Knee jerk reactions lead to costly regulations without benefit
Representative Ed Markey, a man who is quicker with antinuclear press releases than almost anyone, is once again trying to ratchet up the cost of licensing, owning and operating nuclear power plants. This time, he is using the recent Mineral, VA earthquake as his reason for reacting.
Here is a quote from a recent story by Hank Silverberg of WTOP in Washington, DC.
But Congressman Ed Markey (D – Mass.), a nuclear power watchdog, says the quake in Virginia “was a wake-up call to stop delaying the implementation of stricter safety standards.”
I used to listen to Hank regularly when I commuted back and forth from Annapolis to Washington. I thought he might be receptive, so I wrote him a quick note.
I saw an article on WTOP.com that you wrote about Representative Ed Markey’s effort to impose stricter standards on North Anna Unit 3 and the rest of the nuclear fleet.
Even though the earthquake was far larger and more energetic than anyone expected, there was little to no damage to the plant. Engineers that design nuclear power stations, unlike politicians, make careful and extensive calculations and then add margins of safety. They (we) do not cut corners; it would be a costly decision to put the output of a large nuclear plant at risk by doing so.
The new unit at North Anna will include design features and materials that incorporate knowledge and lessons learned during the more than 30 years since the first two units were designed. It will be at least as resilient as the existing units, even without any altered regulations imposed in a knee jerk reaction to imaginary damage that did not happen.
The major effect of the changes that Markey proposes would be to increase regulatory uncertainty. Implementing the changes would delay projects by several years, adding a very significant cost burden that might encourage more nuclear project cancellations. The main beneficiaries of such action would be the established energy suppliers who sell the coal and natural gas that would be burned during the time that North Anna Unit 3 and all other delayed nuclear power stations are not running.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Rep. Markey would like stricter regulations, but I doubt he’ll call for more funding for the USGS to better characterize fault lines near nuclear power plants.
“the established energy suppliers who sell the coal and natural gas that would be burned during the time that North Anna Unit 3 and all other delayed nuclear power stations are not running.”
Rod, I got to thinking about something not long ago – I think it was you that brought to my attention the plan by TN Sen. Alexander, to build 100 nuclear plants in the next 30 years. I got to thinking about that number, and it occurred to me that such an ‘ambitious’ building program would not increase the size of the nuclear fleet.
On a temporary basis, it might swell the fleet by a little bit, but in 20 years, we will probably start to have a lot of the old nuclear plants shut down and decommissioned.
The fossil lobby, by delaying construction of new nuclear reactor units and whole new plants, can ensure that in 20 or 30 years, we have *1/2* or less, the amount of nuclear generation that we do *today*.
It’s not just that they’ll sell more coal and gas between now and when some of these new units get built – they are fighting a war of attrition against nuclear power. That is to say, they are trying to ensure that the addition of new nuclear power capacity is substantially lower than the retirement rate of existing capacity.
The anti-nukes have recognized the fact that without substantial new construction, nuclear power will go quietly into the night. So they are quite happy with the “consensus” among politicians that after “Fukushima” (a new buzzword, never explained in detail, but used to frighten people, along with urban legends of millions of cancer deaths and government cover-ups), we don’t panic and keep the old plants running, but we stop all new construction – which we don’t need anyway, since the golden age of renewables is upon us.
In reality, renewables are financially unsustainable, will be abandoned once the subsidies end, and since we didn’t plan ahead and build nuclear plants, we’ll be stuck with those gas plants that were meant to backup renewables. Just like we will be forever stuck with oil powered cars, because as Europeans are finding out right now, you can’t have super-expensive renewable electricity and 100kW electric cars at the same time, you can’t have the cake and eat it.
Whilst the remainder of the World builds new N Power Plants? At some point it will become evident that our “Leadership” is out of touch with reality and in need of being replaced by more technically aware politicians. However, with the hydrocarbon fuel lobby, action must be undertaken to limit their input to the exclusion of Nuclear Power.
But we will have lots of workers (think green jobs) that know how to install foreign made wind turbines, foreign made solar panels, and repair foreign made electric vehicles. All of these will necessarily be made overseas due to the sky high cost of electricity. We will no longer be able (afford) to make them here. When you think of the phrase “your energy bill will necessarily skyrocket” think about how much of the production cost of manufacturing is determined by the price of energy. How will we afford the electricity for the robots that now are a major factor of any manufacturing facility? Visit a local cabinet, counter-top, steel fabricating shop, etc., and look at the degree of automation. A friend of mine has a counter-top shop and pays more for electricity now than his seven employees! Think about all of the low cost electricity available after WWII from the BPA, TVA, and Hover dam. It is that low cost electricity that drove the boom of the 50’s, not any FDR keynesian economics mumbojumbo. Sky-high costs for electricity will “necessarily drive manufacturing overseas.”
NHK World News Japan has not yet reported that the reactors had been cooled since yesterday (below 100 degrees Centigrade)
Now this is weak reporting.
Daniel- If you are referring to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, only Unit 1 is uniformly below 100 C. Units 2 and 3 are still slightly above, when measured at the reactor vessel feedwater nozzle. Reports can be found at the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum. Click on the links that say “Status of countermeasures…” for a pdf download.
You may be right. The Reuters’ news states that the Fukushima reactors are now “stable” according to the IAEA.
Here is my link:
We may be up to 2 reactors in cold shutdown according to my above link:
Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) edged another step closer to its near-term goal of bringing the reactors at its Fukushima Daiichi plant to a state of cold shutdown by January, as the temperature at the second of three damaged units fell below boiling point.
Maybe the fact that the molten cores have left the containment and even the building (as confirmed by Tepco) explains why the temperature has fallen. there is no such thing as “cold shutdown” of a melted molten reactor core.
Representative Markey should be informed that we are already at industry smothering levels of NRC regulatory obstruction (higher levels of obstruction are not needed and any further ratcheting will produce economic damage to this key industry for America’s future).
Dr. Bernard Cohen has done careful studies of the historical impacts of regulatory ratcheting. Dr Cohen has determined, quite aside from the effects of inflation, that NRC regulation has quadrupled the cost of a nuclear power plant relative to the true cost of nuclear, adjusted for inflation, as it existed at the end of the AEC regulatory period (1973).
And Dr Cohen blames LNT acceptance for these outrageous costs oddities that are totally disconnected from actual risks and dangers form radiation.
A widely shared and popular view –
“It never hurts to add just a little bit of additional safety”
This sounds wise (and prudent).
The problem comes when we institutionalize this and make advancement of public safety the single goal of a regulatory agency.
Regulatory ratcheting results from always choosing to “err on the side of safety”. Regulatory obstructions go up and up until the technology that is regulated is no longer built.
We need to reform nuclear regulation in the US and bring US regulation to parity with our foreign industrial competition in France and Asia (where nuclear is still built).
It does not really work for the US to have the highest nuclear safety standard and then never build and complete any new nuclear plants.
If a passenger airplane had the same level of “safety” as even the least safe nuclear power plant (commercial or military) it would not be able to get off of the ground.
When was the last time you picked up your phone and did not get a dial tone? And that is just “commercial grade” main with one backup. All NPP “Safety Significant” systems have at least three systems (most four) which gives you 2 or 3 “backups.” (When there are only two, there is a completly different system to backup that system.) All built to a level of standards at least as great as the space shuttle. (It takes about two reams of paperwork to justify to the NRC that a component made for or used in the space shuttle “qualifies” as “Nuclear Safety Related.”) Do the math to figure out the probability of three systems not working. Then, they all “fail safe” – so that if two or more fail at once, the plant is tripped off line and that rarely happens. Considering 100+ operating nuclear power plants with more than 20 “safety significant systems” per plant it is amazing how long the period is between unplanned trips and most are caused by human error while testing etc.
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