Addressing remaining concerns about nuclear energy
In recent years, critical thinkers who have habitually objected to using nuclear energy have conceded that it has a good safety record and that its CO2 and other air pollution emissions are a tiny fraction of produced by the most efficient natural gas power plants. They also recognize that nuclear power plants, unlike power sources that depend on the weather, can be controlled by operators or automation to produce power on demand.
These thinkers, who are often professionally employed problem solvers or teachers, have begun reconsidering their objections. Some, like Stewart Brand, Robert Stone, Mark Lynas, Jim Hansen, and Ken Caldeira have accepted the importance of nuclear energy and become advocates of its inclusion as a major component of our future energy supply system. Some observers remain skeptical and hesitate to complete their conversion because they believe that nuclear energy has intractable issues associated with costs, waste, and international control.
Bob Brecha (@BobBrecha), a physics, sustainability and renewable energy professor at the University of Dayton, published a piece on Huffington Post titled Nuclear Power – The Solution to Future Energy and Climate Challenges? showing that he is one of the thoughtful energy commentators with a narrowing set of objections to nuclear energy. His piece also explains the sources of his remaining skepticism about the future importance of nuclear energy.
It is worthwhile to seek people like Brecha and to offer some observations that might help him to overcome his remaining objections and join in the effort to make nuclear energy a big part of the future energy and climate solution set.
Brecha acknowledges that nuclear energy has low life cycle emissions, that constraints on raw material supplies are not substantial, that breeding might make those constraints virtually disappear, and that nuclear energy is far safer than coal. However, he still believes that nuclear energy is too expensive, that waste issues are unresolved in a politically acceptable manner, that a combination of efficiency and renewable energy can supply almost all the power we need, and that controversies like those surrounding Iran’s nuclear program show that international control issues prevent nuclear from being a truly sustainable power source.
Each of the factors in his remaining objections can be either reduced or eliminated.
Brecha’s description of nuclear costs is worth discussing. Here is a quote from his piece.
Nearly all technologies decrease in cost as we gain experience and as the scale of installation increases. We have seen this most dramatically in the case of solar photovoltaics over the past decade, a technology for which costs have dropped by 80-90% from where they were a few years ago. Nuclear power may be the only counterexample to this pattern (see here and here). There has been a steady increase in the cost of building nuclear power plants over time, partly due to the need for redundant and complex safety measures.
The first question one might ask is “Why is nuclear power different from other technologies? Why is it a unique counterexample to the expected economies of experience and scale?”
There is nothing unique about nuclear technology that explains why it should be an outlier. As many opponents frequently point out, fission is just another way to produce heat. Like other heat sources, a large portion of nuclear heat is used to create steam at high temperatures and pressures.
That steam is turned into useful electricity by systems of pipes and rotating equipment that is virtually identical to the systems used in plants where combustion is the primary heat source. My direct experience with operating various heat sources is that nuclear reactors are uniquely simple and easy to control; there is little reason why they should be so darned expensive.
My assessment is that nuclear project developers have rarely applied conventional techniques to drive down costs and improve construction and manufacturing schedules.
Even though we have been using nuclear fission energy since the early 1950s, there are few examples of sustained efforts to build on experience and apply well understood techniques to improve economics by reusing designs, establishing repeatable processes, manufacturing a series of identical machines with interchangeable parts and driving down costs by avoiding production delays and interruptions.
In those few instances where those techniques have been applied–most notably the construction of a total of 42 Westinghouse/Framatome-designed 900 MWe three loop pressurized water power plants in France, South Africa, South Korea and China–there is solid evidence of cost reductions and schedule improvements.
I cannot provide details or links to available studies, but I can testify from personal knowledge and experience that the U.S. Navy has also achieved substantial economies of series production for several different pressurized water reactor designs that have been installed in submarines an aircraft carriers. The magnitude of the savings has varied significantly; annual production rates are a major factor in achieving a full measure of the potential cost and schedule improvements.
A unique challenge faced by nuclear energy developers has been the dedication, skill and coordination with which opponents have engaged in efforts to ratchet costs. They have worked to impose additional requirements, intervened in projects with the specific aim of inserting delays, challenged regulatory agency integrity, seized on every crisis as an opportunity for additional impositions and worked to energize citizen opposition by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt.
In answer to Brecha’s mention of a “need for redundant and complex safety measures” the imposed measures were often not needed. They were desired and suggested by people that wanted to harm their competitors. In many cases, they were accepted by nuclear developers or contractors with varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on their own business models and revenue expectations from change orders.
Part of the success of the opposition has resulted from the sheer size of each project. It’s difficult for a power plant that can produce enough electricity to supply the needs of close to a million people to fly under anyone’s radar, especially when the operation of that power plant can result in the loss of several hundred million dollars per year of fuel sales, along with a lesser quantity of sales of additional products and services.
It is possible, especially with smaller power plant designs, for nuclear energy to achieve cost and schedule performance improvements that approach those seen in solar and wind energy during the past decade. Success in this area will also depend on the ability of nuclear supporters to smooth regulatory, project management and financial hurdles. Nuclear supporters should learn from successes and try to market their product as well as the renewable energy promoters have sold the public on the benefits of their favored technologies.
No one who has worked in the nuclear field in a position that provides any visibility into costs should be able to deny that there is a large opportunity for improvement.
Here is how Brecha describes his concerns about waste.
The issue of nuclear waste disposal, which has not yet been satisfactorily resolved, has not even been mentioned yet.
Most importantly, a sustainable energy system cannot be one that leaves its waste to be cleaned up by future generations – especially when other options do exist.
Many nuclear system innovators, including companies like TerraPower, Transatomic, Flibe, Terrestrial Energy and ThorCon, have a different view of waste than Brecha. They see it as an opportunity or as a raw material that can become fuel for their advanced designs.
I tend to agree with those designers. Used nuclear fuel is not a waste and not a burden for future generations. It is valuable raw material and a resource that can make life better for future generations. It is a positive legacy, not an imposition.
Brecha also has concerns about fears and accidents worth addressing.
In addition, there is no other energy source about which we must continually fear the slightest human error. It is clear that coal power currently kills vastly more people than nuclear power ever has. But the catastrophic events around Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have left long-term scars over large areas and dislocated hundreds of thousands of people.
As noted above, a large portion of the fear experienced by many people is a direct result of opponents seizing on the opportunities provided by well-publicized accidents or events. Almost everyone can recite the names of the accidents – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, but few seem to understand the limited consequences associated with each one. Critical thinkers should recognize that the existence of just three accidents during the past 50 years of nuclear plant operations around the world is good news, not fear inspiring news. That recognition should be enhanced when they understand that Chernobyl was the only one that caused any fatalities and that the number of identifiable bodies is well under 100.
Comparing that history to any other source of on demand power, not just coal, shows just how safe nuclear technology can be. There is no justification to continually fear nuclear energy, especially in light of studies like the NRC’s State of the Art Reactor Consequence Analysis (SOARCA).
Of course, there are plenty of nuclear energy opponents that want people to cling to the fears that the opponents aggressively continue to promote. Critical thinkers like Brecha should be immune to this kind of imposed fear.
Finally, Brecha’s objections based on international control regimes can be effectively addressed by recognizing some of the interests involved in the discussion.
If we look at debates right now about Iran’s nuclear program, the subtext is that we (Industrialized countries? Western countries? The U.S. alone?) should be allowed to determine who else is admitted to the nuclear club, or at the very least, that we should have the option of tightly controlling access to nuclear technology and fuel. This attitude represents a new kind of energy colonialism and should be unacceptable in the 21st century.
My view is that neither the U.S. nor the rest of the world has the right to discriminate against other nations, especially those that have signed binding agreements or treaties that relinquish any possibility that they will use their nuclear knowledge to build weapons with which to threaten their adversaries.
As I’ve noted here on several occasions, I believe that much of the animosity and public attention paid to Iran’s nuclear energy development program is rooted in economically motivated efforts by Israel and Saudi Arabia to constrain Iran’s ability to compete in international markets and capture sales.
Painting Iran as a pariah has successfully encouraged the development of international sanctions regimes that severely constrained Iran’s hydrocarbon sales for a half a decade or more. Keeping that country from building nuclear plants to supply domestic energy needs will ensure that it keeps burning oil and natural gas in domestic power stations and does not replace that demand with nuclear fission. Doing so would free up a steadily increasing portion of production to sell into the more lucrative export market.
The current suppliers to that market have no desire to have to deal with additional supplies and the resulting price pressures.
- Nuclear energy costs can be substantially lowered without the need for continued federal subsidies.
- There is enough raw fuel material to last indefinitely, especially through the refined use of already proven techniques for breeding and recycling.
- Nuclear energy projects can be encouraged to proliferate around the world without increasing the risk of nuclear weapons use.
- Excessive fears about nuclear energy are not justified, but they are encouraged by people with ulterior motives. There’s little to fear but fear itself.
Another merchant of fear, doubt, and skepticism, a professor of nuclear ignorance. what else could be said?
With regards to the cost of nuclear going “up” over time, no trend like that ever continues forever – logically, it can’t. When people project too much about the future based on very short term trends, and/or across a relatively small sample size, I’m reminded of this bit of Wisdom from the Simpsons.
We’ve had this discussion before, but here it goes, again…
On the cost side we really have two separate issues that get mixed together confusing the discussion. Those are initial cost of a new plant and continuous O&M costs of the current fleet.
On the O&M side it is not complicated. In some markets the current fleet of first generation designs can not compete because of unnecessary continuously increasing overhead (yes there are other factors too). Namely Security, NRC constantly expanding the original Design Basis, and INPO dead weight program overhead.
Security: if these plants are vital national infrastructure it is the job of the US Government to protect them from foreign attack, not an electric company. Pre-9/11 these plants were sufficiently hardened to protect from “home grown” attack.
Expanding Design Basis: It costs one heck of a lot of money to do it. The NRC has become dictatorial in this regard. Why do they even have a legal right to do it? Because they have never been challenged in court? Maybe it is time. Nothing else works this way! If “building codes” are improved, even for an actual needed improvement, there is no back fitting of current structures required. Current structures are grandfathered. If a new law is passed, there is no back fitting to find “law breakers” before the new law.
INPO: If INPO was required to “teach the better way” why do we still need them 35 years after their inception? Have we not learned yet (operating data suggests otherwise)? If we haven’t learned yet, fire them, they have failed their mission. But operating plant data clearly shows most plants have clearly learned the lesson. So all INPO is adding now is PR fluff by “Industry Spokespersons” and constant overhead. If there are occasional bad boys it is, was, and will be NRC’s job to weed them out. INPO’s motto of “Constantly Striving for Exellence” is just like LNT when you can’t recognize excellent performance when it is staring you right in the face.
New plant cost. The huge plants are just too big and complicated to build on time and on budget. GIVE.IT.UP, if it has never been done in the history of the world, get a clue, it can’t be done. No amount of strings and mirror talk about experience (France is experienced, and still can’t do it), modular technique, etc. is going to change it.
And second, on new plant cost, the killer is the redundant active safety system cost needed for assured post accident Decay Heat Removal in current LWR designs. GIVE.IT.UP
The future must shift to smaller, if LWR totally passive DH removal post accident (like NuScale), or totally different small advanced designs like MSR that can’t put a melted core over the fence.
We currently don’t have a system to make that future happen in time to replace the current fleet of nuke plants before so much nuke generation is lost that the strong opinion becomes “It just ain’t worth the hassle.” We are right on the cliff of “It’s almost too late.” The lesson we learn from that will be too painful to have to learn the hard way.
MJD – Excellent Synopsys.
More thoughts –
Security – Look at the size of the average police force for the average city. WHY does a NPP need a Security staff larger than most cities? FIX – Scale back to only defend for one hour and let the Feds take care of the problem. Would you believe there are rumors of mounting Fifty Caliber Machine Guns on the roof of some plants! Are we insane?
Expanding Design Basis: The NRC has a new Ratchet Wrench. The Red Finding! One of those and the plant management does whatever necessary to satisfy NRC. Get two and combinations of one or a couple Yellow and White findings and the Plant ends up on “Additional Oversight.” Then everything the NRC wants is given to them with whipped cream and a cherry on top. And they lose a Million dollars a day in just lost sales! FIX – NRC needs to re-read their Mission Statement.
INPO: The plant Managers career depends upon the INPO evaluation. First Quartile you can make VP. Last Quartile and look for a new job FAST. 25% of the NPP are always in the last Quartile thus the completion is worse than for the IRONMAN! FIX – Their usefulness is over. At least they should re-read their Mission Statement. I am no longer proud to admit I was on the working committee (not the executives) that helped develop INPO.
New plant cost: ½ of all new plant cost is INTEREST. The intervenors have learned how to delay every plant approved for construction to make the delay as long and costly as possible. Fix – Once approved the interveners are prohibited from inferring.
The plants are designed to shut them self down. Every circuit is designed to fail in a “Fail-Safe” mode. Every plant is required to PROVE this as part of the Startup Testing Program. TMI Proved this! No one was killed let alone even hurt. Yet, even today, a NPP is given findings and violations for doing the “Safe” thing out of the upmost caution. WHY? A part fails, just as any part will fail in your car could fail, But the NPP does not crash [like your car could], the redundant circuits protect the plant and the public. The plant is Safely shut down according to all procedures. Then the NRC steps in and gives you a Yellow Finding.
“New plant cost. The huge plants are just too big and complicated to build on time and on budget. GIVE.IT.UP, if it has never been done in the history of the world, get a clue, it can’t be done. No amount of strings and mirror talk about experience (France is experienced, and still can’t do it), modular technique, etc. is going to change it.
And second, on new plant cost, the killer is the redundant active safety system cost needed for assured post accident Decay Heat Removal in current LWR designs. GIVE.IT.UP”
The thing which makes Areva’s decision to build those gargantuan 1600 MWe monsters even more baffling is that, prior to them, no new nuclear build had occured for the better part of 20 years. Apart for the notable exception of Romania, no new Western-designed/built plants had been completed in the 90s and early-mid 00s. Areva’s decision to build a) an untested design; b) a massive version of said untested design; c) a massive version of said untested design with a near-0 fresh-build knowledge base (my gut instinct is that close to 90% of the people who built the French plants had either retired or switched jobs by 2005), was in many ways an exercise in corporate madness.
And now nuclear power in Europe pays the price since anti-nukers have a field day pointing to those two white whales as general failures of nuclear power, rather than the unfortunate yet predictable end result of a fundamentally flawed approach to it.
I think they have to be even bigger than that.
I don’t blame corporate management for lousy engineers.
The oversize problem has little to do with lousy design engineers. IMO, NickR did a fine job of briefly summarizing why going bigger was the wrong way to go, especially following a nearly two decade long hiatus from the complex skills associated with a large construction and manufacturing project.
Moreover, oversizing was considered problematic for both plant construction and operation as far back as 1982. The Electric Power Institute study and Weinberg’s own research into the issue discovered that the majority of plant operators thought 1200+ MWe plants were too large. They tended to respond too quickly to transients, were too ‘delicate’, for lack of a better term, when it came to events in secondary systems and were overall too complex.
Why nobody paid any attention to all these alarm signs is a complete mystery to me.
Nah … The EPR is just a scaled up version of France’s N4 and Germany’s Konvoi reactor. Both France and Germany have plenty of experience building and running a plant similar to this one — they just haven’t built one in a while.
The design makes perfect sense when you consider the situation in France, where there is one electric utility that is primarily owned by the government, and power plants are built in batches of identical units, cookie-cutter style. The trend, starting in the 1970’s, was to build the next batch larger than the previous one. The Germans also had an affinity for large plants as well. Their most recently built nuclear plants are quite large.
So while the EPR is a natural fit for the traditional French utility model, my problem with it is that it is a reactor that was essentially designed by the regulator. It’s quite clear that when the design was being developed in the 1990’s there was substantial input from the French and German nuclear regulation entities — so they threw in the kitchen sink. It’s a regulator’s wet dream. Even the anti-nuclear Union of Corrupt Socialists (almost) gives it a passing grade.
This type of plant makes sense when there is one regulator, one utility, and one reactor vendor, but it is a tough sell otherwise. Take the “core catcher” for instance. The regulator loves it, but try to imagine explaining to a potential customer that they will pay extra for this “feature” that will only be used if they have managed to melt down and destroy an asset worth billions of dollars.
“Both France and Germany have plenty of experience building and running a plant similar to this one — they just haven’t built one in a while.”
Therefore they have no experience building one. Nearly 20 years isn’t “a while”, it’s almost a generation.
And my point regarding the ‘Sovietisation’ (“ever more bigger”) of reactor designs at the behest of mainly corporate decisionmakers (regulators don’t really care whether you build a 300 MWe one or a 1500 MWe one, which is a problem in and on itself) still stands.
Actually it’s true. EDF, despite being a socialist dream (it was at one point, like when the built their nukes), is one that is becoming increasingly privatized. EDF built *everything* in terms of construction of those plants. But EU imposed privatization schemes demanded that the new EPRs be built by “lowest bid”. They wouldn’t or refused to use the remaining in-house expertise and farmed it all out to private contractors…who also had zero experience in building nukes. Not good.
EDF came about after a series of agreements in…of all things…the French Underground under German occupation. It was agreed that all the utilities would be nationalized along with all the businesses, like Renault or Citroen (I forgot which one supported the Occupation), after the war. During the truly massive strike wave that hit France’s “unity government” (Gualists, Republicans, Socialists and Communists) they went ahead and created EDF.
Sorry for spam-posting, but I forgot one last bit:
“This type of plant makes sense when there is one regulator, one utility, and one reactor vendor, but it is a tough sell otherwise.”
No. 1200-odd MWe reactors don’t make sense. They didn’t back in 1982 when EPRI did their study, they don’t now.
But then Brian would have to admit to a huge costly mistake on the part of Areva.
A mistake, I might add, that gives the fudistas powerful ammo for their arsenal of anti talking points.
To both MJD and Rich,
Excellent summary of the NRC and INPO issues.
The slow transition of INPO becoming the NRC’s watchdog since the late 1990’s is a fail for both organizations in my opinion. That dynamic needs to change. However, it appears plant owners are the only ones who can force a change at this point.
The problem then becomes the INPO rating system which is now the middle man between NRC findings on one side and the bonus/promotion path for the plant executives on the other side. So INPO has worked itself into being a behind-the-scenes power broker for the entire industry. Not a good thing for the long-term health of the industry as a whole from my viewpoint.
INPO findings have completely skewed the long-term operational decision making process. Cost of generation automatically increases due to INPO findings with questionable benefit to the ratepayers. I can’t even count the number of times “INPO” was the answer to why a plant was replacing equipment, upgrading an operational process, etc. Not that the equipment failed and needed to be replaced or an operational process was evaluated and found to be severely deficient. But that the INPO rating system required the equipment upgrade or that an operational process be revised to ensure a plant moves from INPO Cat 3 to Cat 2 or for that plant to shoot for a Cat 1 rating. Every INPO finding that requires plant upgrades ends up costing ratepayers upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars and that does not even begin to touch the admin costs of gearing up for multiple INPO/NRC audits every 18-24 months. I have heard it costs millions in admin costs to go for a Cat 1 rating with little visible benefit to the rate payers. However, big bonuses and promotions are given to the plant manager that succeeds in getting a Cat 1 rating at their plant.
The cost of a replacement or an upgrade due to an INPO finding can’t be considered in the decision making process. In fact, even suggesting that the cost benefit analysis be considered as part of the decision making process is now becoming taboo. If INPO requires it then it must be done. Finally, under the current symbiotic relationship between INPO and the NRC, an INPO finding may ultimately become an NRC finding. So a plant has to spend the money for the upgrades and they usually have to spend it on the regulator’s/INPO’s schedule, not the best schedule for the plant. Meanwhile in the background, the NRC is basically taking advantage of the INPO reviews without doing their own while still requiring the plants to pay for the hourly fees.
Which industry besides nuclear power has an equivalent to INPO? The AMA and the ABA are powerful organizations, both in how they regulate their constituents but also how they fight against new rules and regs at the state and national level. INPO does not fight for nuclear power owners in NRC space, at least not publically from what little I have seen at my level. It’s actions actually appear to feed the regulatory system which then ultimately provides more ammo for the anti-nuclear crusaders. INPO should not have this much influence on how nuclear power plants run, how much it costs them to run nor in how NRC regulates the plants. INPO operates in a legal gray area which no other industry is forced to operate to the best of my knowledge.
The other unhealthy issue I have seen due to the INPO/NRC relationship is that plant management has basically relinquished its control to INPO. Now there may be howling at that suggestion. But when plant management’s only answer is “INPO” when asked why they are taking the actions they have taken and when plant management is concerned about their bonus due the plant’s INPO rating; then that plant’s management has basically handed over decision making authority to an independent organization running operations from Atlanta. On the flip side it allows plant management to basically shrug their shoulders and say, “What can we do, INPO required us to make these upgrades.” So a weak management team can basically use INPO to force changes instead of taking on those challenges themselves.
I know there are good people working in both INPO and the NRC. And I know that I am taking a broad brush to some of the regulatory, cost and decision making issues. And I know there were historical reasons for starting this process. However, INPO should not as dominant a factor in overall plant operational decision making, personnel management and budgeting as it has become. Based on how other industries that also have an large impact on human health have historically conducted their business, the pendulum has swung way too far to one side towards the symbiotic relationship between INPO and the NRC in my opinion.
It is time for that pendulum to come back to some more neutral point for the industry to have any hope of transitioning to SMR’s in a timely and cost effective manner. Otherwise this latest push by nuclear entrepreneurs is going to run into an INPO/NRC regulatory buzzsaw.
Is INPO voluntary or are they now an organization that is forced upon all nuclear plants? If an organization were to build a plant with one of these newer designs, i.e. gas cooled pebble bed, molten salt or another alternative design, would INPO provide added value? Their experience is limited to the current aging crop of BWRs and PWRs. Maybe some of these guys that are being laid off from all of the coal plant closings would provide just as good of a practical review.
INPO membership is voluntary. However, utilities are required to carry a large amount of property and liability insurance (was $375 million a few years ago, may have gone up). At this time, the only companies that offer such insurance require the utility to be under the auspices of INPO.
In addition, the training programs for certain plant workers must either be inspected by the NRC the same way other processes are inspected according to regulations, or the training programs must maintain accreditation with INPO’s National Academy for Nuclear Training (NANT). This is one of the very few areas in which the NRC and INPO interact directly, with roles, responsibilities, and oversight that are explicitly defined and rigorously executed. At this time, all U.S. utilities have chosen to maintain accreditation with NANT.
So, if nuclear plant owners found a different way to meet the legal requirements for property and liability insurance and decided to have the NRC inspect training programs, they wouldn’t have to be INPO members.
LoisT, Exactly, and thanks for this. One area of great concern for me, because there is no current forum for discussion, is what happens if INPO gets their hooks in SMRs (NuScale for example). NuScale is focused on getting their Design Cert and may not have even thought about things a potential buyer will have to consider. The time to start considering these issues is now, not later. NuScale’s current published Licensed Operator plan for their 12 – Unit SMR is 3 ROs and 3 SROs per shift (running 3 “modules” of 4 reactor plants each). Look at this from a plant buyer’s point of view, who must consider O&M costs after buying a unit. Especially if the buyer wants to start with just a minimum commitment of one 4 – reactor module. If INPO has their hooks in this process I can envision just the Training Staff required to have NANT Cert being larger than the Ops Staff. If I am a buyer, I want to know this in advance, before I commit to buy. I don’t like surprises.
It also ties right into the eventual NRC License exams for these operators. Currently the NRC has no examiners who have even given a “cold license” exam. Any one who understands the current Operator License process knows the deal. “Candidates” must be trained under a NANT certified training regimen, by NANT certified instructors (where from? the thing doesn’t exist), and have an operating exam on an ANS Standard plant reference simulator. Written exams from a pre-approved exam question bank, etc, ad nauseam.
Who pays for this? The first NuScale buyer? Or the NRC via “development” budget (meaning all the current fleet via NRC “fees”). For the insurance pool, are they running 12 reactors, or one “site.” That “accident” insurance, as far as I can understand it, is owned and guided by the current insured members. Why will a current one reactor operator say “OK NuScale, you can run 12 for the same “fee” I pay for one”? If I’m a NuScale buyer I want to know these answers in advance.
This stuff is indicative of just how fractured the US “Nuclear Industry” is right now. These are real problems, needing real solutions, in advance. And with all the typical arguing that always goes on to settle these issues the time to start is now.
One might take the position this is the buyer’s responsibility, as in, if you hadn’t bought it you wouldn’t have to deal with it. I don’t see it this way, as in if “All of the Above” is really the policy, get your A in gear mister, because there is work to be done, and you won’t get me as a buyer if I have to develop and pay for this stuff.
And it doesn’t just apply to NuScale. Is anyone in a position to make changes really listening?
Thanks for the info and filling in some information gaps.
It appears that INPO has become the path of least resistance from an insurance angle which also benefits executive teams running plants that receive a Cat 1 or Cat 2 rating.
However, lost in all that step-by-step decision making process is the long-term effects and cost to the nuclear industry as a whole. The final product of any power generation source is supposed to be electrons on the line not a set of procedures that have been deemed the “best: by a set of peers operating from Atlanta.
mjd, your suggestion of challenging the expanding design basis is a good one. There is a parallel in legal theory. The US Constitution explicitly prohibits ex post facto laws. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3 prohibits Congress from doing it. Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1 prohibits states from doing it. I know we are talking about regulation and not legislation, but the effect is the same. I’m wondering if some clever lawyer for our side could frame the issue in such a way as to challenge the regulatory process on this basis. Other industries must deal with regulatory mandates (e.g., FAA directives), but it is always done in a manner that does not threaten the existence of the industry. I don’t see any such restraint in many NRC actions.
Nuclear Energy is the only form of energy / technology that is politicized … you’ll never hear a politician say “vote for me and I will curb the use of cell phones or broadband connections” … but you’ll see plenty of geniuses (e.g. Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, etc. etc.) saying “vote for me and I will kill Yucca Mountain” or “vote for me and I will kill Songs and Diablo Canyon”.
All these “free thinkers” and “problem solvers” statements are futile until an executive power addresses the root of the problem and promulgates a law that will pretty much say “WE HAVE TO HAVE NUCLEAR” … and “IS NOT WORTH KILLING THE PLANET to gain votes from some ignorant “environmentalists”).
For your amusement.
Your comment reminded me of an article I saw where a mother and daughter both were allergic to WiFi. The daughter was supposedly so severe that she could not attend school due to the WiFi connected laptops. During the interview the daughter could be seen talking on her cellphone!
“Nuclear energy is the only form of energy that is politicized.”
I completely disagree with that, Cristian. Simple example: remember ‘drill baby drill’ from the 2008 election?
International politics, U.S. Politics, state politics, and beyond – are DOMINATED by energy, at least since the industrial revolution. I strongly recommend the book that Rod occasionally mentions – ‘The Prize’ by Daniel Yergin.
“Nuclear Energy is the only form of energy / technology that is politicized … ”
You gotta be kiddin’ me. How’s the weather on Mars these days?
Great Article Rob.
I wait patiently for your takedown of the Jacobson 100% renewable papers.
Having costs increase over time is something that just doesn’t/shouldn’t happen. Costs should fall, given technology improvements and lessons learned. The only legitimate counter example would be the cost of a raw material that is running out (like oil, or so many people thought). It is painfully clear that the reason for nuclear’s escalating costs (it being almost “unique” in that regard) is due to external forces. That is, political opposition, unfair policies, and ever increasing regulations and requirements. The operating record of our older plants destroys any argument that those increased requirements were necessary (i.e., that the older plants weren’t safe enough.
I talk about these issues in the an ANS Nuclear Café post. The data suggests that nuclear construction costs were literally one third of today’s, even accounting for inflation. Can you imagine how successful nuclear would be right now if we could build plants for $2,000/kW?
More generally, I think the most effective answer to concerns (like his) that nuclear is “too expensive” is to simply ask them if they are willing to put that assertion to a market test. That, as opposed to arguing that renewables are lower cost, that therefore they are the best approach, and that therefore govt. should mandate said “best approach” (i.e., that govt. should therefore pick renewables as the winner).
Yes, that’s actually the argument/logic used by renewables supporters. You can’t make this stuff up… One day they’re crowing about grid parity and renewables actually getting cheaper than fossil fuels, but on the next day they are vociferously arguing for continued large subsidies and govt. mandates for renewables (because eliminating them would kill renewables growth).
The best argument is to say that if you really believe that renewables are competitive, than SURELY you will agree to a technology-neutral policy that lets the market decide the best, most cot effective way of reducing emissions. If nuclear is too expensive, than surely you won’t mind giving nuclear equal subsidies and having nuclear being included with renewables in all portfolio standards. After all, since it is more expensive than renewables, no nuclear will be built (anyway).
Ask people like Brecha to agree to a technology-neutral policy like a CO2 tax or carbon fee and dividend. For extra credit, ask them to agree to having those policies *in lieu of* specific subsidies and mandates for renewables only.
I don’t agree. The best argument is to actually build one at a reasonable price on time and on schedule. As you have discussed else ware (ANS Cafe?), we used to do it. If you want the 1990s version of why it went off track in the late ’70s and ’80s read this, chapter 9:
This should be required reading for anyone discussing cost and schedule. It is also a wrong conclusion to say just go back pre “all of that” because some changes were actually needed. But everything went too far, and the lowest common denominator problem for “too far” is the NRC.
Regardless, these big unit construction problems are not engineering problems, they are Construction Management problems complicated by a fractured supply chain where you can’t control the management of each vital supplier. This is basically the problem that was staring the AP1000 builds right in the face. And the reason for the recent re-shuffle with W trying to bring Construction Management control under one house (that, and to settle any finger pointing law suits and get on with the project).
I’ve seen an average of 3 management re-shuffles per new build (at least the people if not the whole company). Buys time, doesn’t affect the final outcome. They come on line late and cost too much. GIVE.UP.THE.BIG.UNITS.
And yet, the Ruskies have seemingly achieved serial plant construction on time, in budget, and on an international scale. Their new Rearden Alloy promises 120 year RPV lifetimes.
Isn’t this an issue for the GOP?
I think the waste argument might be the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of an idea that needs to be actively smothered to death…that we have a chance of killing. The opposition has successfully muddled facts around costs and plant safety and proliferation, etc but the waste disposal concerns are so easily dismantled. If I can claim to have moved the needle with anyone on nuclear power, it’s in the area of nuclear waste.
Start by reminding people that combustion of gas and coal means – for the most part – all the ‘waste’ goes into the environment via smokestacks. And by the way – chemical combustion means if you burn a ton of coal, you necessarily have a ton of waste…then move into the volumes of coal and gas involved (trainloads per day for coal plants). Then ask the hypothetical question ‘how would you feel I f they invented a combustion ‘compactor’ process where everything that wouldhave gone out the smokestack instead gets put into permanent storage casks that take up a fraction of an acre? With zero atmospheric pollution to boot?’ People invariably say that would change the game for fossil fuels…that leads them right down the path.
I appreciate Brecha’s analysis, but I am increasingly baffled that thoughtful people can look at used nuclear fuel as some kind of vexing problem. What exactly are the risks and effects that make it qualify as an impediment to growing our nuclear fleet? People are constantly listing nuclear waste as a bullet point in their list of nuke problems, but i suspect few people are actually considering the issue from first principles.
The other day, Spacex landed the booster stage of their Falcon 9 rocket. This can reduce launch costs by an order of magnitude. We get nice artwork and computer studies of new nuclear concepts. Except for NuScale, that’s as far as they go. The AP1000 doesn’t count as it is essentially a 3400 MWt CE with some passive systems added on. And it is certainly not going to save the future of nuclear power in the US.
While Spacex currently gets government funding and a guaranteed customer, much of their development was self-financed.
Spacex is responsible for the design, construction, test and launch of their vehicles. In nuclear, we have stodgy utilities beholden to a PSC. The plants are designed by vendors with a sense of privilege. The plants are built by AEs used to gouging their customers.
Until the business model changes, the current trends will continue.
It took about two-and-a-half decades of effort and at least one billionaire’s influence to change the government and regulatory environment to the point where SpaceX could happen. The opposition, the ailing/failing, ever consolidating ( anyone heard from McDonnell Douglas recently?) aerospace industry, was nothing compared to nuclear’s opposition, which pushes the current hostile environment.
I started out as an aerospace engineer at NASA back in ’84 and taking space access private and out of NASA’s hands is a dream/ ambition that goes back at least that far. It probably got its big push when meaningful space travel stopped and folks saw the abortion that was the new space shuttle design ( mid to late 70s).
Not visible to the casual observer were hearts and minds efforts like the founding of the International Space University by three folks that included Peter Diamandis.
The point is, the environment that gave us SpaceX didn’t just happen. It is the result of decades of both unsuccessful and successful efforts by space advocates, plus the patronage of several rich folks who took an interest for one reason or another. The economic decline of the opposition probably didn’t hurt either.
When someone like Bob Brecha makes claims that nuclear energy is too expensive, I assume they have spent most of their time reading anti-nuclear sites. This is part of their propaganda.
I have tried my own experiment – Google – nuclear + energy + costs – You will find the hits fall into 3 categories: –
1. Anti-nuclear groups claiming that nuclear energy is too expensive.
2. Reports from pro-nuclear entities claiming that nuclear is not necessarily too expensive
3. Independent sources such as major universities which almost always support 2 above.
It’s also can be a good idea to offer few alternatives, such as India – South Africa – Jordan – Japan – UK – Korea & Ontario.
As far as I can see the claim that nuclear is too expensive is nothing more that propaganda from the anti-nuclear groups.
I say nuclear is too expensive, but what I mean is that it costs WAY more than it should cost. I’ve pointed to a number of factors that I’ve seen from the inside. A fair portion of the costs come from insiders who are either driven by their business model to push prices and costs ever higher or, in some cases are completely unaware of how their work habits or attitudes add costs to all projects.
During the first nuclear age, U.S. utilities almost unanimously performed an action that reinforced the belief among electricity customers that nuclear was too expensive to allow. Every time a new nuclear plant was completed and declared to be in commercial operation, one of the first acts by the companies that owned the plant was to file a rate case putting the plant into the rate base and significantly increasing the price of electricity.
Customers who did not pay much attention to the debates or court cases thus received a very simple message that was reinforced every month.
Building nuclear plants = higher power bills.
Since few people like higher power bills, especially energy intensive businesses with political clout, many people stopped liking nuclear power.
Very true, but partially solved. Most states with current nukes already, especially in the Southern states, have changed the rules to allow construction costs to be added to the rate base gradually over time, based on pre-defined construction milestones. I have a friend in SC who states he has a 7.5% add-on, for several years now, to his electric bill for those new plants. But the bottom line is still the final cost and schedule. As far as the final reaction by those customers go I think basic human nature applies (in a lot of endeavors, including a war). Everyone thinks “don’t skin me alive; shoot me in the chest.” This is where schedule delay becomes important in public opinion. The longer it drags out, and the more it costs, it begins to look like torture.
Like it or not, asking why these huge plants can’t be built on time and on budget is a very fair question. And John Q doesn’t want to listen to any yabba, dabba, doo finger pointing about who is at fault, when it is too complicated to figure out the specifics. John Q’s opinion is either just do it, or quit trying because they all end up costing too much.
John Q is right. If in the history of the world it has never been done with these big plants, GIVE.IT.UP. The solution is go small, go different. But we don’t actually have a small or different that is shovel ready, do we? The reason for that is obvious, at least to me.
The concept was supposed to be that economies of scale would reduce per kWh of power delivered. The fly in the ointment has been that bigger plants require more complexity to address safety issues, in particular cooling systems in the event of an unscheduled shutdown. The other aspect is that there is no graded licensing fee, thus it becomes attractive to go big (i.e. deliver as much power as the market will bear) to avoid exorbitant licensing charges.
As I understand it, having a design that allows multiple modules to be part of the complete reactor site allows reduced complexity since passive shutdown becomes possible yet the licensing fee apples to the whole site.
While working for GPU Nuclear I was told that Oyster Creek cost $60 Million and was “Turn-Key,” designed, constructed, and initial testing all done by GE. NO utility involvement other than “gaining knowledge” and providing licensed operators for license required activities. No rate payer burden till purchased. Once operational the utility was earning $0.5 Million a day! I know of now significant/serious incidents through 1984 at OC. And all costs after about 1980 were TMI-II upgrades, None of which “enhanced” the “Safety” of OC in any meaningful/ or even measurable degree. I believe GE built 3 or 4 others (Indian point, Nine Mile 1, etc.)also for about the same price.
THEN, the “Utilities” decided they could build it cheaper and use cheaper SE’s and cheaper building contractors. (I know of NONE that were built “cheaper” by any utility. Ten years later TMI-! cost 10 times more. 12 years later TMI-II cost 20 times more, (cost not corrected to reflect inflation). Half of that cost was INTEREST on the loans.
Now they cost two to four hundred times as much, and I seriously doubt if they are even 10 percent “Safer.” IMHO the true increase in perceived safety is due to the training and the training facility. Otherwise, ALL of the plants were built to basically “Fail-Safe” if no one did anything to prevent the plant from failing safe.
This site has some info on original plant cost. Caution: it corrects the cost to account for inflation to the date of the report – https://www.eia.gov/nuclear/state/ It only includes operating NPPs.
One major consideration should be ONE design, and ONE design only. PERIOD. Virtual training facilities utilizing one training program, computer, lesson plans, techniques, etc. With ALL NRC technical staff interfacing with plants receiving equivalent training! I know for a fact that several “safety features” imposed by the TMI Lesson learned requirements made B&W PWR plants “less safe” e.g., Reactor Trip on Turbine Trip. WHY shut down a perfectly good reactor plant and lose your turbine driven feed pumps and other steam services on an action that could cause loss of power? WHY? Where are you going to get your water from if the TT was do to a fault in the Switch yard? Is there anyone that can tell my why that is SAFER? Think Fukushima.
My biggest issue, and I think Jim Hopf touched on It is that considering nuclear is low carbon, and that it has substantial cost reduction potential we should be supporting its development as much as wind and solar. To deny one of your tools because today it is too “expensive” is crazy to say the least. Basing an argument like Brecha does on cost on why not to support Nuclear then to advocate support to other forms on the basis that it will help reduce cost makes little sense
Personally I would be asking why s nuclear expensive at all (fundamentally it should be cheap due to its simplicity and energy density). then advocating efforts to reduce or eliminate costs.
Their argument that nuclear is more expensive, and that therefore we should not put any money into developing it (i.e., developing better technology, reducing costs, etc..) and instead put all our money into renewables, is an interesting one.
Flash back to the 1970s and 1980s, when renewables were much more expensive than nuclear, and their technical potential seemed much more limited. According to the very arguments that they (Brecha, etc.) are using now, back then we should have ceased putting any money into renewables, and instead focused entirely on nuclear. If we had done so, not only would we have more nuclear now, but those cheaper and more effective renewable technologies that they now crow about never would have been developed.
I’m not sure, but I think the above line of argument could be somewhat effective with people like Brecha. Either to convince them somewhat or to use against them in debate. That is: “Your saying that we should not develop advanced reactors just because current nuclear tech is more/too expensive now? What if we had that attitude towards renewables decades ago?”
“Most importantly, a sustainable energy system cannot be one that leaves its waste to be cleaned up by future generations ”
This applies to wind and to solar. Somebody in future generations will have to dismantle the ruins of the offshore wind farms — a difficult and dangerous task. They cannot simply be left as a hazard for shipping.
Somebody will have to fond a way to dispose of millions of dead solar panels. They should not just be dumped in land fill.
Don, we will. I predict that nuclear-powered foundries will be used to dispose of squeaking windmills and worn-out solar panels. Oh the irony!
Thoughtful insights, as always. Thanks!
Having survived decades of late night public hearings, living with the “intractable issues” driven by NIMBY and unfounded fear, the only antidote I found was a clear risk assessment analysis, comparing the benefits and impacts of taking action, or not… When people understood that the odds of a negative impact from proposed development was somewhere between getting hit by lightning, or killed by aliens (from another planet that is), the opposition (and cost increases) stopped.
The EPA not only has a fairly good explanation of the risk assessment process, they also do a fair job of explaining radiation risks: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radiation-sources-and-doses#tab-2.
I also found that the costs of development decreased significantly with the adoption of performance standards, like those suggested in this comment to the petition requesting amendment of the NRC Linear No-Threshold Standards: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NRC-2015-0057-0199.
@NickR December 24, 2015 at 11:29 AM
“Why nobody paid any attention to all these alarm signs is a complete mystery to me.”
I don’t think “nobody” is the correct term here. If so, why are we having these discussions? The buyers were paying attention, and the money lenders were paying attention. My recall is there wasn’t a plant, ordered after 1974, ever completed. So “somebody” was definitely paying attention to the cost problem.
The problem gets very complicated when we let too many nuances enter the discussion of the causes. Stop it, KISS. These big active safety system plants are too expensive and complicated. No mystery, the LWR PWRs grew out of Rickover’s rather simple navy demo project at Shippingport. The current fleet of PWR designs got convoluted by the idea that building them for use at commercial sites required layers of extra safety, via “active” safety systems. And also the AEC “defense in depth” philosophy at that time demanded more emphasis on a Containment for post accident LOCA considerations. But what really screwed it up, at that time, was everyone’s belief in the economy of scale text book myth. I’ll continue to call it a myth until it’s actually done at least once-in-a-row.
But some specifics. The navy PWR designs have a “passive” post accident decay heat removal system (and so do some proposed SMR designs). Navy PWRs are smaller, reactor/coolant system built inside a tank that could take post LOCA pressure without active safety system help. Huge PWRs can’t do that. Other trivia, Shippingport was “sized” by the then current size of “qualified” (RCS) pipe available that could be confidently used in the application, about 18″. Need more coolant flow for the reactor power than that pipe supplies? Add another loop, don’t scale up what works. FWIW, Rickover wanted an 80 MW plant for aircraft carriers, but the original demo plant was only 60 MW (working out unknowns), so Shippingport was built with 4 RCS loops but the original 60 MW plant ran on three loops with one loop isolated (with valves). An installed spare RCS loop. Each loop inside its own containment tank, workable (maintenance) at power. Wow, there’s a novel idea, have an SGTR or failed RCP? Isolate the loop with remote operated valve, put the spare loop in operation, and repair the faulty one back at full power.
But there’s a fly in that ointment for huge commercial plants, the economy of scale myth. Apparently all the technology could be “scaled up” except for a leak proof remote operated RCS loop (and Pressurizer) isolation valves. So these huge plants don’t have any. No biggie? Au contraire, it results directly in these huge plants needing these huge Containments and active Containment pressure control systems to protect them from peak LOCA pressure because they blow down the whole system; very expensive and more added complications.
But that ain’t the half of it! When I got out of the nuke navy and started working on site at a new construction B&W plant in 1973, my first glance impression looking at RCS drawings was “these are functional cartoons, they have no RCS isolation valves, where’s the real drawings?” As my training progressed I learned that no, they did not have RCS loop isolation valves. Coming from the navy I thought “Are they stupid?” Well they aren’t stupid, but constrained by the economy of scale myth.
Being a quick study I asked, “You mean to tell me if you have a LOCA you’re going to blow the whole damn RCS onto the floor of Containment, during the blow down you have a giant water supply tank used to inject coolant with High Pressure Injection Pumps during the blow down (because you can’t isolate the leak with valves), when that injection tank is empty then try to suck it up off the Containment floor with pumps, pump it out of Containment, through heat exchanges cooled by another set of pumps in a closed loop secondary cooling water system, and then pump that water back into the RCS to remove core decay heat? And then that secondary closed loop cooling system has to be cooled by another set of raw water pumps (tertiary system) to an ultimate heat sink? And the whole damn mess has to have backup emergency AC power, be seismically qualified, be environmentally qualified for LOCA conditions, be High Energy Line Break qualified if an unrelated system line runs through that space, be protected from site flooding, be fire proof so one train can burn the other, all bought from “qualified” vendors, all built to Q requirements, be single failure proof, etc.? Because the plant is so big you can’t make a reliable fast acting remote operated valve to isolate the leak? And the core is so big it can’t have decay heat removed with a passive (gravity) cooling system to a big swimming pool? Now that IS stupid.” (Note: neither Shippingport nor navy PWRs have HPI pumps; they isolate LOCAs; basically. Shippingport could use the Main Feed Pumps, via manual operator cross connect, to refill post LOCA). (Note also: breaks in the RPV don’t have to be postulated by the rules, they are tough critters, so if you trap the water in the RPV on a LOCA, because you have isolation valves on the RCS, your passive DHR system on the RPV side can cool the core by gravity (Natural circ).
But after TMI2 nobody could think outside the box of the initial demo plant design, again economy of scale ($ invested). Hundreds of billions of dollars of these designs were running. It became how do we save them? And save them we did, with eye watering amounts of money thrown at that fleet. But nobody ever said “This is a stupid idea in the first place. It was simply a demo plant design” Who should have said that? The reactor designers? They were “all in” with the big units the utilities wanted (but would no longer buy; too expensive). Plus any big potential design had become too expensive after TMI2 and there were no customers anyway. The Utility buyers? They are still too entrenched in the economy of scale myth. The Government? (supply your own comment).
After TMI2, saving the fleet of big active safety system plants from everyone’s wet dream accident scenario, drove the price of a nominal ‘70s plant from ~$500M to a late ‘80s plant to upwards of $3.5B! Too expensive and folks WERE listening; the buyers.
It’s all water over the dam now. But that’s how it happened. We need a fast track system for new smaller designs, and advanced designs to replace the current operating fleet. There is virtually nothing shovel ready, so if “somebody” is listening there is nothing to buy. But we don’t have a realist system with the current NRC structure.
FWIW the best way to buy time for the current fleet is ditch INPO. My belief is all the “financially troubled market” plants will then make money. Because they can then cut their staffs in half.
As for the rest of Mr. Bob Brecha’s objections beyond cost (quit trying to build old big designs), as Rod states, change the discussion. Waste it ain’t, it’s an asset. Don’t stick it back in the ground for a million years when dry storage works to store the government’s partially used fuel until they come to pick it up and move it to their own central storage facility. It currently is a financial liability to the plants, because the government has shirked their own legal responsibility.
The rest of his objections are “fake” technical issues, and are only on the table because of artificial external influences mostly related to the extreme cost of building these huge old technology plants that almost everyone in the US is reluctant to build, because of that cost. So in that sense they are real issues. My belief is if the currently 19% US nuclear generation was already new tech advanced reactors and SMRs, economic realities of the free market system would be the thing driving those objections away at the political level.
The current situation is dire, but not quite futile… yet. We need a shovel ready new small LWR SMR design (or advanced design) by about 2020 to start replacing the 40 current fleet plants who’s extended licenses expire by 2035. It must be done mostly in series/parallel lumps, not all parallel. Rapid parallel construction (and manufacturing) expansion in the 70’s and ‘80s outran and diluted the talent pool for construction experience and led to the problematic consequences that then led to wholesale cancellation and “walk-aways” in those years due to botched builds and huge cost over runs.
This transition can’t happen with the current NRC structure. And it won’t happen with the current Kudzu of commercial nuke power, INPO, still taking down plants. Every time a plant is lost the conditions for the remaining plants will get worse. The fees from those 2 organizations remain the same or increase. Will the last man standing have to pay them all? We just can’t afford to lose another plant from adverse economic reasons.
I’m curious. Perhaps mjd can answer…..
What, aproximately, would you say the annual gross payroll is for a nuclear plant like, say, Diablo? Operators, technicians, office, maintainance, security, etc.?
This fact sheet from NEI addresses your question. http://www.nei.org/Master-Document-Folder/Backgrounders/Fact-Sheets/Nuclear-Power-Plants-Contribute-Significantly-to-S
It provides averages for employment numbers, total payrolls and some indication of the variability from plant to plant.
So…about forty mil, according to that sales brochure.
Recently, driving on hwy 138 from Lancaster towards interstate 5, I passed through huge solar fields. What struck me was the lack of human action in these fields. I did not see a single maintainence truck, work crew, or security patrol. When pulling over to take a leak, I stood by a fence abutting a perimeter fence. Having rained two days prior to my presence, I noted a lack of tire tracks on the perimeter service road. Acres upon acres of solar panels, soaking up sun, converting it to electrical energy, and not a human in sight.
Kinda endearing. A coupla thousand acres of energy producing real estate, with a minimal payroll. Yeah, I know, a blight on the eye, on the land, the poor tortoise, and all that. But whats it take to install one of these fields? A grader, a gridworks of conduit, some post holes and concrete….over-simplification? Not by much. I watched one from beginning to end during construction between here and bakersfield, and the danged deal was done inside of three months. And that one went in on fallow farmland, and only evicted gophers. No tortoises were inconvenienced or roused from their napss.
So, I suppose the real costs are in the fabrication of the panels. Also that would be where the majority of the labor costs are expended. Once, as opposed to onging for the life of the field.
Pretty hard to imagine a downside, unless you’re looking to push an expensive alternative. Then, certainly, some creative PR might just sway opinions…but ya better get some damn good ad men, because if a finish carpenter in podunk can put together positive renewable talking points, you’re in big trouble when Madison Avenue is doing the selling.
POA, I looked at that reference too and noted the footnote 1, stating the data is from only 23 plants. I’m in no position to challenge NEI on this. But I’d take those numbers with a grain of salt, NEI is a PR organization, and in the past when I caught them, with facts, stretching the truth in a press release they stopped communicating with me.
Here’s actual company numbers for Davis Besse:
$65M annual payroll (700 employees). And we both know how “averages” work. On average, that’s ~$93K per employee. The rule of 10X (top to bottom wage distribution) is history. My gut is the NEI numbers are way too low. And as already pointed out above, the distribution is distorted by factors such as the plant INPO rating where wages and bonuses for management are tied to that rating. Thus INPO can become the “hidden” manager of the plant when hard decisions are made on the basis of “what would INPO think?”. In theory, decisions should be made based on the technical issue at hand, and also in theory those are best determined by the folks who work/live/are experienced with that plant. INPO should provide “programmatic” guidelines for processing info. But that actual processing is best left to the plant experts, not INPO. My read on the state of affairs from the people involved is that is not the case anymore. As long as the boots on the ground, from mechanics, operators, up VP Nuke say “disagreeing with one of INPO’s sacred cows is a career ending move”, I won’t have any use for INPO.
We have over a thousand here at Columbia……although our Corporate Headquarters is also located on the plant site. The Security Department has 200+ employees alone.
So are corn fields. How is ethanol working out?
It all looks pretty until you evaluate the EROI.
“How is ethanol working out?”
Or the refining companies that produce it? I imagine they’d tell ya its working out just dandy, at least here in californy. Guess what side of the aisle is in bed with them? (No matter what fat ‘ol Rush tells ya, Brian).
Who is reaping the benefits of those “endearing” and apparently low-maintenance (perhaps neglected?) solar panels?
This is one area where the industry is going to have to step up and take a hard look at reducing costs. As noted above, very few personnel are needed to run a solar array or a windmill farm (which seems to contradict the claim that “renewables create jobs”; evidently not). Same goes for a gas-fired plant. What does that take, like 20 people for a 700 MW SCGT? I know because of regulations there is not a lot of elbow room when it comes to downsizing, but 700 people at a single-unit plant seems like a lot. How can the O&M costs be reduced? I’m no management expert, but I think if you got a good systems analyst to look at the problem, maybe something could be worked out, particularly for multi-unit plants, or single-unit plants that are in reasonable proximity to each other so resources could be shared.
Reduced? If you look at the economics, the O&M costs are not the problem. Both the O&M and fuel costs for nuclear (per kWh produced) are quite small. It’s the capital costs that are the problem.
One of the major problems driving plant shutdowns today is meeting regulatory requirements that were put into effect after Fukushima. These costs could be considered maintenance costs or they could be considered delayed capital costs, but either way, they don’t have much to do with the number of people employed at a power plant that produces a gigawatt or more of baseload power at capacities typically exceeding 90%.
There is something to be said about being able to pool resources to support multiple plants, however. If I recall correctly, the decision by Dominion to shut down the Kewaunee Power Station resulted from failure to obtain permission to consolidate some of the support functions for this plant with its other plants.
I have been following the shutdowns of Vermont Yankee and Fitzpatrick and in those cases the operator claims that they are losing money operating those plants. They claim they are losing something like $60m/yr on Fitzpatrick. That was the basis of my comment about O&M costs. I do not deny that they are capital costs associated with regulatory ratcheting and we have discussed this a lot, but there isn’t much an operator can do about that except use the adjudicatory process when available or lobby the regulator (or INPO) to call off the dogs. Not much chance of success there. So I am just looking for any way to help make these plants more competitive in a market dominated by cheap natural gas (which has no cost attached to environmental damage) and unfair subsidies to RE (which have no costs attached for unreliability and decommissioning).
I probably should have done this a long time ago, but this discussion has stimulated me to take a deep look at INPO and its effects on the nuclear industry.
When I was a submarine engineer officer — more than 25 years ago — I led the preparation, execution and recovery efforts for three ORSE exams, each with a different result (AA, BA, A). I recognize INPOs roots because I know the organization that provided its model. I have some basis on which to comprehend the impact that its inspection and “assistance” programs can have on a unit.
One key factor from the model used as the basis for INPO is missing. In my former organization, the person ultimately responsible for the inspection program was also ultimately responsible for implementing the recommendations provided by the inspectors. That included budgeting for them, scheduling them, paying for them, and verifying completion. The responsible organization was also deeply involved in the human resources and training programs for every unit it inspected.
Those responsibilities did not make ORSEs a cakewalk, but they helped inspectors and teams to establish priorities and offer real assistance for nits rather than encouraging kudzu-like program growth.
Here is a brief quote from INPO’s About Us page that should provide critical, politically astute readers to contemplate how the organization came to be.
It is a HUGE event when INPO comes……which seems like its every other week. When the NRC comes for one of their inspections, nobody seems to care. Its crazy to say the least.
@Wayne SW December 31, 2015 at 7:26 AM. You are trying to respond to bum dope at December 30, 2015 at 2:01 PM.
Here’s some hard facts from an actual plant for 2000 to 2005 time frame. This is for a “regulated” plant. The discussion CAN NOT be mixed the between regulated and deregulated plants, as regulated plants can pass NRC regulation required capitol expense, via the Utility Commission, to the rate payers. Thus they don’t affect bottom line profit. As of July, 2015 NEI states there are 49 plants in deregulated states and 50 in regulated states.
Actual typical budget data (only one plant):
Production Costs = O&M was ~70-75% of production cost budget at $75-80M, Fuel was 25-30% of the production budget at $25-30M/yr. Production cost (O&M + Fuel)/MWhr was ~$18-20/MWhr.
Capital at the time was running $25-30M/yr on average (thus about the same as fuel). This utility was regulated at the time, so much of the capital could be recovered via rate case if justified (meaning if you stupidly smoke your Main Transformer you likely won’t recover the replacement capital cost). If a mod was regulatory required like security stuff, it would get recovered. However, merchant plants do not have that ability. Coal plants had about the same production cost. Their difference was that Fuel was 75% of their production cost with O&M at 25%. Much lower people cost (smaller staff), but much higher fuel cost (coal/oil cost) plus high transportation cost.
As for INPO, every time they update one of their “Standards” documents like Procedure Writer Guide, PM Program, Conduct of Ops, Outage, Maintenance, etc., you need to change all your stuff or they beat you up next evaluation. If you drop to INPO 3, it will cost you $5-10M to do all the programmatic upgrades plus all the contractors who descend on you “help” get better because your own staff is dealing with INPO. It is really bad if you go on training probation.
O&M is the biggest chunk of costs on regulated plants. Reduce staff to save. I don’t know anything about deregulated plant’s ability to recover NRC mandated capital costs. Maybe Kevin Krause can weigh in? But if deregulated plants can recover NRC mandated capital costs that’s obviously not the single factor taking plants down. If they are not making money also (O&M too high) why bother?
I’m not understating the negative impact of unnecessary NRC mandated changes. But if a deregulated plant was making money, it might be worth the capital expense to do the NRC mandated change.
Also the denominator in the Production cost is a BIG driver. Bad plants, low capacity factor equals high production cost. Then you get more INPO/NRC and it gets worse. Can become a death spiral. That’s what I see at Pilgrim, 4 trips in a year, a couple with complications.
So does a plant have much maneuvering room in reducing O&M costs by consolidating staff? Most plants I have been to seem to be awfully top-heavy when it comes to security forces. I look at Fitzpatrick practically next door to Nine Mile Point and wonder if they could not share some of those resources? Yes, I know, different owners, but perhaps some kind of resource-sharing agreement could be negotiated. Same deal with Kewaunee and Point Beach just down the road. Seems like if it comes down to a choice between that and trashing a perfectly functional facility with decades of operation left, it would be an incentive to make some kind of deal to preserve the assets.
@MJD Don’t for get the INPO/NRC “Programs” The Plant I retired from has both a Corrective Action Program (CAP) and a Performance Improvement Program. Each with a Manager, Supervisors and 10 – 12 “workers.” Any “safety” concern that any employee, worker, contractor, etc. could have was documented, by the CAP then assigned to a system AND design engineer to resolve. Typically from submitting a one page CAP “concern” form to final resolution, which included QA review of any corrective actions and QA review of the CAP program itself (more man hours) entailed at minimum 100 man hours for a action whicich required no corrective actions. One that required corrective actions could be anywhere from a simple (HaHa) procedure change (several hundred hours TOTAL) to well over a thousand.
I recall a CAP concern where someone was worried about the “Shelf Life” of electrolytic capacitors. As a result of the review, A program was established to purge All Electrolytic capacitors from stores and discarded before the end of the manufactures stated shelf life. This also required finding that shelf life for every electrolytic capacitor in stores. And establishing a program for tracking new/replacement capacitors.
If that was not bad enough, Engineering decided that all electrolytic capacitors in the operating equipment had to be replaced on a schedule to ensure that its shelf life was not exceeded. Yes, that is right, safety related equipment had a schedule set up to replace the electrolytic capacitors on a 2 or three year rotating schedule. Meaning that perfectly good equipment had the capacitors unsoldered from the circuit board and a new one put in its place. Keep in mind that the capacitor would have to be replaced if it’s shelf life would expire before the next outage.
I almost got fired for telling management how stupid that was. First, WHY do NPPs have three or four safety trains? Is it not so that one can fail, and then you can fix it or shut down? Second, What is the probability of the replacement activities causing more harm than doing nothing? and Third, I have an old IMSAI-8080 Microprocessor, manufactured in about 1975 that has “commercial” grade [not safety grade, certified, pedigreed, with paperwork to the aluminum mine] electrolytic capacitors in it’s power supply and on the circuit boards and I have used it off and on since 1975 and it has NEVER had a failed electrolytic capacitor.
This is nowhere near the costliest of the CAP fixes I am aware of, but it sure seemed to me the stupidest and typical of some of the things the plants do to please INPO. Then, these ideas (concerns) are sent out to other plants and they, blindly, do the same thing.
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