Saturday, February 20, 2010

Earlier this week the PresBO entertained us with one of his traveling road shows at the site of what may eventually become a Nuclear Power plant, pledging over 8 Billion of China's dollars in loan guarantees. The power plant IF built and permitted would be the first Nuclear Power plant built in the US in almost 30 years. That's a big IF from a democrat and especially from one that has rabid environmentalists in his administration, especially within the EPA and its permitting arm. That very arm which has shown it is not afraid to shut down an industry because they just don't like it, just ask the Coal industry in West Virginia. Permitting a Nuclear Power plant is a 5 to 7 year process and you are NEVER guaranteed the permit no matter how much money you pour into the actual project. To say it's hard to get venture funding for something like that is an understatement.

But, there is a budding movement towards Nuclear in a slightly different direction. Here is a story that ran in the Wall Street Journal about very small Nuclear power plants designed for outputs on the smaller scale compared with the large size ones that were normal in this country in the way back, you know before the China Syndrome movie came out and ruined the industry. Ok, actually it was 3-Mile Island but who's to say that if that movie was not out when that happened it would have garnered the attention, especially with the oil embargo happening at the same time and gas prices shooting up out into space.

This new design is based on and built by the same company that has been building Nuclear Power reactors for the US Navy which as we all know has a sterling record in the Nuclear business. The small Nuke Plants could be sited in many places off limits today because of the size constraints and construction of large buildings. It would also make for quicker permitting given the same plant design could be used in many places.

And this is something that has always bothered me. I live within 10 miles of a Nuclear Power plant.

The company that owns and operates these two mammoth reactors owns two other power plants and get this, none of the plants are built with the same reactor plants. That's right, of the 6 reactors that this power company owns and operates they are of three different designs. Not much efficiency there, no redundancy, no sharing of personnel or being able to share parts.

I've always felt that the there should only be one reactor design licensed by the DOE and used in the nation's Nuclear power plants. The power company could put it in any kind of building they wanted and there would be different sitting issues that each power company would have to handle but the basic reactor plant would be the same from company to company, from power plant to power plant.

This design philosophy would allow for very simplified permitting since the government has to approve every pipe, valve, nut/bolt and wire installed in the reactor. The same reactor used across the country would allow for common pool of approved parts and large lot purchases would drive down their price. It would also mean one set of plans which if you know anything about the 3-mile Island incident you know was an issue.

It makes too much sense I guess and it would mean the government taking a leadership issue here and you know that's not going to happen anytime soon.

One can dream. This new format is a game changer and a move in that direction. Good on them. I hope it works and that our government gets on board and does not hold up permitting.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Rod Adams said...

@Jimmy T - I just attended a nuclear industry conference sponsored by Platts. The industry is moving forward with due haste and is encouraged by the President's clear statement of support. We should be clear that the loan guarantees are not gifts from the government; they are simply a co-signature that enables banks to feel relatively secure that WPPS and Shoreham type issues are way in the past. After a few successful projects, I expect that the need for the guarantee will disappear.

I am also a fan of the mPower, which also demonstrates why I firmly reject your idea that the government should pick a single design. There are way too many good ways to make use of fission to limit ourselves to just one design with one supply chain. There are at least three or four more good ideas that can be successful in a growing market. With smaller unit sizes, they will still be able to achieve some economies by sharing training facilities, parts lockers, etc. because it will require more plants to produce the same amount of power.

With regard to the strange coincidence that TMI happened while a scare movie like "The China Syndrome" was still playing, I sometimes get a sneaking suspicion that the timing was not as accidental as it may appear.

Buck said...

What I know about nuclear power I could put in my eye and it wouldn't hurt. That said, nukes make more sense to me than the solar or wind alternatives being flogged by the Greenies. Proven technology vs. unproven, and all that.

JimmyT said...

Rod, I can live with industry defining a small number of different reactor plants (just like the mPower) if they were going to start building them in large quantity (say more than 50). What I don't want to see is what we have now where a GE BWR in Limerick PA is so different than the GE BWR down in Peach Bottom, they should be nearly the same. Nuclear power promises to be the economic choice if the costs to operate and maintain them remains reasonable, which some of the older legacy reactor plants are not.

The lesson from the Navy is that all their reactor plants are nearly identical. And that has worked for a very long time.

Thanks for the comment, hope to see you here again.

BT: Jimmy T sends.