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New Nukes in the Southeast

At the time I write this, there are four new commercial nuclear reactors under construction in the United States. Two of those are at the Vogtle power station in Georgia and two are at the Summers power station in South Carolina. All four are Westinghouse AP1000 Generation III+ pressurized water reactors, constructions are being made thanks to the use of Gipskarton Plattenheber tools. The III+ designation indicates that the reactors include significant changes for safety and economics compared to previous designs.

Westinghouse Electric Company, which builds and operates nuclear power plants, is no longer an American-owned company. When the original Westinghouse company disappeared through mergers and acquisitions in the late 1990s, the nuclear operations were sold to British Nuclear Fuels Limited. BNFL is wholly owned by the UK government. In 2005, BNFL announced it planned to sell the Westinghouse operations as part of a radical restructuring, valuing Westinghouse at $1.8B. Toshiba bought the company for $5.4B and then sold a minority stake to other investors.

toshiba_stock

Toshiba share price from Google Finance

It’s been a rough last couple of years for Toshiba. Early in 2015 they admitted to improper accounting practices. As the details of that came out, the share price lost over half of its value. The price largely recovered in 2016 – until December. Toshiba announced that they would be taking additional large write-offs and the share price dropped 20% in a single day. A five-year history of the share price is shown to the left. Over the course of 2016, Toshiba wrote off more than $2B in value for its Westinghouse operation. Analysts in Tokyo have made guesstimates that the additional write-offs in the nuclear operations will be several billion dollars.

Southern Company, who will own the new Georgia reactors, has made a point that this time it’s not a standard cost-plus contract. The implication is that Southern Company and Georgia ratepayers won’t be on the hook for most of any cost overruns; presumably, the project managers and suppliers will be. Toshiba is now the prime contractor and manager for both projects, after the previous manager decided to get out the nuclear business and sold that portion of its operations to Toshiba. The Vogtle project is now three years behind schedule. Georgia Public Service Commission staff have expressed doubts that any of that time can be made up, noting a “significant negative variance” in schedule changes to date. Guesses about the likely size of future cost overruns are also in the range of billions of dollars.

At this point, I’ve set things up to be “Oh hell no, neither Georgia nor South Carolina are going to get those nukes. Toshiba – or at least the Westinghouse subsidiary – will fold and no one is willing to touch it.” Instead I’m going to predict that the projects will eventually be finished. The Vogtle financing has already made use of $4B in federal loan guarantees, with another $4B+ approved but unused. Georgia ratepayers have already paid $1.4B towards construction of the Vogtle plants. The phrase “too big too fail” comes to mind. The wrinkle, though, will be creating a new federal power marketing administration like the Tennessee Valley Authority or the Bonneville Power Authority.

The rapidly growing Southeast needs more electricity. Political pressures favor low-carbon sources, at least in my opinion. The Southeast is poor in renewable resources relative to the total power demands in the region. That adds up to nuclear, but the finances don’t look good. Many people believe that small modular reactors will make the finances much more manageable in the future, but we don’t know how to build those yet. In the meantime, the workable option appears to be for the federal government to step in, covering the (almost certainly) high up front costs of building and operating new nukes during the learning curve.


Image credits: Front page, South Carolina Office of Regulatory Service, Construction at the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station.


Staff Writer

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief. ...more →

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75 thoughts on “New Nukes in the Southeast

  1. “The Vogtle project is now three years behind schedule. Georgia Public Service Commission staff have expressed doubts that any of that time can be made up, noting a “significant negative variance” in schedule changes to date. ”

    I’ve never seen a program that far behind claw back time and deliver on schedule. I have seen programs be “re-defined” so that what was originally planned changed radically to what could be delivered, but I don’t think there’s that much to scrimp on on a nuke plant. This has shades of WPPSS.

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  2. Why has the schedule slipped so much? The churn in the ownership? Technology that didn’t quite work out how and when it was supposed to (e.g. EMALS on the Ford carriers)? Changing requirements from management and stakeholders? Just sheer incompetence? Just sheer graft? A bit of all the above?

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    • A bit of the above for sure (graft probably being the least of it, if at all).

      I would assume (having built conventional power plants that also ended in cost and schedule overruns) that the [in]ability to raise financing (even with Federal guarantees) is responsible for most of the in house schedule overruns, that is, excluding schedule overruns attributable to third parties, like permits litigation (*)

      (*) Though a realistic schedule should have considered the impact of permits’ litigation, and should have added that process in the schedule. But then, the project’s total construction schedule would be several years longer from the start, and the sponsor would likely lose the buy-in from the regulatory and utilities authorities. Hence, you create a schedule that assumes the permits would be granted by the environmental et al authorities in time, and that there will be no litigation associated with them.

      The “reasoning” being that, if the plant gets its environmental permits from the proper authorities, all litigation against it is by nature “frivolous” and the risk of those frivolous lawsuits should be borne by the ratepayer and not the project sponsor, who has fully complied with the law and has valid permits (**)

      (**) Which, btw, is an interpretation I do support. If the environmental agency followed the law in granting the permits, them the presumption should favor the project sponsor, and the construction should not be delayed by the judicial process. If, at the end, the environmental agency erred in granting the permits (unless graft is involved), then the agency should bear the costs and hold both the sponsor and the public harmless

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    • Various things, some big, some small. There were quality control problems at one of the major component suppliers. Some of the subcontractors didn’t understand the amount of step-by-step documentation required. Lots of cumulative small slippages on critical path tasks: a week here, two weeks there, and pretty soon you’ve lost a year.

      One eight-month delay came because of rebar, and the rules under which nuclear plants are built. A subcontractor didn’t understand that any deviation from the design has to be approved by the NRC. Or perhaps they understood, but thought they could get away with something. In either case, that subcontractor allowed workers to make substantial deviations in the rebar structure for the main pad, which didn’t come to light until the work was mostly done. So most on-site activity came to a halt while the NRC did its analysis of the modified rebar structure. The NRC approved the change, but took eight months to do so.

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      • Thanks for the reply. I’m not that surprised, other than I expect these type of things on some type of major maintenance and/or overhaul, instead of new construction. (I mean, how could the subs not understand that the OQE chain is essential – or rather, how could you hire subs that didn’t understand that) Seems like a lot of institutional knowledge has left the industry.

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        • “how could the subs not understand that the OQE chain is essential ”

          Well, the sub probably figured “everybody asks for that and it’s always bullshit, nobody really needs it or wants to see it afterwards, don’t waste time on it”. Or they figured “look they can’t possibly mean we have to document EVERYTHING, like right down to who took a crap that day and how big it was, we’ll just keep track of the important stuff”. Or they figured “we’re on the clock here, gotta finish this, git’r’dun, mas’allah, write all that shit up later”.

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  3. I still can’t see nuclear power (at least the large sized plants that we are talking about here) work without transferring the construction and operational risk to the public (be it ratepayers or taxpayers).

    I doubt you can receive any kind of private financing at all without a full recourse payment guarantee from a third party (the public) because the cost of anything going wrong (*) is so big that it would likely wipe out the generation corporate entity. Though property and machinery breakout ,as well as liability, can be bought, it would be capped at levels that would only cover relatively minor events. The tail, the large events, Fukushima like (and much less), are uninsurable.

    And we haven’t even started talking about who bears the cost of decommissioning the plant at the end of its useful life.

    Nuclear might have a place in the energy menu (I believe it doesn’t, but might be convinced otherwise). But if we are going to do it, then we have to do it eyes wide open. We need to acknowledge from the get go that the nuclear plant ownership risk cannot be transferred away from the public. Banks and reinsurers wont take it, and the shareholders’ exposure will be limited only to the equity invested. Making clear that from the beginning would ease the financing process and, at the very least, help minimize scheduling issues.

    The fiction that ratepayers and taxpayers wont be in the hook, and creating workarounds that bring the public back as payers of last resort through the back door (or even convincing lenders and insurers to go along via nod-nod-winkle-winkle “well, you know that, in the end, the Federal Government will step in if something happens”) is a big part of the delays’ root cause

    (*) even if we assume the chance of something going wrong to be minimal, the repair costs, and the liability compensations, can add very fast into the billions

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    • Nukes do have a place, but the PWR model was a weak design from the get go (for land based reactors). But we lost our collective appetite for vetting better designs, which is.

      That said, I’ll repeat question of why is this 3 years behind schedule?

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      • Fort St. Vrain in Colorado contributed to the loss of appetite. There was one design problem — but by the time they got that fixed properly, the owners had lost enough money they weren’t willing to go on. The HTGR design delivered all of the planned benefits relative to PWR designs — no meltdown risk, load following, higher thermal efficiency, much higher fuel burn-up. Contemporary materials would eliminate the water ingress problem that took so long to fix completely. After that, no one wanted to be first, and Reagan and Clinton took DOE out of the reactor research biz.

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    • Nuclear might have a place in the energy menu (I believe it doesn’t, but might be convinced otherwise).

      My position is that nukes had a place…in the 80s. We should have built plants *then*, and now’s the point where we’re slowly replacing them with solar and other sorts as they go offline.

      But no. Damn anti-nuke idiots have, quite possibly, destroyed the planet with global warming.

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      • Speaking as one of the “anti-nukes” (which I’m not. For instance, I have no concerns about the Navy’s nuclear plants. I didn’t worry about Cassandra’s RTG either), my concern has always been that, bluntly, they’re poorly designed for civilian use, there’s a history of corner cutting and “kick the can down the line” views on decommissioning and disposal, and they’re way too expensive to build and operate for private concerns — which leads to massive subsidies, tax breaks, and a lot of corner cutting on things like safety.

        And often a public holding the bag for the bill when things go bad.

        It’s not nuclear power I distrust. I distrust, by and large, the folks in America who want to build such power plants.

        The Navy’s nuclear power plants? I’m quite okay with…their incentives are much better, and their design is fitting to their use.

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        • The Navy’s nuclear power plants? I’m quite okay with…their incentives are much better, and their design is fitting to their use.

          This can’t be expressed strongly enough. PWRs (and all their variants) are just fine for ships precisely because a ship at sea has the ultimate fail safe should the reactor go critical.

          The only way such reactors are really safe for land based power is if it was in the middle of one of the Great Lakes or sufficiently off the coast that it could be considered to have a near endless supply of cooling water.

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          • It would probably also help if the people in charge of maintaining them lived in a little room a few dozen meters away from the reactor. Nothing prevents corner cutting like having a little skin in the game.

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            • Troublesome Frog:
              It would probably also help if the people in charge of maintaining them lived in a little room a few dozen meters away from the reactor.Nothing prevents corner cutting like having a little skin in the game.

              Oscar covered it, but the on site folks at TMI and especially Chernobyl had skin in the game (and the in the latter left it all on the field in many cases)

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        • Even the Navy has kicked the long-term disposal can down the road. Spent fuel goes into dry cask above ground storage at the Idaho National Lab. Reactor compartments are sealed, removed, and stored above ground at the Hanford site in Washington. The reactors don’t bother me much — it’s almost all activation materials with short half-lives, and there’s stuff at Hanford that’s lots worse that needs to be dealt with. Spent fuel is spent fuel — plans made 30+ years ago fell apart as the American West gained political clout.

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    • On decommissioning costs:

      Who here believes that the PSC will, starting the day that the plant is turned on, actually require the utility to build up a segregated multi-billion dollar trust fund to be used for decommissioning the plant, and hold the utility to that obligation without interruption for so long as the plant is in operation?

      And yet, if you aren’t building in the decommissioning cost from day 1, today’s rate-payers are getting a free ride at the expense of future rate-payers / tax payers.

      And on the gripping hand, how the hell do you price that cost? It would seem to me that even minor changes in the assumptions regarding the start date for decommissioning, the rate of return on the trust fund’s investments and the expected scope of the clean-up obligations would cause massive swings in the surtax to be levied each month.

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      • And on the gripping hand, how the hell do you price that cost? It would seem to me that even minor changes in the assumptions regarding the start date for decommissioning, the rate of return on the trust fund’s investments and the expected scope of the clean-up obligations would cause massive swings in the surtax to be levied each month.

        There are not enough fingers in the world to count the times I’ve heard this argument turn into “so, if we can’t know exactly what the cost is, let’s put zero for now. Zero cost is also possible, isn’t it?” (*)

        My argument that, even if you don’t know how much you will need, you need to budget -and price- something, tends to fall into deaf ears, because it just makes the deal more expensive.

        (*) I’m not kidding. C-suite executives have said this to me.

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        • “My argument that, even if you don’t know how much you will need, you need to budget -and price- something”

          Thing is, it’s always going to be possible to “butwhatabout” the cost estimates to insanity when one of your failure modes is Chernobyl. You underestimate the conservatism inspired by fear. I’ve seen someone watch a part take three tons in a proof test and say “but I’m still not sure it’s gonna hold up”.

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        • That represents a hole in human thinking that Vegas makes bank on.

          Where people simply can’t judge relative outcomes or properly prepare for worst cases — because when they define “worst case” they’re often describing a “middle case”. They end up planning for the “average case” as their worst-case contingency.

          It’s like disaster planning. “We plan on one thing going wrong, like the place flooding or losing power” instead of “If you’re flooding that bad, you probably won’t have power either. And also people won’t be able to get in for emergency repairs. Where’s your planning case for ‘No power, night staff only, limited to no communication, and knee deep water’?”

          “What are the odds of all that going wrong?” Well, what are the odds of a 100 year storm over the operating lifespan of this facility? THOSE are the odds. So like…..1/3? 1/4?

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          • We had a 1 in 10 shot of killing the entire world a few years back (and another significant chance of taking out the entire Eastern Seaboard).

            Sometimes, it’s not so fun listening to the folks who do disaster planning…

            And that’s just one stupid mistake. These ADD UP.

            Our average case for 2040 is more than a billion refugees (or that many dead, take your pick).

            You think America’s wall is going to be the first?

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          • It’s like disaster planning. “We plan on one thing going wrong, like the place flooding or losing power” instead of “If you’re flooding that bad, you probably won’t have power either. And also people won’t be able to get in for emergency repairs. Where’s your planning case for ‘No power, night staff only, limited to no communication, and knee deep water’?

            You want another Fukushima?! Because this is how you get another Fukushima!

            Sorry, had to…

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            • I did have that on my mind when coming up with the example, but in terms of experienced, successful planners — they’re people who have internalized that there is rarely one problem, one catastrophe, one issue — they cascade into each other.

              Failure (in the sense of ‘things breaking’) often begets failure, but the initial cause generally doesn’t break just the one thing either.

              It depends on the complexity of the “thing” of course. The more complex a system, the more the failure can spiral out of control and result in failure modes far beyond your worst case planning.

              (To use another example: Who would have thought that securitizing mostly American mortgages with no regulation or oversight could have locked up the world banking system and triggered the worst recession since WWII?)

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              • morat20,
                I could probably have predicted the mortgages causing severe global problems. (It’s a big industry, and derivatives made it worse)

                I could not have predicted Brexit doing the same, and yet, here we are.

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              • Good failure planning is how we keep airliners in the sky. It is rarely any one thing that crashes an airliner, but a set of failures all working together. Which is why crashes that are not clearly pilot error are rare, because getting that set of failures all working together has a low probability.

                With regard to Fukushima, I don’t fault the designers of the plant, because back then, the possibility of a massive earthquake and a massive tsunami hit the place on the same day was right up there with meteor strike. However, since then, we’ve learned much about earthquakes and tsunamis and their relationship to each other, and Fukushima should have been modified.

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                • Which drills down to, again, my problem with civilian plants.

                  It’s expensive to make safe and to keep them safe, and that makes them really non-competitive.

                  Frankly I’m fine with subsidizing nukes, as we need base-load generators.

                  However if we’re going to do that we should (1) rethink the basic design and (2) go ahead and turn it over to the Feds, because effectively the Feds are going to end up floating the loan to build it, on the hook for the bill if there’s a problem, and on the hook for decommissioning and disposal anyways.

                  In short, current civilian nuke designs are too expensive and generate too little profit, when everything is factored in, for private concerns.

                  We play a complex and funny game trying to deny that, but that’s the end result.

                  Perhaps PBR’s won’t be. Perhaps they will. But the designs we have? That’s well established.

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                • Re Fukushima I read at the time several risk and operations reports that were highly critical of the plant design, though I have forgotten the particulars.

                  Not having ever been to Japan I don’t know how present tsunamis are in the engineering consciousness (I would expect it to be a lot, given the etymology of the word), but I don’t see that the plant could have survived the tsunami, even without the earthquake, given that the diesel emergency generators were at ground level, and would have failed under any conceivable seawall failure condition.

                  I can tell you, though, that in Peru and Chile, coast based power plants (most thermal plants are in those countries in the coast, for cooling purposes, as well as because that’s where the load is) environmental licensing require to show that the facility will be safe in case of tsunamis. Apparently, Fukushima’s only tsunami risk mitigation was the 10 mt seawall. Which didn’t protect the plant from a 13 mt wave.

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                  • It’s also the case that, with Fukushima, leaving the plant scrammed would have stopped any release. The operators decided that they could do the checkouts with the plant operational because, after all, there were backups for everything.

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                  • IIRC (and it’s been awhile since I read about it), they had tanks of water above the cores that would last long enough to keep things cool until the pumps could be brought back online. Problem was, when the earthquake hit, the tanks failed and all that emergency water drained out, which was fine, because the pumps were still working, until the tsunami hit.

                    The pumps should have been elevated years ago, but it was easier & cheaper to keep them closer to the water and trust to the tanks.

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                    • Some of the tanks worked, but lasted a day or so, which was the design capacity, because it was assumed that repairing the diesel gens would not take longer than that (or bringing emergency gensets, same thing)

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                      • That sounds right.

                        Either way, the weakness was known, but the can was kicked down the road because fixing it was expensive, and the probability was still low that it would ever be an issue.

                        This is why I take issue with PBRs/PWRs – making them safe on land is hard. Making them safe at sea is less so. There are a number of better designs that are unlikely to ever be given a chance because people don’t understand physics.

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                        • That’s not the problem.

                          The problem is nuclear plants of ANY design are expensive. If you manage to scrape together the money, find a place, and are ready to build — you’re not going to gamble that kind of cash on an unproven design, even if the Feds said “Hey, no oversight, go wild!”.

                          You’ll stick to what’s known to work, what the designers have built before, what the experienced operators have operated before. What you have institutional experience with.

                          The only way around that knot is to let some other person spend the R&D money and take the risk OR get the government to foot the R&D bill. (But the latter is ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ and ‘strangles the free market’ unless it’s for military stuff. Then it’s totally okay).

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                          • But the latter is ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ and ‘strangles the free market’ unless it’s for military stuff. Then it’s totally okay

                            Well, that is how we got PWRs/PBRs.

                            Let’s not forget that even if hard line fiscal conservatives were OK with the government funding nuclear R&D (& I bet a lot of them would be, because energy policy is important for national security), the anti-nuke people would howl & gnash their teeth at anything that has to do with fission (only fusion is clean & pure & safe!).

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                              • How much? Off the top of my head, US federal current spending on fusion includes ITER, the spherical tokamak at Princeton, inertial confinement, and the z-machine. Headlines like “Korea to build fusion reactor” don’t talk about how much DOE support goes into Korea and Japan’s flagship efforts.

                                The world is seemingly full of folks like Lockheed Martin’s skunk works saying, “We can build a practical compact fusion reactor in ten years, we just need several billion dollars sans strings, and no, we won’t (can’t?) show you any detailed simulations about how we’ve solved the known problems with our design.”

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                                • Hell, tokamaks are starting to become status symbols at universities that want to advertise serious high energy physics research, I can think of a half dozen just off the top of my head.

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                                  • I would be curious to know how many of them that have enough size and/or unusual features to be likely to produce useful insights leading to commercial fusion power are funded without federal dollars.

                                    I admit that I’d be happy to fund simple small known-design tokamaks for engineering departments that said “We’re not going to contribute to ignition or positive net energy or any of that stuff. We’re going to pump energy in and create a dense enough neutron flux to do year-or-two long sustained tests on the impacts on a variety of materials.” (Which is where I suspect that commercial fusion is going to fail.)

                                    I’d even fund Lockheed Martin on my terms: a billion a year for ten years; at the end of each year you report to my experts under NDA and they tell me if significant progress was made; no progress for two years in a row, no more funding; I get the intellectual property; you get a tenth-cent for every kilowatt-hour produced commercially.

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                                    • I think there are only two major labs playing with ignition, ITER and the European one (whose name escapes me). The rest are more about playing with plasma, confinement, and materials (which are all vital areas to explore, but are not research paths exploring sustainable net power production).

                                      As I’ve said before, fusion is a star in a bottle, it is ‘clean’, but safe is a very relative term.

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                                      • Oscar,
                                        We have twenty years before we’re dealing with probably around 2 billion refugees, and not enough food to feed the majority of Americans, let alone the rest of the world.

                                        In that case, what’s safety again? Perhaps a few hundred thousand lives lost isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things.

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                            • The anti-nuke people are, bluntly, a red herring.

                              Because as it stands now they have a point (which both of us agree on! The designs are awful, the costs are excessive, safety margins are cut, and the planning is pretty subpar).

                              And if they’re so numerous and powerful that they can block research into new designs at all, then nuclear power is dead and we should be looking into something else anyways.

                              That’s the long and short of it. Anti-nuke folks are, bluntly, pretty much ignored unless they’re also NIMBY’s — and NIMBY’s kill everything, we can agree.

                              Their biggest successes in the US have been to shut down already aging and problematic plans (plants up for renewal after hitting their design lifespan). They’ve basically managed nothing else except being a useful target for blame.

                              Again, the problem comes down to expense and the fact that, as free-market, red-blooded, Americans we can’t admit that nuclear power should be a government only game — and that the private sector only plays at it because the government subsidizes the snot out of it in a dozen different ways — all for what are, in the end, pretty crappy profit margins anyways.

                              Regulations, NIMBY, anti-nuke protesters — all of that is distractions from the simple fact that nuclear plants of ANY design are ridiculously expensive to build, operate, and decommission and that even with government intervention they’re rarely worth anyone’s time even if they’d be an awesome solution to certain problems.

                              You want nuclear plants? Better nuclear plants, with more sensible designs? Break the notion that nuclear power is going to come out of the bloody teeth and claws of the free market.

                              There’s a reason China’s the one playing with new designs and not us.

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                              • Part of the expense in the US is the cost to assuage fears that were overblown decades ago and the anti-nuke folks continue to stoke.

                                People don’t bat an eye at a nearby nuclear missile silo, or nuclear powered naval ships, but freak out over a nuclear power plant.

                                Still, you are right, that is the reality we have, and thus China plays with safer designs, and we continue to dig coal like some third world back water trying to modernize.

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                                • Normally nuclear silos are in the middle of nowhere to keep them hidden from domestic and international snoops, and Navy vessels are, most of the time, in the sea.

                                  Every single nuclear power plant i know of (not that many) in is the middle of heavily developed land.

                                  People around matter, or NIMBY, take your pick, but one of these things is not just like the other two.

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                                    • Pretty much. All the pussyfooting around just makes it more expensive, more of a kludge, and less likely to actually be built at all.

                                      And yet you still have people sneering about green energy subsidies like they’re the only energy source in America that’s not subsidized up the whazoo. :)

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                                      • And we can soon add coal to the list. You know, those mines are not going to open by themselves.

                                        I was looking today at fuel prices in the 4Q2016 and current month. Coal was the only fuel whose price did not go up this winter. On an energy content basis is significantly cheaper than gas, but the much better efficiencies of gas plants makes it still totally uncompetitive. And this is pricing only, taking no consideration whatsoever about emissions.

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                                        • I was reading something about WY legislators pushing a bill to require that WY state utilities only buy power from coal burning plants. If that ain’t a subsidy…

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                                          • Which is just silly. The vast majority of Wyoming coal isn’t burned at plants that deliver to Wyoming utilities, it’s burned much farther east at plants that serve the Eastern Interconnect, or burned in Wyoming to produce electricity consumed by other states. Also, starting in a few years the big money from wind-generated electricity in Wyoming will be selling it to California over the Transwest Express HVDC link.

                                            If/when the SE nukes come online, the operators get a production credit between 1.8 and 2.1 cents per kWh for the first eight years. The statute originally said it only applied to new nukes that came online before the end of 2020, but the time limit was dropped once it was clear how unlikely it was that any plants would meet that, and now it’s the first 6,000 MWe of new nukes online.

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                                            • Which is just silly. The vast majority of Wyoming coal isn’t burned at plants that deliver to Wyoming utilities, it’s burned much farther east at plants that serve the Eastern Interconnect, or burned in Wyoming to produce electricity consumed by other states. Also, starting in a few years the big money from wind-generated electricity in Wyoming will be selling it to California over the Transwest Express HVDC link.

                                              So true. You would think everybody involved in energy policy should understand this.

                                              But then, just last week I read a bit of a novel in which terrorists blew up transmission pylons in Nebraska because they were mad about wind power being sold in the East Coast. As if the electrons (*) knew about state borders. Lame terrorists, you say? I agree.

                                              (*) I know, I know, not electrons, Poynting Vector. I’m aware the electrons don’t travel (**), just oscillate around.

                                              (**) in AC

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                                            • Dangit, won’t let me edit:

                                              “That’s NOT pure spite there — that’s just plain old subsidies”.

                                              Rather dumb ones, given coal mines — like everything else — function with a fraction of the labor force these days.

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  4. It is interesting that the only places building new nuclear power plants still have a vertically integrated electric power industry, where the power company is by law assured of making x% of its base capital in profit every year, i.e. they can cram the cost of the nuclear power down the throat of the customers. In states where the power industry is no longer vertically integrated, nuclear can’t sell. In these states you buy your power from a electric retailer (distribution service is provided by a regulated utility including meter reading etc). That retailer buys its power from generation providers. Now if you are a retailer would you sign up for a pig in a poke nuclear power plant where you really have no idea when it will come on line?(All be it you can probably get a price guarantee as part of the contract for several years after the plant comes on line). Or would you take a natural gas plant that can be built in 3 years with none of the permitting hassle of a nuclear plant.
    Now as a generation provider if you can’t make power contracts with retailers, you can’t get the project financed so no project. Thus in one sense the Enron model has come back to bite the nuclear industry in the behind with alligator sized jaws.

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