NPR – Nuclear Plant Developers Thinking That Smaller Plants Can Be Just Right For the Market
I found this on my way out the door for my day job and wanted to share it with you. The recognition that small nuclear can overcome some of the issues that have slowed nuclear development and limited its market reach continues to build.
The NuScale reactor mentioned in the NPR segment has been priced out by a reputable engineering, procurement and construction contractor (EPC) – Kiewit Construction – at $4,000 per MWe in the described 12 pack configuration and $4,400 per MWe in a 6 pack with designed room to expand to 12 units. I got that information from a good source – Paul Lorenzini announced it to an audience of about 150 people on February 18, 2010 during a recent small reactor session at Platts recent meeting titled Nuclear Energy 2010.
I received a confirmation of that announcement a few days later – the man who was in charge of the estimating project turns out to have been one of my company commanders when I was a plebe at the Naval Academy. We spoke at the NEI/DOE hosted Small Reactor Forum held in Washington, DC on February 22. He told me that the company invested a substantial amount of resources in obtaining vendor bids and costing out all aspects of the project. I believe him.
That is a very competitive price for a system that can be brought on-line in an incremental fashion, adding capacity at a rate that can be matched to the growth in electrical power demand.
Wonder if Mr. Al Gore is reconsidering his repetitious assertion that nuclear energy only comes in one size – extra-large.
Of course, just because some developers are thinking about smaller reactors does not mean that the needs for the large ones have disappeared. The important thing to understand here is that nuclear fission is flexible – it can be scaled to fit the needs of the customers in a variety of market situations. Here is another short clip from NPR indicating the growing strength of the idea that nuclear can be a significant growth industry that can help meet a number of pressing challenges – energy security, preventing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating family wage jobs that instill a strong sense of duty and discipline based on production, not consumption.
Duke Power built McGuire 2, 1100 MWe, which went commercial in March 1984 at a cost of $932 per kilowatt, according to Forbes magazine in 1985. This was said to be “close to what the French plants cost”, “60% of what the Canadians spend”, and “less than 1/3 the cost of the average new US nuclear plant”.
Duke’s costs quickly escalated to $1,703 a kW for Catawba 1 which went commercial less than one year later in 1985. “Capitalized interest” accounted for 1/3 of the increase. But the problem Duke pointed to at the time was the NRC. “We have actually cut perfectly good welds out of pipes because a piece of paper in the inspection record was misplaced four years ago”.
The most successful builder of US nuke plants then quit even considering building more nukes. It wasn’t just that demand fell off a cliff. “We would not have gone into the nuclear business if we had realized the instability of the licensing process”.
Before some Americans lost their nerve, Virginia Electric Power cranked out 4 reactors before 1980 for an average cost of $500 kw. All of them had their licenses extended to 60 years.
Going small is one way to respond to the situation.
We can have cheap nuclear anytime we want it, all we’d have to do is decide it was in the national interest. Obama’s speech you linked to says it all: “Nuclear remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions. To meet our growing energy needs AND to prevent the worst consequences of climate change we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple”.
@ David Lewis – Fine comment informed by good historical research!
What is happening currently in the nuclear sector could greatly influence the future of the nation. Nuclear energy is a key industry for the future and America will need to expand the nation’s use of nuclear energy to preserve American quality of life. We need to find a way to match our Asian industrial competition in driving down the cost of energy through development and deployment of better (safer, less expensive and more manufacturable) nuclear energy.
One of the obstacles to rapid development and deployment of new innovative US nuclear that can be built using current US nuclear infrastructure is the largely antagonistic regulation system we have devised that I suggest does not serve us well at this point in our competition with developing Asian industry. At the dawn of the nuclear age under AEC regulatory review the United States was able to construct the first commercial power reactor at Shippingport, Pa in just over 4 years. Today, given current NRC regulatory burden, US nuclear manufactures require at least double that amount of time to just overcome the regulatory obstacles to get authorization to build. As a culture, America needs to reduce this to something closer to the foreign competition in order to preserve its quality of life and place in the world.
(I would like to apologize for going “hard over” on your previous comment on Global Climate change).
Can’t you x-ray a weld once it’s been completed to ensure that it’s been done to spec?
(Let me guess, that doesn’t matter to the NRC, the paper saying that the weld has been done matters more than whether or not the weld is done right.)
Sometimes it seems that with the NRC new construction bureaucracy, you really don’t need the antis. Nothing else in this country compares to the new construction bureaucracy of the NRC – that the private sector even manages to build plants is amazing seeing what they’re up against.
I’m under the impression that the NRC runs mostly on its’ own regulations rather than an actual statutory basis (the impression that I get is that the AEA of 1954 is a pretty flexible document). Couldn’t the President issue some sort of executive order commanding the NRC to complete their reviews of site permits, designs, and COLs within a specific period of time (e.g. 2 years for design certifications, 1 year for site permits, and 6 months for COLs, assuming a certified design and permitted site is referenced)? Of course, (a) certain commissioner(s) would start kicking and screaming, but putting hard caps on the amount of time the NRC can sit around on their buttocks while pretending to do things might actually work pretty good.
The beauty of small reactors is that they can gradually increase power at a nuclear facility to practically any size, with only the heat island effect limiting how large a nuclear power facility can grow.
Marcel F. Williams
Another benefit of small reactors, even at $4/watt, is risk reduction for the investors. Modular reactors can be built and brought into revenue producing mode serially, lowering the capital at political risk to one module ($500 million?) instead of $4 billion for a 1 GW plant.
Am I wrong or the Canadian nuclear reactors technology already has this kind of features ?
At last, Candus are built in the range of power of 600 to 900 MWe (Candu 6 and 9), are quite quick (and maybe cheaper than LWRs, besides the heavy water production) to build and have already a excellent record of construction under budget and schedule, including the last one in Romania
What am I missing ?
Alex – the NuScale power plant described would include 12 modules for a total output of 540 MW, but each module would be independent with its own power turbine. That is a considerably different configuration that a single unit with 600 MWe of generation capacity. Imagine the construction cycle and the maintenance cycle options.
OK, thanks Rod
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