators into
          account, where appropriate, in arriving at their conclusions for GDA.

          Working in co-operation with overseas regulators on new assessment work

          23 As the overseas regulators have further work to do on AP1000 and EPR there
          may possibly be areas where we can work co-operatively. This could include:

          ■■ regular technical exchanges on topics of common interest;

          ■■ independent validation;

          ■■ joint inspections;

          ■■ collaborative research.

          24 Therefore our strategy is to:

          ■■ have exploratory discussions with regulators to see if there are common areas of
          interest for co-operative working;

          ■■ if it is beneficial, some of our specialist inspectors may work co-operatively with their overseas counterparts in targeted technical areas and take the results into
          account in arriving at their conclusions for GDA.”

          As I said, it’s certainly been followed through with the French and Finns – but I’ve heard relatively little about the NRC. to be blunt, I think the rest of the world peceives this as a matter of cooperation amongst Peers – the NRC thinks it’s got little to learn from non-US bodies.

          DV82XL

          re “All three have made a point NOT to approve the reactors of the others ”

          A bit of a mystery, then that this announcement came from the ONR as rcently as 27th June:

          “27 June 2011

          The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has informed Westinghouse that it has agreed to close a ‘regulatory issue’ raised against its AP1000 reactor design. The regulatory issue, opened in February 2010 by ONR’s predecessor organisation (HSE’s Nuclear Directorate) concerned the AP1000’s civil structures, which were assessed by the regulator as part of the Generic Design Assessment, run jointly by ONR and the Environment Agency.

          ONR has judged that although there are still design issues with the civil structures, progress made by the company means that these are now less significant and the regulator is confident that Westinghouse will be able to resolve them satisfactorily before final ‘design acceptance confirmation’ is granted”

          and has given the AP1000 “stage 3” clearance, together with resolution plans for the remaining issues.

          http://www.hse.gov.uk/newreactors/2011-gda-issues-ap1000.htm

          And note, we already run a Westinghouse PWR, in the form of Sizewell B.

        3. Ya the U.K. was the first to break on this issue, but only because Magnox reactors aren’t being built anymore.

  8. The US nuclear industry has not initiated and successfully completed a single commercial nuclear reactor since NRC came into existence in 1975. Today, hope springs eternal that the NRC will reform its licensing practices such as to allow reactors to once again be built in the USA (the current revamping of NRC reactor licensing actually began in internal agency planning in 1988) Citizens of the United States needing additional clean electrical power are still waiting for the first license to construct and operate a new nuclear reactor to materialize after over two decades of waiting.
    What is needed?
    A stable regulatory environment is far more important to the long-term health of the nuclear industry than any short-term government subsidies. A predictable nuclear regulatory process that permits financial supporters to more easily predict costs and anticipate schedule is vital to reviving the nuclear industry.

  9. DV82XL,

    Oh, do grow up.

    The last Magnox was started in 1963, and first generated in 1971. We had the AGRs following that, then built Sizewell B starting in 1987.

    You’re only about 24 years adrift.

    1. Which is why there are LWR in Canada, and CANDUs in the US. If the U.K. hasn’t got a domestic product to protect anymore then that is why they have let other designs in.

      At any rate the original question was why isn’t the approval of one country’s nuclear regulator valid in other countries, and the answer is still protectionism and that was the case in the U.K. when they where building Magnox. In fact no one has made any effort to hide this fact, and the historical record is full of such admissions.

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