On November 21, 2005, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) (with all five members in attendance) held a series of meetings to discuss issues associated with new nuclear power plants. There were three invited groups – utilities that had expressed intentions to file a combined Construction and Operating License (COL) application, vendors and financial industry representatives, and NRC staff members.
Full length videos of the meetings are posted on the NRC web site on the Archive of NRC Meeting Webcasts page. Warning: As of the time of this post, the link labeled Part 1 with a time of 0930 leads to the afternoon session, while the link labeled Part 2 with a time of 1:30 actually leads to the morning session. I hope that my feedback to the NRC webmaster helps them correct that small issue.
From the perspective of someone that has a desire to understand how the commissioners think and how the invited interest groups see the license process unfolding, the webcasts were fascinating. I must warn you, however, that the sessions are lengthy and are about as exciting as watching C-Span.
However, there are plenty of political junkies that thrive on C-Span; as a nuclear junkie I could not stop watching. That accounts for the lateness of this post. Anyone who knows me should be SHOCKED to think that I am still awake at 1:00 AM!
One of the key reasons that the meetings were held is that the NRC commissioners have awakened to the fact that they have a huge task on their hands. Last winter, when the agency was preparing and submitting its budget for fiscal year 2007, it thought that it was being forward looking by making allowances for additional work that would be required if as many as four license applications were submitted by the end of 2007. Most of the commissioners actually were hoping for at least one or two.
They now see the probability of 12 applications by that date, and I predict that they are still only seeing the leading edge of a tsunami. Essentially all of the activity so far is limited to a single region of the country – the Southeast – and that is not the area with the greatest need for new baseload power or even the area with the highest current electrical power prices.
The huge challenge of having enough trained people available to review all of those license applications in a timely fashion came up again and again. As an agency that is largely funded by user fees on licensees and license applicants, it is difficult for the NRC to get people in place until they start getting the fees paid into their budget. For the potential applicants, the logical desire is to delay becoming an offical applicant as long as possible in order to delay the onslaught of the government bills that will accumulate rapidly once the process starts.
At least two potentially major projects were mentioned in the meeting as not yet being in the agencies tentative budget plan – the Toshiba 4S for Galena, Alaska and the Generation IV DOE project in Idaho – even though the 2008 NRC budget will soon be prepared. Neither of those efforts have taken the step of becoming an applicant, even though they are making significant investments into their own engineering and design work.
Over the next few days, I intend to more fully digest the contents of the web casts so that I can talk in more detail about challenges and possible solutions.
Hope you come back and visit – perhaps there will even be some controversial statements to discuss!