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  1. Quack alert.

    For the last couple of weeks, there is this Swiss based scientist that publishes a peer reviewed study saying that the world should stay out of nuclear and that especially the US should start phasing out and quick.

    The reason ? The world is running out of Uranium.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969713004579

    Michael Dittmar is the name. He is on his way to Vermont Law School.

    He just has not figured out that Uranium is one of the most common element on the planet and that demand will meet supply. It is called prospection and development in the mining industry.

      1. Re: “I don’t think that will get much attention by anyone with a brain.”

        But he’s headed for Vermont!…

        James Greenidge
        Queens NY

        1. @James Greenidge.

          Are you suggesting Meredith Angwin should somehow be dismissed because she lives in Vermont.

          Please explain further (some of us are really curious what you think about Vermonters)?

          1. @EL

            There are certainly some good people in Vermont. There is also a vocal concentration of irrational people who chose to elect a governor who honestly believes that Germany gets 30% of its electricity from solar panels.

            Meredith and Howard have both told me that they have often felt quite lonely at public meetings in Vermont as a team of a professional nuclear engineer and a physical chemist that have a pretty good understanding of the way electricity is really made and the way that grids really work to maintain reliable power.

    1. @Daniel.

      Care to give us your prediction for when Cigar Lake will begin production, and for how long. Deposit was discovered in 1981, and still isn’t producing.

      Dittmar draws on a revised methodology on mine lifetime and extraction rates. He seems pretty justified in doing so.

      1. @EL

        Are you implying that the uranium known to be in the deposit at Cigar Lake should be considered to have disappeared since the owners have not yet mined it? There is no rush to fix the issues; the price of uranium is back to 1970s levels in nominal dollars – about $40 per pound then, about $40 per pound now, even though 2013 dollars are worth considerably less.

        Heck, there is a 119 million pound deposit – sufficient to supply the US by itself for two years – within an hour of my home. It was discovered in the 1970s and is still not being mined. There are plenty of reasons why that is true, but the absolute wrong reason is believing that the deposit has disappeared and will never make it into the market.

        1. Athabasca basin and Virginia you guys say? Pocket change is my answer.

          The Uranium reserves in sea waters of the world and the Central Mineral Belt in Labrador each have potential to be where the action will be soon.

          For example, some experts are arguing that Canada should scrap its ownership laws on Uranium property ownership because the Central Mineral Belt is too big for the likes of Cameco alone. Areva and BHP and Rio Tinto will have to chip in.

        2. Uranium at 40$ a pound, back to 1970’s level ==== Fact

          Nuclear power plant constructions are also back to the 1970’s level, if not more. Soon, we will have newcomers in the nuclear community. Vietnam, Bengladesh, Arab, Emirats and many more

          When US journalists talk of a nuclear renaissance that is melting, they are referring to the US. The rest of the world is forging ahead.

          In 2016, Russia will have a floating SMR that can both provide electricity and water desalination services. Imagine the relief to humanity and thirsty countries. Hey, maybe the World Bank will get a grip on its mission and start financing a few of those ?

          China will sell their SMRs thru Wallmart before the NRC learns how to spell SMR. One day, the lack of managerial pugnacity of the NRC and DOE regarding nuclear power over the decades will be in business cases at the Harvard Business Schools of the world.

          Regulatory agencies need long term planning and independence from the governments. NRC the gold standard ? Never was the case.

      2. Cigar lake is in production as we speak. If is ramping up now. This sucker will still be kicking in 20 years.

          1. And how many people got hurt again ? It is a complex mine that needs the ground to be frozen all year long.

            Cameco got lazy. They paid the price. This mine is so profitable, it will be mined no matter what.

      3. Dittmar draws on a revised methodology on mine lifetime and extraction rates. He seems pretty justified in doing so.

        Dittmar’s entire thesis is based on the reduction in yellowcake production due to the Megatons to Megawatts program and postulating that it resulted from depletion of the resource.

        It is trivial to prove that the thesis is false, because depletion of the resource would be signalled by increasing prices as we’ve seen with petroleum.  The opposite has happened, therefore Dittmar is wrong.

        Now, Dittmar has a PhD in physics, he is NOT stupid… so how can he push such claims with a straight face, despite having the evidence that he is wrong put in front of him in public time and time again?  (He gets incoherent and angry when people do this, because he has no factual response and he knows it.)  The only credible reason is that he is lying, and is trying to use his credentials to push a thesis he knows to be false to advance some other agenda.  Guessing from his other emphases, that agenda is to push Megatons to Megawatts to a full elimination of nuclear weapons from the earth.  But that’s not going to happen, because N. Korea, Pakistan and Iran are not going to give up their bombs so someone else can turn them into electricity.  This suggests that Dittmar does not take them seriously, or (worse) wants to advance their interests and leave them unopposed with the tools of nuclear blackmail.

        And that is why I believe Michael Dittmar isn’t merely wrong, he’s positively evil.

        1. Engineer-Poet wrote: “It is trivial to prove that the thesis is false, because depletion of the resource would be signalled by increasing prices as we’ve seen with petroleum. The opposite has happened, therefore Dittmar is wrong.”

          Prices seem to have settled much higher to me (pre and post bubble)? How exactly do you see a four fold increase in uranium prices from 2003 to 2011 as the opposite of a price increase (I’m not sure I am understanding you)? You don’t think Fukushima and the closure of 50 reactors in Japan are having an effect on recent spot markets over last couple of years? This seems like a very tight and volatile market to me. One mine, or production shift of 11% of global reactors, and you start to see 100% – 1200% swings in spot metal prices. Based on your criteria, I’d say his projection is pretty much confirmed.

          1. Prices seem to have settled much higher to me (pre and post bubble)?

            Real prices today are lower than they were in 1980.  The dip appears to be associated with the end of the cold war and Megatons to Megawatts.  Even at $60/lb, prices aren’t high enough to have a serious effect on the economics (especially given that enrichment for LWRs has gotten much cheaper).  Prices could double without adding even 1¢/kWh to electric cost, and that would make the mining of many more deposits economic.  The limit is currently about $200/lb, where ion-exchange absorption from seawater becomes competitive.  (That limit will fall as the technology improves.)

            Fast-spectrum technologies like the dual-fluid reactor would multiply uranium economy by about 200x over LWRs, eliminating mining completely for around a century while inventories of DU are used up.

            How exactly do you see a four fold increase in uranium prices from 2003 to 2011 as the opposite of a price increase

            You’re comparing to the depressed prices due to the M2M program.  Go back to when the USSR was still in business.

            You don’t think Fukushima and the closure of 50 reactors in Japan are having an effect on recent spot markets over last couple of years?

            There are 400+ reactors world-wide, with China building like crazy including the supply chain for fuel.

            One mine, or production shift of 11% of global reactors, and you start to see 100% – 1200% swings in spot metal prices.

            Most uranium isn’t sold on the spot market.  There are plenty of deposits going un-mined, with fast-spectrum technology and thorium both on the shelf if uranium gets too costly.  When Lightbridge gets its fuel certified, thorium will stop being the waste product of rare-earth refining and become nuclear fuel, displacing mined uranium.  There is about 3-4x as much thorium out there as uranium, much of it associated with other valuable materials, and 99.5% of it potentially convertible to energy in thermal-spectrum reactors compared to the 0.5% efficiency of LWRs.  If there’s 20 years of uranium out there, that makes 8000 years of thorium.

            Dittmar has been told this a number of times.  He knows exactly why his thesis is wrong.

          2. Dittmar has been told this a number of times. He knows exactly why his thesis is wrong.

            Because thorium and theoretical seawater extraction are going to prove him wrong? You don’t get 100 – 400 hundred percent price shifts in a commodities market (even multiples more) and get to call your resource stable and secure. Such a claim as you have made above is incorrect and doesn’t fit the historical data. Fast reactor cycles are much more expensive (are you suggesting additional fuel costs won’t play a role here)?

            Given current demand, and say a doubling of demand … any thoughts on what you consider to be the real market price of uranium?

            If I had to guess (since you say he’s a smart guy), I’d say his paper should be seen by resource developers, investors, utilities, policy makers that once through LWR fuel cycle is approaching “over played” … and that folks need to get busy with advanced fuel cycles. Given your commitment to such future fuel cycles (how is this “evil”)?

          3. Because thorium and theoretical seawater extraction are going to prove him wrong?

            Goodness, another sentence full of lies that each can use a paragraph to refute.

            1.  The tests the Japanese have done with e.g. persimmon extract could be scaled up to produce at ¥32,000/kg (about $150/lb).
            2.  Thorium has been used before, even in a light-water breeder core for Shippingport.  There’s nothing theoretical about it.

            You don’t get 100 – 400 hundred percent price shifts in a commodities market (even multiples more) and get to call your resource stable and secure.

            You get 400% daily price shifts in many electric spot markets, yet they’re stable and secure.

            If you look at the uranium price curve, you’ll see that spot prices followed the speculative bubble and crashed around 2008 like most other commodities.  That affects the broader nuclear industry only if most of the product is actually sold at spot.  That’s rather silly, because why should producers or enrichers or utilities take such risks?  It makes far more sense to sell the bulk at a contract price which guarantees a decent profit, and sell any excess production at spot.  If spot prices don’t cover cost, cut back effort to eliminate the excess.

            Fast reactor cycles are much more expensive

            On-site pyroprocessing may well not have stayed that way.  Even if it costs you 3x as much to reprocess a rod, if you’re getting 20% burnup instead of 3% you have half the fuel cost.  You also slash the cost of disposal, because there is so much less to dispose of.  Reactors which can reprocess on-line, like LFTR and dual-fluid, may be cheaper than even fabricating fuel from LEU.

            Given current demand, and say a doubling of demand … any thoughts on what you consider to be the real market price of uranium?

            The real market price is whatever the market gets to.  I don’t see why I should speculate, except to show you that the long-term price ceiling isn’t very high due to alternatives to conventionally-mined uranium.  For instance, recovery from phosphate processing appears to be highly competitive, adding a new stream and pushing prices down.

            If I had to guess (since you say he’s a smart guy), I’d say his paper should be seen by resource developers, investors, utilities, policy makers that once through LWR fuel cycle is approaching “over played” … and that folks need to get busy with advanced fuel cycles.

            If people “got busy” with advanced fuel cycles based on erroneous economic projections, they’d have an excellent chance of going broke and giving the industry a black eye.  As it is, there are already efforts underway to get thorium fuel (Lightbridge) and pyroprocessing (S. Korea) out there.  The effort appears commensurate with the urgency.  The panic-mongering from Dittmar only promotes Dittmar.

            1. @Engineer-Poet

              Though I do not disagree with most of what you say, there is a cheaper and easier way to vastly increase the available supply of fuel for nuclear reactors.

              I call it the Kobayashi Maru solution – change the rules.

              With the stroke of a pen the Secretary of the Interior put a million acres that includes some prime uranium resources off limits. Strike another pen and let those resources be mined. In the 1970s, my home state received wonderful news; we had found uranium in a place where the deposit comes right up to the surface of a field and can be easily detected with a scintillator. That one deposit contains enough uranium to power the entire current reactor fleet of the US for two years, even using our current wasteful once through fuel cycle. The coal dominated state government responded by making it illegal to mine uranium in the state until regulations were written and then refused to allow anyone to write the regulations. Change the rules!

              How many betting people are willing to wager that the Coles Hill deposit is absolutely unique and that there is no more uranium of similar concentration located anywhere in the two thousand mile long belt of similar geology on this side of the Appalachian Mountain chain. What about on the other side?

              Australia, with plentiful uranium resources, operated for many years in which they only allowed three mines in the entire country. Even today several states have a complete ban on uranium mining. Change the rules.

              Many engineers are willing to go to all kinds of extreme lengths to avoid talking to their fellow men to convince them to address issues with logic. Why would anyone want to spend decades and tens of millions of dollars trying to learn to extract uranium from sea water when there are so many readily accessible resources in easier to reach places that have been put off limits not by nature, but by man?

              Though I have served in engineering positions, I prefer to spend more of my time talking and writing to advocate an easier (cheaper) path.

          4. @Engineer-Poet : The ORNL as well as team as a team from Alabama have developed newer methods for seawater extraction that are a lot more efficient than the Japanese one :
            http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF_The_sea_is_the_key_to_uranium_bounty_2308121.html
            and http://phys.org/news/2012-08-fueling-nuclear-power-seawater.html

            As we see, just a little bit of research with no significant financing has already delivers enhancements of a factor five.

            Or course, as Rod said, it’s not like we’re really likely to run out of easily mined uranium any time soon, if we just start to mine the one we already know is there. But such methods bring a guarantee of several hundred years of reserve, even with vary large scale use.

          5. Why would anyone want to spend decades and tens of millions of dollars trying to learn to extract uranium from sea water when there are so many readily accessible resources in easier to reach places that have been put off limits not by nature, but by man?

            Rod – Because it’s fun! Because it’s challenging research.

            You might have well have asked why would anyone want to spend all of the time, money, and energy to climb to the top of a mountain, when they can use a helicopter for much less effort and cost?

          6. there is a cheaper and easier way to vastly increase the available supply of fuel for nuclear reactors.

            Oh, certainly.  But if even the reductio ad absurdum case can be dismissed, less extreme what-ifs become irrelevant.

        2. Now, Dittmar has a PhD in physics, he is NOT stupid …

          Not so fast. I’ve known more than one person with a PhD in physics who was clearly stupid as hell.

          Our lovely former chairman of the NRC has a PhD in physics. His ability to choose a well-connected political sponsor is quite impressive, but I don’t think that it indicates any real intelligence or intellectual ability on his part.

          Even back in the old days, when a PhD in physics was far less common, there were plenty of mediocrities and crackpots in the crowd. Some of them even became famous — Louis de Broglie comes to mind.

          A PhD in Physics doesn’t mean that someone is a Newton or an Einstein.

    2. Oh, Dittmar.  I’ve tangled with him before (you can probably guess my nickname for him).  He’s one of the most intellectually dishonest clowns I’ve ever come across, and I would love to slap the censors at The Oil Drum who deleted my take-downs of his absurd claims and showed repeatedly where even his own references contradicted what he claimed.

    1. I think this is pretty complicated. If you build a natural gas plant, it isn’t very expensive to build, but the fuel varies a great deal in price (as Rod pointed out). Such a plant can undercut coal and even nuclear when the natural gas price is low, but it won’t even be dispatched to make electricity when the natural gas price is high. I don’t think that “building a natural gas plant” is a no-brainer for future profits. You don’t make money if you don’t make power. If you are last on the dispatch line, you don’t make power very often.

      Here’s a post on the natural gas plant we visited. http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/11/23/gas-and-nuclear-a-comparison-of-two-local-plants/

      1. @Meredith

        If reliable generation capacity is limited, even plants that are low on the dispatch list get run.

        I agree that idle capital can’t make much money; that’s why it’s so important to profits for gas plant owners to “encourage” actions that push coal and nuclear off of the grid.

      2. Tell that the utilities in Europe, yes it’s certainly not a no-brainer.

        http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/eon-closes-gas-fired-plant Bloomberg: Europe Gas Carnage Shown by EON Closing 3-Year-Old Plant
        – GDF plans to close or mothball 10,000 megawatts of capacity across Europe, mostly gas plants
        http://www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2013/07/renewable-surge-sees-another-eon-plant-enter-storage.html
        http://www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2013/07/germanys-s-enbw-to-close-four-plants-and-mothball-rdk-4.html

  2. Precisely right. You need leaders and you need those leaders to care about something other than themselves. If the Georgia and South Carolina projects get done on time and (at least mostly) on budget, then we can hope that less-capable leaders will be encouraged to consider the nuclear alternative.

  3. I saw the headline and my first thought was safety-related.

    http://www.safegas.org/resources/resources.html

    There’s a billboard on business I-70 in Grand Junction that just says “if you smell gas, act fast” and a website for more information, with a high visibility red background. Other than the occational “stay away from downed power lines” after a storm, when was the last time you saw a routine safety campaign for electricty?

    1. Eric G: “Other than the occational “stay away from downed power lines” after a storm, when was the last time you saw a routine safety campaign for electricty?”

      Better, why is it nuclear plants must have county warning sirens and evacuation plans in place to operate when other power sources/industries with FAR more frequent incidents of far far more horrific lethal consequences get off scot-free having them? Hypocrisy and a half or intentional nuke-fear policy?

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  4. @ Rod

    Production costs at currently operating nuclear plants have been low because nuclear fuel costs are low. But we can not say that operating costs will remain low as our nuclear reactors keep aging and more costly repairs are required. Sometimes these costly repairs go very wrong as demonstrated by Crystal River and San Onofre.

    We do not have any big nuclear plants that have operated 60 years. It is pure speculation that they will operate without major repairs for that long. We may see many more nuclear reactors being shutdown in the next 10 years because expensive repairs are not economical compared to a new natural gas combined cycle power plant.

    Here is a good example of cost comparison between new nuclear and natural gas combined cycle power plants:

    AES subsidiary Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) announced last month that it will be replacing 600 MW of old coal- and oil-fired capacity with a new 650-MW combined cycle power plant. The $631 million project is expected to begin construction next year and have a completion date in 2017.

    The new plant will emit 98% less SOx, NOx, and particulate matter than the units it will replace, in addition to eliminating emissions of mercury, lead, and fluoride, and reducing water use by 97%.

    http://www.powermag.com/gas/gas_power_direct/Coal-Heavy-Indi/

    Great price and schedule for combined cycle plant. Two of these combined cycle plants would generate over 1300 MW, cost $1.3 billion and take only 2 to 3 years to build. An equivalent nuclear unit would cost about $10 billion and 5 to 10 years to build.

  5. Here is the correct link to the article on Indiana.

    http://www.powermag.com/gas/gas_power_direct/Coal-Heavy-Indianapolis-Getting-a-New-Combined-Cycle-Plant_5657.html

    As another data point, big old nuclear power plants do not age well:

    “The idea that once nuclear reactors are built, they just hum along, putting out low-cost power with minimum maintenance, is a myth. The life cycle of a nuclear plant is quite complex. While there is a short period of stable, high performance during a reactor’s mature phase, it takes a long period of childhood and adolescent maturation to get to that level, and performance declines as old age sets in. And when they break, nuclear power plants create major problems—not only in the cost of repair, but also in the cost of short-term replacement power.”

    http://thebulletin.org/nuclear-aging-not-so-graceful

      1. I think Mark Cooper makes some valid points. Discuss the points not the messenger.

        Nuclear plants have had some very expensive repairs. Some worked out and the plants are running again, while others did not work out and they were shutdown permanently.

        Nearly one sixth of the nuclear plants were shutdown before they reached their 40 year design life. Why do you think new plants like the AP1000 will last 60 years?

        1. I think Mark Cooper makes some valid points. Discuss the points not the messenger.

          Jaagu – No. I’m sorry, but I have better things to do with my time then to debate, point for point, all of the nonsense published by a crackpot with an agenda. If I spent my time countering all of the crazy nonsense published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, I would not have enough time left get any real work done to earn a living.

          If you think certain points are so “valid,” then please bring them here for discussion. Don’t take the intellectually lazy route of just pointing to a link and running. When it comes to the few points you’ve bothered to mention here, you’re not doing very well, as I explain below.

          Nearly one sixth of the nuclear plants were shutdown before they reached their 40 year design life.

          Here you assume that all of these nuclear plants were expected to last 40 years, which is simply not true. A good number of these “shutdown” plants were very small prototype and pilot plants that were never expected to run very long. Their purpose was to develop the technology, so that the next series plants could be bigger, better, and last longer. Other early plants were simply far too small (less than 200 MWe) to compete in an energy market dominated by newer, larger plants. This is an economic issue, not a maintenance issue, which the larger plants operating today do not have.

          So to make a “valid point,” you have lumped these reactors with modern plants that are still running into one basket as if they were all equivalent. That’s nothing short of dishonest. Many of the modern plants already have earned extensions to operate beyond their original 40-year operating license. By the way, the 40 year time frame is the regulatory length of the initial operating license, not the design life. Please don’t confuse the two.

          Your next trick of comparing apples to oranges is to take a few outliers and claim that they represent the rule, rather than the exception. That might play well on the BAS, where the target audience is expected to have an irrational bias against nuclear energy and poor critical thinking skills, but you will need to do better than that if you want anyone here to buy your so-called “valid points.”

          Why do you think new plants like the AP1000 will last 60 years?

          We now have over half a century of operating experience, consisting of about 15,000 reactor-years of operation, to back up such a design claim.

          My expertise is design, construction and operation of commercial nuclear power plants.

          Based on what you have written here, I find that highly doubtful.

          1. My expertise is design, construction and operation of commercial nuclear power plants.

            Based on what you have written here, I find that highly doubtful.

            I have noticed over the years in various fora that a common tactic of the anti-nuclear evangelist is to claim that he or she worked in the industry in some capacity. They invariably prevaricate when pinned down about where or how. Now this case could be the one exception, but ….

          2. Brian Mays writes:

            By the way, the 40 year time frame is the regulatory length of the initial operating license, not the design life. Please don’t confuse the two.
            ——————–
            That is not true. If you look the FSAR of every nuclear plant licensed from 1960s to 1990s, they all say the plant design life is 40 years. And as an engineer and later as an engineering manager, I saw that specifications for every piece of equipment called for a design life of 40 years. I do not know where you get your misconception, but it shows you do not know much about nuclear power plants that were design and built in the 1970s to 1990s.

            I worked over 35 years in the nuclear industry. The first few years of my career were with Westinghouse in reactor core engineering. I worked on many Westinghouse nuclear reactor designs in late1960s and early 1970s. Then I joined Bechtel and worked on engineering and construction of Limerick, Susquehanna, San Onofre, Palo Verde, Diablo Canyon and GE’s ABWR Design Certification and FOAKE.

            I have also worked at Bechtel on DOE projects at Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Yucca Mountain and Hanford. So I am very well aware of the entire nuclear fuel cycle – not just nuclear power plants.

            You claim nuclear has great operating experience, but nuclear also has some lousy operating experience with Browns Ferry, Rancho Seco, Trojan, Main Yankee, Pilgrim, Peach Bottom, Davis Besse, Crystal River and San Onofre just to mention a few. So your 60 year claim is meaningless. How many nuclear plants have gone past the 40 year mark without having long shutdowns of many months or years? Maybe a half a dozen at most.

            There were 114 large reactors (>400 MW) built in US, and 14 of them have been shutdown permanently. That is 1/8 and pretty close to the 1/6 number. So he included some 200 to 300 MW plants in his number.

            1. @jaagu

              As a nuclear engineer who started off as a reactor core designer, I suspect that you received a rather light brushing of education and experience regarding the mechanical, electrical and structural materials that actually determine how long a large steam plant will last given proper maintenance.

              Sure, many components specify a certain design life. The regulatory documents that you cite also specify a regulatory life.

              However, there are a lot of assumptions inherent in those predictions. I will be the first to grant that the “design life” can be drastically shortened by operational or maintenance errors – either inadvertent or purposeful. However, I will also remind you that there are plenty of examples of carefully (perhaps even lovingly) maintained steam power plants that have operated for 80-100 years. That does not mean that each of the components of the system last that long; in fact, many to most of them would have been replaced and and even larger portion of them would have been repaired or refurbished.

              You did not build your credibility by dismissing my experience as an operator and maintainer, including my experience in a position where I had the responsibility for understanding the resource needs of the Navy’s entire infrastructure of ship and submarine maintenance facilities. I know a little about power plants and machinery and can tell you that your continued references to the work of Mark Cooper tell me that you were probably one of the inside plants working against the use of nuclear energy.

              Your former employer, by the way, is a star in a book titled Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I recommend it as background reading.

          3. Ah … Bechtel. Now things are starting to make sense.

            If you look the FSAR of every nuclear plant licensed from 1960s to 1990s, they all say the plant design life is 40 years.

            Jaagu – That’s because the final safety analysis report (FSAR) is a licensing document that is intended to demonstrate to the regulator that the plant is safe for the duration of the license. Why would someone spend the time and effort to do an analysis that extends beyond this period? What would that buy you? Nothing. It would be an extremely stupid waste of effort.

            When a plant goes up for a license extension, the owners submit a supplement to the original FSAR, which provides a summary description of the programs and activities for managing the effects of aging and an evaluation of the analysis that has been done to consider the effects of operating beyond the original 40-year operating license period. Naturally, this supplement doesn’t consider anything beyond the additional 20 years of the license extension, because it would be foolish to do so. That doesn’t mean, however, that the reactor now has a design life of 20 years.

            And as an engineer and later as an engineering manager, I saw that specifications for every piece of equipment called for a design life of 40 years.

            Really?! Every piece of equipment? Are you saying that the steam generators have a design life of 40 years?

            Perhaps you spent too much time in management. You don’t have pointy hair, like the manager in Dilbert, do you? 😉

            I do not know where you get your misconception, but it shows you do not know much about nuclear power plants that were design and built in the 1970s to 1990s.

            My “misconception” comes from the NRC’s blog (emphasis mine): “The NRC issues licenses that allow nuclear power plants to operate for up to 40 years — a time frame originally chosen for economic and antitrust considerations, not technical limitations.”

            I guess this shows that the staff at the NRC does not know much about nuclear power plants that were designed and built in the 1970s to 1990s.

            You claim nuclear has great operating experience, but nuclear also has some lousy operating experience …

            I’m saying that there is more than ample experience (both good and bad) out there to form a foundation for good engineering judgment. You seem to claim that people are incapable of learning from their mistakes. Was that part of Bechtel’s corporate policy? 😉

            There were 114 large reactors (>400 MW) built in US, and 14 of them have been shutdown permanently. That is 1/8 and pretty close to the 1/6 number. So he included some 200 to 300 MW plants in his number.

            Ah … 14 reactors. Let’s take a closer look.

            One, the smallest, was so old and outdated that it still had spherical containment. Now that’s a blast from the past. I don’t consider a reactor with a spherical containment to be a modern reactor.

            Another, Crystal River 3, closed as a result of owner incompetence, not because of excessive cost of maintenance. It will go down in history as the poster-child of how bad “do-it-yourself” projects can turn out.

            A third is TMI-2, a genuine nuclear accident at a brand-new plant. We haven’t had one of those in 34 years.

            Three of these reactors — Rancho Seco, Trojan, Shoreham — were closed for political reasons, not technical reasons. Do you really claim that the closure of Shoreham has anything to do with whether the AP-1000 would last 60 years?!

            Three reactors, at Zion and Kewaunee, were closed due to short-term economic planning. It’s arguable whether the two units at San Onofre should be lumped into this category as well.

            That leaves three additional reactors — Millstone-1, Maine Yankee, and Conn Yankee — all located up in the Northeast, a region that is been a bastion for anti-nuclear nutjobs for decades.

            None of these 14 closed reactors explains why an AP-1000 shouldn’t technically be able to operate for 60 years — as long as it’s not built in New England or on the Left Coast.

    1. @jaagu

      I’m not going to argue with you. Suffice it to say that I have a pretty good basis for understanding the issues related to the cost of maintaining aging nuclear-heated steam plants.

      The submarine on which I was Engineer Officer was one of the oldest in the Navy at the time; it started going to sea before I entered elementary school. In my last job on active duty, I was responsible for financial analysis for ship and submarine maintenance facilities. I’m aware of the costs associated with “aging” nuclear plants. The USS Enterprise was operated for 50 years, for example, with an operating profile that was considerably more challenging than the steady state operation of a baseload power plant. When the ship was retired, the reason was the aging flight deck, not the aging power plant. My friends who were there at the decommissioning told me that the reactors could have operated for at least another decade or two without any major issues.

      Cooper is a sociologist pretending to be an economist who has no understanding of the technology that he is writing about.

      PS – every power plant, no matter what technology it uses, can be properly referred to as “aging”. So what?

      1. Maybe I should have asked earlier but this seems like a good place so here goes: What would you have done about San Onofre if you owned it? I see it, there was a good reason for the decomissioning because how could you (Rod and friends)expect the utility to go through that “Song and dance” again of having to make 2 new holes, have 2 more steam generators manufactured, and even if they had permission to run 70% what if after that the tubes burst anyway? What would the “new, new” steam generators be like because both the original and old were unsatisfactory?

        The other one I wonder about is why is Fort Calhoun which seems to need a lot of parts and attention not decomissioned but Kewaunee is? Has the idea ever been considered of building a power line from Kewaunee to Omaha and use Kewaunee instead? Or am I the only one who comes up with something like that?

        Your friend Arnie says no reactor has run more than 47 years (which I believe was the English Calder Hall reactor which is different from ours). How long have Navy reactors run?

        By the way, was your submarine the Los Angeles class?

        1. Brian Mays writes:

          Really?! Every piece of equipment? Are you saying that the steam generators have a design life of 40 years?

          Perhaps you spent too much time in management. You don’t have pointy hair, like the manager in Dilbert, do you? 😉

          ————————

          Your statements proves to me that you were not involved with the design and construction of nuclear power plants in the 1970s to 1990s. Yes every piece of equipment was designed for 40 year design life including the steam generators. We never thought that the steam generators would fail so badly that they had to be replaced before 40 years. We did not understand steam generator chemistry and materials that well back then. We would have designed the containments and the surrounding buildings for easier steam generator replacement, if we had known that the steam generators would fail before 40 years.

          Your sarcasm is pathetic. Try and stay with the facts. Stop pretending you know about the actual design of the nuclear power plants in 1970s to 1990s.

          When did you get involved with the design of nuclear power plants, which ones and with what organizations?

          1. @jaagu

            Brian is a second generation nuke. He knows far more than you give him credit for with regard to the actual design of the nuclear power plants built in the 1970s and 1980s.

            Though you like to dismiss my own source of knowledge as not being relevant, the plants I operated were built in the early 1960s and the plants whose maintenance requirements I analyzed were built anywhere from the 1960s through the 2000s. Steel, wiring, alloys and bearing materials perform similarly in “small” plants as they do in large ones.

          2. Rod writes:

            As a nuclear engineer who started off as a reactor core designer, I suspect that you received a rather light brushing of education and experience regarding the mechanical, electrical and structural materials that actually determine how long a large steam plant will last given proper maintenance.

            =================

            Actually I am a mechanical engineer, and contrary to your thinking my education and experience regarding mechanical, electrical and structural materials in nuclear power plant was very extensive at Bechtel.

            With all your experience you know that Bechtel designed and built more nuclear power plants than any other company in the US. The reactor and turbine suppliers relied on Bechtel to do most of the design of the systems and structures which interfaced with their equipment. Bechtel engineers had to work closely with the reactor and turbine supplier engineers to understand their design requirements. Bechtel also had many industry experts on steam cycle design, structural design of systems and structures, electrical design of entire plant, QA and licensing. Bechtel completed nuclear projects that others could not complete.

            For example, on a PWR plant Bechtel designed the secondary systems (steam, feedwater, condensate, etc.) to interface with the steam generator, turbine-generator and condenser. Bechtel purchased the pumps, heaters, piping and valves.

            Bechtel designed the reactor coolant and steam generator auxiliary systems based on requirements from the reactor supplier.

            Bechtel designed the containment, turbine building, auxiliary building, control room and all other buildings to applicable seismic, tornado, flooding, and other natural phenomena requirements.

            Bechtel prepared most of the PSAR and FSAR for the utility. Bechtel performed all the off-site dose analysis for the accident analysis required by NRC.

            So I learned how an entire nuclear plant is built at Bechtel while working closely with engineers at General Electric, Westinghouse, and Combustion Engineering. I never did work on a B&W reactor plant, but I was very much involved with the analysis of the Three Mile Island accident and the development of lessons learned.

            1. All of your experience is important and valuable, but it is lacking a few of the vital pieces that help one determine how long the plants that you helped to build will actually last.

              Like many of the Bechtel engineers with whom I work on a regular basis, you know a lot about designing and building a plant, but not so much about operating and maintaining a plant once it is built. Design plays a role in longevity, but anyone who has every purchased a used car will know that the other two factors are at least as important in determining condition after many years of use.

            2. @jaagu

              One more question – are you trying to claim that you know as much as the collective wisdom of Bechtel merely because you claim to have worked there.

              Can you be more specific about what YOU did? My experience with Bechtel engineers is a little limited, but most tend to be rather specialized to their assigned discipline until they get to a PE or PM role. Even the EGSs are pretty specialized.

          3. Jaagu – My sarcasm is intended to highlight your presumption that what we knew in the late 60’s is all there is to know about the lifetime of a nuclear plant and all of its components.

            Sorry, but such a silly claim deserves to be ridiculed.

  6. You totally ignored my main point about the cost comparisons of combined cycle natural gas and nuclear plants based on factual information from Indiana. That blows away your thesis that “Nuclear less risky than natural gas – for customers” !

    With regard to navy reactors, which is your expertise, you know that they are small and unique in their design. You know they are more robust in their design than commercial nuclear power plants. You know they are not run 24/7 for a year at 100% power for 40 years with 10% downtime for refueling & maintenance. Yes they have more power cycling, but they were designed for that mode of operation. So don’t compare naval reactors to commercial reactors.

    My expertise is design, construction and operation of commercial nuclear power plants.

    PS – every power plant, no matter what technology it uses, can be properly referred to as “aging”. So what?

    The so what is that repairs on nuclear power plants are much more expensive than other power plants. Which makes the repairs more risky economically. I have concerns about current nuclear power plants when new engineers do not understand the 40 year old design features of the plants.

  7. Yes, Nuclear certainly is safer for customers. Crystal River, Florida. San Onofre, California. Monju, Japan. Three Mile Island. Chernobyl, Fukushima.

    1. Zero deaths and zero injuries to the public in all the events involving LWRs.

      Deaths in the general public in just the ONE crude-tanker train accident in Lac-Mégantic:  50.  Exploding chemical plants, exploding gas pipelines… bystanders wind up dead, but you hype fears of nuclear.  WTF is wrong with you?

      1. Engineer-Poet writes:

        Zero deaths and zero injuries to the public in all the events involving LWRs.

        ——————-

        Zero deaths is a lie for Chernobyl and Fukushima and many other nuclear plant accidents. Workers have died in many nuclear plant accidents.

        Thyroid cancer and genetic changes are found around nuclear accidents.

        Tens of thousands of workers have radiation doses not normal at some nuclear accidents.

        But the really big problem is the horrendous cost to the public and disruption of public life caused by nuclear accidents to tens of thousands of people. Nuclear advocates always shy away from talking about these costs and disruptions. They want to sick with instant deaths as if that is all there is.

        1. @jaagu

          But the really big problem is the horrendous cost to the public and disruption of public life caused by nuclear accidents to tens of thousands of people. Nuclear advocates always shy away from talking about these costs and disruptions. They want to sick with instant deaths as if that is all there is.

          And nuclear critics always absolve themselves of their responsibility for the disruption.

          If people understood the incredibly tiny risks associated with low doses and low dose rates of radiation, they would simply refuse to allow for their lives to be disrupted and their property to be taken by the absurd overreaction to tiny releases.

          There is absolutely NO way that I would allow some idiot, ignorant bureaucrat to tell me that I had to abandon my property or move my family to avoid a dose any lower than about 100 mSv per month. I would enter a high radiation area and accept a dose of 250 mSv to save my cat and I would readily accept a dose of 1000-2000 mSv to save one of my grandchildren or to protect my neighbors from fire or explosion hazards.

          Excess fear of radiation is a purposeful tactic of the people who do not want the rest of us to learn how wonderful atomic fission is in comparison to ALL other energy alternatives.

          1. @ Rod

            You ignore the actual costs of nuclear accidents and you are not convincing in your argument about radiation. Radiation standards have not changed and Fukushima accident has not caused any changes in those standards to date.

            You do not acknowledge that children and pregnant women are in more danger than an adult male like you from radiation. You do not acknowledge the thyroid cancers and genetic changes found around nuclear accidents. You do not acknowledge Cs-137 around nuclear accidents may cause health effects on humans.

            When the world health physics and radiation experts change the radiation standards, then I will believe you. As long as the current radiation standards exist, you have to live with them. That is the basis under which nuclear power plants are licensed. If nuclear power plants can not live within those standards, then they should be shutdown. USA, France, Russia, Japan, Germany and others have decided to live within those standards. So go and get the standards updated to your factual understanding of radiation effects on human health. Your problem is that the nuclear industry did not have any other facts years ago – that is why radiation standards are what they are and have not been changed. Stop trying to blame everything on anti-nuclear sentiment.

            1. @jaagu

              If you would like to learn more about the health effects of low level radiation, please use the More menu in the Atomic Insights header, select Archives, and then look down the Topics list to find Health Effects.

              There is a whole world of information indicating just how wrong the current regulatory standards are and how little they are the result of any science based approach.

              Also, your statement “Radiation standards have not changed and Fukushima accident has not caused any changes in those standards to date” is factually wrong. When I started my nuclear energy career, the annual legal limit for a radiation worker was 50 mSv (5 Rem) per year. The current standard is, I believe 20 mSv (2 rem) with political pressure to push it lower. In Japan, radiation standards were all over the map, but they have forced evacuations in area where conservatively assumed calculations result in annual exposures of 20 mSv per year. Are you telling me it makes sense to force people to abandon their homes at a radiation exposure levels that is only 40% of what even the conservative Navy Nuclear power program would allow workers to receive for their entire careers?

              General area radiation levels after an event like Fukushima will do nothing but go down over time. That is pure physics when you are talking about decaying material that is also water soluble and will wash ever lower into the soil.

        2. Zero deaths is a lie for Chernobyl

          The RMBK at Chernobyl was graphite-moderated, not a LWR.  You are lying yourself.

          and Fukushima

          Zero deaths due to the reactors at Fukushima, zero plant-related deaths and injuries outside the plant period.  Again you lie.

          and many other nuclear plant accidents. Workers have died in many nuclear plant accidents.

          In other words, not members of the public.  People working in industrial settings accept the risk of industrial accidents.  Nuclear worksites tend to have enviable safety records.

          the really big problem is the horrendous cost to the public and disruption of public life caused by nuclear accidents to tens of thousands of people.

          This is driven by the paranoia fed by anti-nuclear zealots like you.  The typical resident of Denver, Colorado receives about 10 mSv/yr from sources like cosmic rays and the decay of uranium in the granite beneath it.  From this, it follows that 1 μSv/hr is harmless, yet the Japanese government and press get hysterical over levels a tenth of that.  The problem is the hysteria.  Why don’t you stop it?

          1. From this, it follows that 1 μSv/hr is harmless, yet the Japanese government and press get hysterical over levels a tenth of that.  The problem is the hysteria.

            @Engineer-Poet.

            If this is true, why are they allowing for long stay (three month) return for areas greater than one fifth of that.

            Japanese aren’t very good at math?

          2. If this is true, why are they allowing for long stay (three month) return for areas greater than one fifth of that.

            A very late outbreak of near-sanity.  Note that they’re “permitting” returns, not declaring the area safe and giving the all-clear.

            Japanese aren’t very good at math?

            Japanese have a popular hysteria dubbed Hiroshima syndrome.

  8. “E”, I say this without exaggeration to say (because anyone can and have done it) that if the Japanese government saw how a Geiger counter rattles off in the grand halls of Grand Central Station 24/7, they’d condemn and raze the place. Fukushima town clicks light stuff!! Heck, even a concert in Central Park earns you rads in Fuku’s neighborhood! It’s pretty astonishing how wide a noisy Geiger counter will open your eyes in the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, U.N., and several thousand other well trafficked sites here. I’d like Greenpeace and FOE to make a big issue of such an irradiated populace with zero nuke mutants hanging around, but they know that’d brand them beyond kook anti-nuke anything zealots they are. I SO tire of the supposed humane and public safety rants anti-nukers use to as an excuse to exist by when their arrogant and self-righteous blocking and slurring of nuclear energy is blocking and thwarting developing nations from having clean and effective nuclear power and clean water is killing and starving millions of Africans per year, and thank god the Russians are stepping in with nukes to the less green-gullible governments there to HELP people instead of plowing them into the ground like the dog-in-the-manger actions all anti-nukers are doing. Antis, go pack up your cherry-picked nit-picked biased “facts” and movie frets and nightmares and Hiroshima guilt and atom hate and go home and let others have their nuke power in peace. Pious and hypocritical anti-nukers who turn blind eyes from the horrific accident AND normal operating health consequences and mortality and damage record of fossil fuels, but instead howl and bitch over a handful of nuclear industry deaths over fifty years have one bad monkey of irrational ideological hangups on their backs which earns them NO right to deny ANYONE the right to clean reliable energy!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  9. Brian Mays writes:

    Jaagu – My sarcasm is intended to highlight your presumption that what we knew in the late 60′s is all there is to know about the lifetime of a nuclear plant and all of its components.
    Sorry, but such a silly claim deserves to be ridiculed.

    ——————

    I think you are the one that needs to be ridiculed for you false belief that nuclear plants were designed to operate for more than 40 years.

    Utilities, reactor suppliers and engineer/constructors were all under the gun to build the most cost effective nuclear plants that meet NRC regulations and operate safely for 40 years in the 1970s to 1990s. There was never any thought to design the nuclear plants for anything more than 40 years – no designs were made for 50 or 60 year design life.

    The reactor suppliers and engineer/constructors were directed by the utilities to design for 40 year life. Everyone (except you) knows that designing the plant for longer than 40 year life would cost a lot more money. Specifications for everything from pumps, valves, pressure vessels, heat exchangers, piping, electrical motors, switchgear, cable, instrumentation and controls, to HVAC systems clearly stated 40 year design life to suppliers of equipment and materials. Specifying 60 year design life would have cost much more and the utilities knew that the public utilities commissions would not approve any extra cost beyond the licensed 40 year design life.

    Your sarcasm and mea culpa are even more pathetic the second time around.

    1. I think you are the one that needs to be ridiculed for you false belief that nuclear plants were designed to operate for more than 40 years.

      Jaagu – And yet, the NRC keeps approving license extensions for 20 years beyond the 40-year “design life.” Why is that? Perhaps they did not get the memo. Have you tried to inform them of their terrible mistake?!!

      Sorry, but you clearly didn’t understand anything that I wrote above about FSAR’s. As someone currently working in the nuclear industry, please let me express my deepest gratitude to you that you are now retired.

  10. Rod writes:

    Can you be more specific about what YOU did? My experience with Bechtel engineers is a little limited, but most tend to be rather specialized to their assigned discipline until they get to a PE or PM role. Even the EGSs are pretty specialized.

    ======================

    As an engineer and senior engineer, I designed reactor auxiliary systems, prepared P&IDs, specifications, calculations, system descriptions and licensing documents. I also coordinated all design requirements issued by the reactor supplier to the other engineering disciplines at Bechtel and resolved interface design problems with the reactor supplier.

    As an group leader and as an engineering group supervisor I was directly involved with the design of all mechanical and nuclear systems, I reviewed and approved all P&IDs, specifications, calculations, system descriptions and licensing documents prepared from 10 to 70 engineers. I was also responsible for the PSAR / FSAR preparations with input from reactor suppliers and all other engineering disciplines at Bechtel. I was responsible for overseeing the radiation protection and ALARA design, equipment qualification requirements, containment analysis and accident analysis work performed by Bechtel staff experts.

    As a project engineer and later as a project engineering manager I was responsible for the design and licensing efforts of the entire nuclear power project team at Bechtel which at times ranged from 300 to 500 engineers. I became very involved and familiar with the critical aspects of civil/structural/architectural design, electrical/controls design, plant layout and operations requirements.

    Later in my career, I worked with on operating nuclear plants using my expertise to keep these plants on line with repairs, design modifications, and up to dating licensing documents.

    Later I became involved with the design, construction and operation of nuclear facilities at Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Yucca Mountain and Hanford. I also became involved with the ABWR Design Certification and FOAKE efforts. I am now retired. The FOAKE effort included a detailed cost estimate of the ABWR by Bechtel experts. They compared the ABWR to natural gas fired power plants. It was obvious that big nuclear power plants like ABWR were not cost effective.

    Now you know more about me than you ever wanted to know.

    1. @jaagu

      Thank you. You have had a distinguished career with many opportunities to learn. You have valuable information to share.

      Now, please understand that many of the people who engage ini discussion here also have valuable experience and perhaps a different perspective that is also worth sharing.

      For example, while I agree that specifications for initial design stated a 40 year lifetime, I hope that you will agree that the actual design to meet that requirement is not as precise as some might imagine. It does not mean that the item will last exactly 40 years and it is a statement that is only true under the assumptions used in the design calculations.

      With careful operations and maintenance, there are millions of examples of manufactured parts in all kinds of industries that last far longer than they were originally designed to last. To be fair, there are also millions of examples of manufactured items that do not last as long as they were designed to last.

      When nuclear plants approach the end of their initial operating license, their condition is evaluated carefully. Many antis like to point out that the regulator has not yet denied a license extension request, but they overlook the fact that the owner would not bother to go to the trouble of requesting one of he was not confident that the condition of the plant would support the request. The process is painful enough to weed out the weaklings before they even start.

  11. Oh, Rod, did I make you mad? I guess I should not ask what to do about San Onofre and you must not have been on a Los Angeles class.

    1. @BobinPgh

      I guess you are referring to the fact that I apparently ignored your question. It was an oversight, not a purposeful choice. I have actually answered it twice, but each time either ran into a computer issue or got distracted before posting.

      I would have plugged the damaged tubes and restarted both plants. I think the company had sufficient information to support this course of action by March or April 2012.

      My assumption is that any tubes that did not experience rubbing or “tube-to-tube interaction” in the first couple of years of operation would be fine. Rubbing might have surprised the perfection seeking nukes involved, but it is not an unusual phenomenon in all kings of manufactured products that operate in an environment with vibration, tight tolerances, and flowing liquids.

      The proper, and normal, response in all non-nuclear situations is to deal with the source of the rubbing, minimize potential for future damage, and move on, perhaps with a little more care than before.

      Experience shows that the detection systems installed are sensitive enough to provide warning of future leaks in time to take action before putting anyone at risk.

      1. Is that all it needs? All the news says that the place needs all new steam generators to be safe and run properly and doing so would just cost too much. I have to wonder why Edison did not plug the tubes 2 years ago. Although I suppose you could not plug too many or the place wouldn’t make the electricity as it is supposed to. I would think there might be a reliability problem with many shutdowns if a tube “blows” but that is more of downtime problem than being unsafe (isn’t it?).

        1. @BobinPgh

          Steam generators are designed with at least 10% excess heat transfer capacity. In San Onofre’s case that means each S/G could have about 900 plugged tubes and still produce rated power.

          I don’t think SCE tried very hard or responded strongly enough to outside pressure. It might be because they were promised that they would be made whole by allowing captive customers to bear brunt of costs, with some help from that foreign company that supplied the steam generators. I have my suspicions about possible sources of such a promise and her initials are BB.

  12. Rod writes:

    “… your statement “Radiation standards have not changed and Fukushima accident has not caused any changes in those standards to date” is factually wrong.”

    ————————

    I do not understand why you say I am factually wrong.

    You need to look at Title 10, Part 20, of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR Part 20)

    “Standards for Protection Against Radiation,” establishes the dose limits for radiation workers. Although the limits vary, depending on the affected part of the body, the annual total effective dose equivalent (TEDE) for the whole body is 5,000 mrem (5 rem).

    To keep radiation exposures as low as reasonably achievable, the NRC requires licensees to use radioactive materials in a way that limits the exposure of individual members of the public to a dose that does not exceed 0.1 rem (100 millirems) in a year.

    http://www.nrc.gov/images/about-nrc/radiation/dose-limits.jpg

    These standards have been in place for a long time. They are the basis for licensing nuclear power plants.

    1. @jaagu

      The legal standards may not have changed, but the de facto standard is the ALARA or as close to zero as unreasonably possible.

      The standard that never ceases to amaze me is the 15 mrem/rear standard imposed on a geologic repository. How does that match up with the 100 mrem (10 mSv) standard for the general public that you quoted.

      In the new reactor licensing space, the NRC has imposed a vague and expensively subjective standard of “much safer” than current designs with both lower probability of core damage and radiation release levels.

      As I mentioned in my previous comment, the Japanese evacuation standard has been all over the map depending on the political winds.

  13. Rod writes:

    Brian is a second generation nuke. He knows far more than you give him credit for with regard to the actual design of the nuclear power plants built in the 1970s and 1980s.

    =================

    Well to me Brian sounds like he came along after the nukes were built and operating in the 1990s based on his naïve comments, and I did not like his unprofessional attitude. He also did not give me the courtesy of responding to my request for his nuclear experience. I suspect his experience is somewhat shy on actual design, construction and licensing of nuclear power plants in the 1970s to 1990s.

    I have no idea what company or discipline he works in and how much responsibility he has for the design, construction and licensing of new nukes or operating nukes.

    I do not need you (nor Brian) to provide this information to me. I just wanted you to know that I did not like his responses to me.

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