To briefly recap, we previously found that nuclear power construction costs in the US and around the world steadily increased from the late 1960s through the 1980s. In the US, this cost increase seems largely due to a large increase in labor costs, especially labor from expensive professionals. This labor cost increase, in turn, was at least partly due to frequently changing regulations during the period, which caused extensive design changes, delays, rework, and general coordination issues on in-progress plants. For instance, an analysis of cost overruns of the David-Besse power plant, which was budgeted at $136 million at the start of construction in 1967, and ultimately cost $650 million when completed in 1977, found that “
Great summary! I just finished my PhD on the construction cost for advanced nuclear projects. You accurately describe many of the problems these projects face in both Part I and Part II. From the megaproject scale and complexity to the high degree of regulatory oversight and indirect costs. However, I think you overstate the impact of regulation on the recent cost overruns. It is correct to say that the primary issues for Westinghouse at Voglte have been change orders, but they were mostly internally driven, not caused by changing regulation. Westinghouse had only completed a fraction of detailed design when they started construction, so there were hundreds of design changes from stud spacings to wall locations to penetrations to tank sizes. Each of these required license amendments, but the change was usually driven by a constructability challenge not a license amendment.
Fingers crossed the industry has learned a few things when going into the SMRs. Some designs approach of eliminating systems entirely seems the right way to keep costs under control. For example (following it as the first build will be near me by OPG) the BWRX-300 is eliminating the main core circulation pumps, which eliminates the backup and redundant backup pumps, and the drives and instrumentation associated with them, and pipes and valves and all the potential interferences those imply. Trading steel for whole systems seems to be a good approach.
Do that with a bunch of the other systems, and maybe we start to get to something manageable. We will have a workforce that has been doing a whole bunch of reactor refurbishments in the leadup to this as well so I take this project as one of the best chances for a reasonably under control FOAK new build.
Thanks for the deep dig. Having lived in Southern California most of my life I remember the fiasco of the botched revamp of the San Onofre plant. It’s not something that many remain aware of, even though it happened this century and must be a contender for biggest and most embarrassing construction failure of all-time. Any light you can shed on that would be much appreciated. As I recall the blame landed on inferior Chinese steel that corroded rapidly as soon as it went into use, forcing closure of the plant less than a year after the expensive re-model was finished. The tab is still being paid. Is it fair to consider this as evidence of industrial decline in the US? Do tell...
Maybe you could add a gross profit figure/evolution? Does profit scale with total cost? Are companies lobbying to increase safety or to build as fast as possible?
Once again a fantastic job. Thanks for the work. Looking forward to Part 3.
The ALARA discussion (here and in the previous article's comments) is most interesting. "As Low As Reasonably Achievable", where those who define "Reasonably Achievable" are not the ones doing the work, is a microcosm of our times. In our democratic system, irrational public fear easily gains the political upper hand, leading to potentially very bad policies.
Edit: Efforts at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons can also explain the economic failure of nuclear power. I vaguely remember a college professor saying that the Carter administration was extremely concerned about international proliferation of nuclear weapons. If the "normal" technology to produce electricity around the world were nuclear, nuclear materials and weapons would also become more common. Strangling the nuclear power industry was seen as the only way to prevent proliferation.
so, basically the whole thing is fubared and there's no point in trying to unfubar the situation.
the industry needs to figure out its own problems before it goes begging to the governments for perpetual public subsidies.
That may be it , but it’s hard to be certain. I think it may have been as much a case of false advertising and lack of domestic US sources. It’s still hard to fathom. The original stuff worked for 30+ years. This wasn’t a cheap apartment complex put up by a shady developer. Since this installment the article on US Navy nuclear power detailed the impressive quality control that is applied to their projects. San Onofre borders USMC Camp Pendleton. Pretty ironic.
Two stories come to mind, both from the 1970s.
Back then, I had a friend who worked on the first X-Ray telescope satellite. One day he was quite excitedly showing off a transistor. "You'll never see this again in your lifetime", he said. Did I mention that he was showing me a tin can transistor? Even in the 1970s, they were pretty common. "It's a failed MILSPEC transistor", he explained. He had never seen one before. He had never met anyone who had seen one before. He had been debugging some component of the satellite all night, and when he could find no other conceivable problem, he finally decided to test the transistor. Ignoring the markings, it looked just like any other transistor, but a MILSPEC, military specification, transistor was not just an ordinary transistor. It had been drawn from a traceable batch. It was overspecified for its job. It had been tested for thousands of hours at high and variable load. What else can I say? He was right. I've seen lots of transistors since then, but I've never seen a failed MILSPEC transistor again. (It obviously cost a whole LOT more than the transistors one got in ten packs at Radio Shack.)
There was an earthquake down in Mexico City, and a lot of supposedly earthquake resistant buildings had collapsed. I asked a friend of mine who had been an architect in Mexico City and was working on his M.Arch degree. He had worked, straight out of school, at a construction site in Mexico City. His job was accepting deliveries of concrete. Being straight out of school, he actually tested the contents of the arriving trucks. Some of them, he said, had perfectly good concrete in them, but an awful lot of them didn't pass the test. Their loads were watered down or otherwise substandard. Sometimes a truck contained just water and some rocks. He rejected a lot of them and was reprimanded. The suppliers had won the bids for supplying the concrete, but having paid off the right people, they had to accept the loads and hope for the best.
Quality and reliability can get expensive. If you may be fighting a war, building something that cannot be repaired or operating a potentially dangerous system, you may have to pay a premium to get something that works right when its abused or in the face of partial failure. All that expensive tracking and documentation is sometimes the only approach, and even all that is sometimes not enough. We've seen enough cases of forged documents, faked Xrays and bogus structural tests. Unfortunately, I don't know a much better way to do it.