Mike Fox, an old acquaintance of mine, retired to Hawaii after more than 40 years in the nuclear business. He was a pretty careful observer of the world around him, and he now writes for the Hawaii Reporter. Another old friend recently sent a link to an article that Mike published at the end of January titled Nuclear Regulation: The Untold Story. Mike actually wrote the article in 1994, during a time when those of us who were actively suggesting that nuclear power had a future were viewed as more than slightly nuts.
Here is his note at the beginning of the article:
Author’s note: “This article was written in 1994 and contains important history of the early problems of the U.S. nuclear industry. As a renewed interest in nuclear energy spreads around the world, it is important to understand more clearly some the early problems, if we are to avoid them in the future.”
Though there are many items of value that make the article worth reading and digesting, especially for anyone who is new to the nuclear power game but wants to thrive there, I found several brief comments that are worth a bit more reflection. Those passages encourage deeper thinking that can result in important conclusions that should be more clearly exposed. Here is one such passage in a list of four general categories of problems associated with nuclear power plant construction costs and schedules,
- Continuing changes to the regulations. Low bidders on construction contracts could expect to make millions from the flood of change orders as the regulations repeatedly and predictably changed.
I was hoping that Mike would develop that thought further, but I did not find what I was looking for in the article. Of course, all writers have to choose their own points of importance. For me, the important thought related to mounting regulation is that it is PROFITABLE for many of the players. Regulations do not write themselves; there is no reason for using the passive voice in the description of the activity. SOMEONE has to think of the requirement and work through the process of making it a rule.
Every time a regulator imposes a new requirement, companies in the business have an opportunity to develop a solution to that requirement that has a very good chance of being purchased. That is especially if the company can get the requirement worded in such a manner that they have an advantage over their competition in supplying the solution to the requirement.
I have been watching that particular game being played in Washington for almost seven years – both of my last two jobs have included a heavy dose of requirements validation and even requirements writing. I cannot count the number of times I have been approached by salesmen masquerading as support contractors or old buddies of a highly placed government official. It is pretty frequent to have those salesmen – also known as business development officers – be former colleagues who just separated or retired from government service. I can bet that the nuclear industry’s revolving door had some marked similarities to the one that Eisenhower warned about when he talked about the military industrial complex.
In other words – blaming the “environmentalists” is less than half of the story.
There is another part of the article that I want to discuss, but it is time to head off to the day job and fight off some more unnecessary, but costly (and profitable for someone) requirements.