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6 Comments

  1. The biggest obstacles, as I see it, to large-scale fission base load expansion are the absurd cost estimates that are now being published by (among others) Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy that project the cost of standardized next-generation GW scale reactors at between $5000 & $8000 per kW capacity. Originally, 2-3 years ago, cost estimates for the AP1000 (Duke’s choice) ran between $2-3000 per kW. What has occurred in the interim to raise those projected costs?

    These reactors are slated to go on-line by 2017-2020 so we won’t even be talking about any FOAKE at this point. At least four AP1000 will presumably be up and running in the PRC at that point (estimated between 2013 for the 1st unit to 2015 for remaining 3). Toshiba’s Westinghouse reportedly secured a $5.3 billion order from China National Nuclear for the 4 reactors in December of 2007. I assume this is the major manufactured component cost of an AP1000 (inc the RPV & the steam generators) adding up to a FOAKE cost of less than $1.5 billion per reactor. Again, why are US cost estimates so much higher? Is it simply a matter of the site work?

    Even an on-site workforce of 2,000 skilled US engineers and union craft workers earning an average $100k/yr over a four-year construction time-period would add less than $1 billion to the cost of each reactor. So where do these estimates of $5 billion + per GW reactor come from? Stranded capital? The cost of capital is and will remain cheap as the Fed will flood the economy will cheap debt for the foreseeable future and electric utilities are just about the most secure risk out there with a guaranteed rate base and pool of customers. To your knowledge has a detailed cost breakdown been published justifying these new balooned cost projections?

    I understand you have been working on a HTGR modular design, what is your projected cost estimate for a kW of installed capacity? The Hyperion Power Module (perhaps a podcast program on it in the future?) apparently based on the TRIGA design supposedly will cost $25 to $30 million each, or only about $1,200 per kW(e) — and they are essentially “disposable” reactors.

  2. Aaron – complicated question. Here are a few thoughts to chew on rather than answers.

    1. A major portion of any nuclear power plant construction project is the cost of labor. Chinese labor at all levels is far cheaper than US labor.

    2. Another major portion of any nuclear power project is the cost of the engineering staff required to keep the regulators appeased during the project. That will also be easier in China where the regulators actually WANT the plant to be be built economically. After all, they are not only employed by the plant owner, the Chinese government, but they also answer to a government that has no doubts about the wisdom of moving forward with nuclear power. Our democratic government, for all of its strengths, has the project delaying weakness that contains strong voices that are SURE that expanding nuclear power is not in their own best interests. (Oil, coal, gas, wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal advocates and their associates.)

    3. When evaluating the cost projections, understand that there is little motivation for undershooting or for selling the project at a price lower than the customer is willing to pay. Also understand that the cost recovery mechanisms in the monopoly electric utility industry do not encourage the utility to pay the lowest possible price.

    WRT the Adams Engine cost projections, that is kind of complicated. We believe that our system cost will be closer to the cost of a natural gas fired turbine system when the fuel delivery system capital cost is included in the system cost. We think that is a fair comparison since our system includes fuel and the delivery infrastructure.

    WRT Hyperion – remember, the cost projections supplied by that company are only the heat module cost, not the power plant system costs. If you want to compare those costs to those publicized for FPL and Duke, you would have to add the balance of plant costs.

  3. @Aaron – one more thing – the expected peak employment for US reactor projects seems to be a bit higher than your estimate of 2000, and I expect that you will have a hard time building a skilled labor force with an average employment cost of $100K when you include the entire team. You cannot count just the salaries, but all of the fringe benefits, travel costs, insurance, taxes, etc.

  4. OFF TOPIC

    hello Rod,

    Im trying to find more about the idea of convertion of conventional thermal power plants to nuclear that you have talked about in several shows,

    can you give the URL of there i can find it

  5. Also to figure in is that the Chinese have just wrapped up the Three Gorges Dam and are building other infrastructure projects. China has more recent experience in major infrastructure work. Their higher higher rate of economic growth also gives big shares for all energy technologies (vs the US where our low growth rate makes for a near zero sum game).

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