1. The tension between gauge and frequency is a common one and shows up in many areas of industry and commerce. Unfortunately there is no one right answer that can be applied universally or even within a domain, at best one must look at each situation and try and balance all the parameters such that an optimal solution is found.
    I have always thought that installations like Bruce, Darlington, and Pickering Nuclear Generating Stations in Ontario, with the twenty CANDU reactors they have between them are a case where that balance was found.

  2. Since NRC opened their doors in 1975 not one single reactor project has been initiated that successfully became an operating nuclear reactor.
    Not one project begun under NRC regulatory supervision has made it through the regulatory and construction process in 35 long years, NOT ONE PROJECT.
    All of America’s current operating fleet of 104 commercial power reactors was initiated as projects prior to 1975 under AEC regulatory supervision.
    In a different regulatory environment, a bit more friendly to nuclear technology, I would have an easier time entertaining the concept of cost reductions from SMRs that result from repetitive manufacturing.
    We live in a regulatory environment where NRC determines the delay (and since in large commercial projects, time is money) the cost of any nuclear technology. Our current nuclear universe is not driven by the cost of labor, or materials, or of engineering, but rather by the cost of NRC review and licensing and the pacing that this process forces on real projects.
    Without real regulatory reform, and a series of NRC rulings that establish a streamlined and cost reduced path for SMRs, there will be no SMR revival of nuclear in the USA.
    While I favor reforming nuclear regulation, I would also say that what limited interaction I have had with NRC and its staff leads me to believe that NRC is one of the better functioning agencies in government.
    I do not believe problems with NRC derive from laziness on the part of their staff or any incompetence.
    It appears to me that problems derive from the directions NRC receives from Congress and the excessively strict rulemaking that NRC as a “pure regulator” then generates.
    Balance is missing in our current regulatory arrangements, and demands for ever higher assurance of public safety from the anti-nuclear/environmental lobby are heard by sympathetic Congressmen aligned with the cause and this turns into unrealistically strict congressional guidance to NRC.
    On a cumulative basis, the body of regulation that NRC produces under guidance from Congress continually raises the regulatory obstacles to building new nuclear.
    Regulation, as we practice it, no longer provides additional public safety but just prices up nuclear to the point it is no longer given practical consideration by States and communities needing reliable power.
    NRC considers itself as “pros”, fervently protecting public safety with clean hands unsullied by any compromises that would come from promotional support of the nuclear industry.
    While this approach might sound like it is better from the standpoint of potential conflict of interest, in the end you get politically driven, imbalanced, and excessively restrictive regulation which is not proportionate to the probable risks entailed in nuclear technology.
    AEC did a better and more effective job overall in balancing the tasks of promotion and regulatory restriction. Under the AEC we built real reactors while still doing an excellent job ensuring public safety.
    Our current largely antagonistic style of nuclear regulation is designed to permit only a tiny trickle of reactors, and significantly fewer reactors than will be needed to replace reactors being lost to end of life retirement, to get built.
    Unless an expedited and trimmed down regulatory path for SMRs is invented, it will not matter if repetitive manufacturing economies are found in building SMRs. You will not be able to get regulatory authority to build even one SMR (and the costs benefits that result from repetitive manufacturing will be largely lost with this limited production).

    1. The unfortunate consequence of NRC-style regulation is that safety is decreased. This is because instead of building nuclear power plants for our electricity, we build fossil fuel plants. There is no system-level view of power generation health and safety. This is part of the failure of the direction given to the NRC. Their focus is solely on the safety of nuclear power plants. There is no consideration given to the health and safety consequences of not building a nuclear power plant. Some sort of generating plant is going to provide the electricity we need. A disservice is being done by focusing on nuclear power plants and making them “as safe as possible.” We have gone beyond the point of diminishing returns with too many NRC regulations. The focus needs to be on comparing the risk of nuclear energy to the alternatives. If “safety” regulations cause a nuclear power plant not to be built, and a less safe alternative is built, then the “safety” regulations have failed to provide safety, and the whole environment for nuclear power (safety reguations included) needs to be changed.
      Because of the capital-intensive nature of nuclear power plants, it is in the self-interest of the owners to run them safely and reliably. Clean-up after an accident can be very costly. It is where the capital costs are relatively low (e.g., gas turbines) that safety is more likely to be neglected.

      1. donb – I would just like to thank you for your penetrating observations – great insights on the influence of excessive regulation on safety.

  3. @Robert Steinhaus: Definitely something to think about, but that string of zeros appears to be finally on it’s way to being broken – Rod has talked quite a bit about several nuclear reactor projects which are progressing right now, and look like they may be completed on-time, on-budget, and get approval. Although, I suppose it’s quite possible the NRC could still mess everything up.
    One example:
    Perhaps there’s hope.

    1. @Jeff – In many aspects of life there is some wisdom on trying to “stay on the sunny side” of life and keep some optimism even when a sober review of recent history shows little grounds for optimism.
      I would like to thank you for the link to the Scana project.
      I share great enthusiasm for the Small Modular Reactor concept, and wish guys like Rod all success in pursuing it. I regret that it does not appear to me that we have a sufficiently supportive regulatory structure in place in the United States to allow SMRs to get licensed and built, even in token numbers.
      The sad fact is that not one successful nuclear reactor project has been initiated in 35 years under the current antagonistic and hostile NRC “pure regulatory” approach. All of America’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors were started as projects under the older unified AEC regulatory approach.
      I believe that we should abandon the experiment initiated by The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 that segregates nuclear regulation into technology advocacy (this is nominally done by the Department of Energy) and restrictive “gatekeeper” regulatory functions (currently performed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission).
      Under the older unified regulatory approach of the AEC, all 104 of America? commercial nuclear reactors were started as projects and it was under AEC regulatory supervision that America had ALL of its success in initiating building of new reactors.
      We need to reform nuclear regulation to return to a unified regulatory approach which combines nuclear technology advocacy and restrictive gatekeeping. I believe that what is most urgently needed is regulatory reform that reunites the two functions of a nuclear regulator. A unified regulator, like the current FAA or the old AEC combines technology advocacy and restrictive gatekeeping in one agency. A unified regulator would never see driving the industry they regulate into the ground through their regulatory action a ?uccess? A split regulator, like the NRC, is capable of shuttering a vital industry and forcing a selloff of all nuclear industry assets to large foreign interests while seeing themselves as pure regulatory professionals that put public safety above all other considerations. Segregating regulatory functions and providing restrictive guidance to the agency from Congress resulted in a body of rulings and regulation that has shuttered the US nuclear industry and has prevented successful construction of even one new reactor since NRC has opened its doors in 1975. A unified regulator would grow the nuclear industry while guiding its growth with prudent and efficient regulation.

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