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An artist's depiction of a series of the new reactors in a future deployment.  (Source: Westinghouse)
Construction on new designs should begin within weeks; ultra-safe Gen. III+ reactors could be live by 2016

When it comes to alternative energy, wind and solar power are nice ideas and certainly worthy of research, but they remain much more expensive than nuclear power.  Nuclear power, however, has suffered mightily under the misconceptions of a poorly informed public that mistakenly believes that modern reactors designs are as failure and toxic waste prone as legacy designs.  

Protests and lawsuits have blocked the construction and licensing of clean modern reactors, and then to add insult to injury critics tend to turn around and throw these cost overruns they created back at nuclear proponents, complaining that nuclear power is prone to "cost overruns".

I. NRC Approves First Gen. III+ Reactor Design

Well the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is doing its best to restore some sanity to the power market, making one of its biggest moves in recent years, unanimously approving [PDF] a new reactor design and setting in a new faster, streamlined approval process.

The new design is the AP1000 by Westinghouse Electric Comp. LLC (a licensee of Westinghouse Licensing Corp., which in turn is loosely a subsidiary of CBS Corp. (CBS)).  The AP1000 is a 1,154 MW "advanced" third generation reactor design (often dubbed Gen. III+).

Reactor design
A peek at the new modular design, which features a dramatically reduced footprint. 
[Image Source: Westinghouse]

It originally won NRC approval back in 2006, but then in 2008 the NRC implemented a series of strict regulations [source] requiring that reactors be designed to sustain a direct strike from a commercial (i.e. large cargo or passenger) aircraft.  The initial design, which included a concrete enclosed containment vessel, was deemed unsatisfactory as it could crack under the impact.

Westinghouse went back to the drawing board, adding a steel plate enclosure, which they argued would counteract the collision and keep the reactor safe.

II. Westinghouse Battled to Overcome Criticism

The refined design was resubmitted, but suffered an arduous approval process, thanks to attacks from several different sources.  One criticism came from John Ma, a senior structural engineer at the NRC.  In 2010 he filed a claim, arguing that Westinghouse was wrong in their safety assessment of the plant's steel structure.  

A 2011 Scientific American report describes:

Last year Ma, a member of the NRC since it was formed in 1974, filed the first "non-concurrence" dissent of his career after the NRC granted the design approval. In it Ma argues that some parts of the steel skin are so brittle that the "impact energy" from a plane strike or storm driven projectile could shatter the wall. A team of engineering experts hired by Westinghouse disagreed...

Passenger jet
The approval process of the new design stalled on concerns of whether it could sustain a direct hit from a passenger/commercial jet hijacked by terrorists. [Image Source: Sukhoi]

The approval process was also slowed by a complaint from a coalition of environmental activists who argued [PDF] that the approval should be delayed indefinitely to assess the:

...ongoing catastrophic accident in Fukushima, Japan, and decides what “lessons learned” must be incorporated into the AP1000 design and operational procedures to ensure that they do not pose an undue risk to public health and safety or unacceptable environmental risks.

These environmentalists essentially admit that they have poorly researched the topic, writing:

It is apparent that while little is known definitively about the cause and impacts of what occurred at Fukushima, many aspects of the accident have grave consequences for U.S. nuclear plants, including the AP1000 reactors.

This, of course, is patently false.  Anyone who's been following the story and has marginal ability to comprehend and digest facts realizes that the Fukushima disaster showed that:
  1. Even a relatively poor legacy design can withstand the brunt of an earthquake unscathed.
  2. The disaster was caused by the loss of power that prevented the safeguards from shutting down the reactor, leading to a buildup in pressure that cracked the containment vessel.
  3. Lesson learned: any reactor in a region where there's a flood or tsunami risk should not only waterproof their backup generators, but should also contain backup modular cabling, in case the line is severed during a dual event (e.g. an earthquake+tsunami).
Furthermore, this complaint seems particularly silly given that the AP1000 is designed to be able to go through a powerless shut down, in the case of a power loss.

Fukushima workers
"Environmental" activists complained that the AP1000 could create the next generation Fukushima.  Apparently they didn't get the memo about its capability to passsively shut down. [Daisuke Tomita/AP]

The NRC, however, dismissed these criticisms, saying comprehensive testing showed the reactor to be safe.  Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the NRC, commented, "The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive material."

III. The Cheapest Form of Alternative Energy Available?

The approval puts the U.S. on the fast track to catching up with China, who is already deploying four of the cheap, safe AP1000 reactors.  The first of those reactors is slotted to go online in 2013.  The government-owned Chinese National Nuclear Corp oversees the Chinese deployment.  

Chinese plant construction
China has a three year lead on the U.S. in constructing the affordable and safe new design. [Image Source: Westinghouse]

The Chinese deployment gives some insight into the promising economics of the AP1000.  China paid $8B USD to Westinghouse and The Shaw Group (SHAW) to build the four reactors, indicating an average cost of around $2B USD per reactor.  Given an average life of 60 years [source] and a power output of around 1000 MW, the plants could each generate around 525.95 billion kWh over their lifetime.

This works out to about $0.0038 USD/kWh.  Even factoring in the typical cost of operation (around $0.01 USD/kWh) and fuel (around $0.0035 USD/kWh) [source], the generated power should cost about $0.02 USD/kWh, making it likely cheaper than coal.  Even assuming the cost of the plant doubles due to overruns, that would still place it at $0.0265 USD/kWh -- still cheaper than coal power.

IV. The Issue of the Waste

Of course this simplistic analysis neglects the important cost of waste disposal.  But even so, modular nuclear is expected to be substantially cheaper than other alternative energy options.  For example, waste disposal would likely have to increase the cost of the plant by nearly a factor of ten for wind power in its very cheapest regions (around $0.0675 USD/kWh in regions where wind is plentiful) to hope to keep up.  While waste costs are the subject of controversy and debate, it seems unlikely they will be that extravagant.  Thus modular nuclear power is likely the cheapest viable form of alternative energy.

And that's not even considering the important tertiary benefits -- a nuclear power source has none of the availability issues surrounding the intermittent nature of wind and solar.

The low costs are owed to the reactor's modular design, which allows the reactor to be assembled piece-wise using mass-producible parts.  It take 300 modules to build a reactor and the construction time is a relatively precise 36 months.  Thus costs are far lower than the "custom-built" reactors of yore.

Modular construction
The modular design cuts down on both plant design time and costs.
[Image Source: Westinghouse]

It's important not to sugarcoat the topic of waste.  There is waste.  And it's still an important downside, financially in terms of requiring safe storage.  That said, the new design is substantially "cleaner" than legacy reactors.

Annually it produces around 141 m3 of low-level dry waste, which can be compacted [source; PDF] to about 30-40 m3.  This isn't that drastic an improvement over legacy designs, but the real improvement comes in the reductions to low level liquid waste.  A typical 1950s-1960s era CANDU reactor produces around 250 m3 of liquid waste [source; PDF], where as the AP1000 only produces 21.6 m3.  Both the wet and dry waste can be safe stored in tanks on site, with 95 percent of the radioactive material decaying within 100 years and almost complete decay within 500 years [source].

The high-level spent fuel waste is produced in a quantity of 1 and 1/3 spent fuel multi-purpose canister (MPC) per year, with 264 fuel rods per MPC.  The entire high-level waste MPC output weighs 64.4 tons, of which 19.6 tons is spent fuel [source; PDF].  That puts the AP1000 at about the average cost [source] in terms of spent fuel.

But given the low cost of construction, utilities could conveniently deploy rebreeding reactors or other waste-reduction alternatives alongside a fleet of AP1000s to reduce the storage costs and space requirements, all while producing extra power.

V. AP1000 is Vastly Safer Than Past Designs

Aside from its passive shutdown capable design -- capable of powerless shutdown -- the AP1000 is also safer in other ways, as well.

It uses:
  • 50% fewer safety-related valves
  • 35% fewer pumps
  • 80% less safety related piping
  • 85% less control cable
  • 45% less seismic building volume

Less parts means less points of failure.  The AP1000 accomplishes this reduction by relying more on forces such as gravity and natural heat convection.

The building's seismic footprint is also reduced by the compact, modular design.  The NRC uses a measure "core damage frequency" (CDF) per year.  You may recall in the wake of Fukushima, the stink raised by an anti-nuclear activist editor at MSNBC 
 regarding supposed dangers of earthquake, given the NRC's requirement of only a 1x10-4 CDF annual frequency (which means that 1 event would happen per one hundred plants, every one hundred years, on average).

Well such critics can sleep soundly as the AP1000 features an impressively low 5x10-7 rate.  That means even with 450 plants -- more than enough to fulfill the U.S.'s 446 GW power demands -- there'd only be one seismic damage event every 22,000+ years, on average.

VI. U.S. is Now Only Three Years Behind China

Perhaps the phenomenal safety is why the NRC decided to wave the traditional 30-day waiting period before making the approval official.  That means applications for new construction will begin to be stamped for approval within a week possibly, with the first stages of construction set soon after.

Another benefit of the modular AP1000 is that the approved design qualifies for both a construction and an operating license.  In the past, given the custom nature of designs, a power company would have to seek these two licenses separately, which cost time and money.

The new approach is designed to prevent cost overruns.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the slow licensing process creating some cost overruns so huge that reactors were abandoned half finished.

The U.S.'s first planned AP1000s will be a pair housed at Southern Company's pre-existing plant Augusta, Ga., and another two housed at the Summer plant of South Carolina Electric and Gas in Fairfield County, S.C.

Control room
The new nuclear reactors will create high-paying controller jobs for qualified individuals -- Homer Simpsons need not apply. [Image Source: Westinghouse]

The new reactors could be online as early as 2016 -- just three years after China's first AP1000s.

No new reactor has been constructed in the U.S. since 1996.

Westinghouse cheered the move saying that the construction would create about 3,000 high paying jobs at each site, along with a smaller number of permanent jobs for new plant operators and engineers.

Obama at nuclear plant
President Obama, shown here promoting nuclear energy in 2010 has gotten a bit shy about discussing his support for nuclear power, afraid it will hurt his reelection bid. 
[Image Source: Inhabitat]

Congress has offered $18.5B USD in loan guarantees for new nuclear.  And President Barack Obama has offered his vocal support for new nuclear construction, although he has kept quiet on the topic of late, afraid of offending his voting base, which contains a large radical anti-nuclear "environmentalist" base.

Source: NRC [PDF]

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Bad cost analysis
By Talcite on 12/23/2011 7:45:34 PM , Rating: 1
The cost analysis assumes that the 2B per reactor cost is attainable in the US.

It's not.

Wages, equipment, and material costs are much higher here. There's also much more legal oversight and regulation. It just takes one person to start a lawsuit (and they will) and the projected cost will easily go up 10%.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By lucyfek on 12/23/11, Rating: -1
RE: Bad cost analysis
By JasonMick (blog) on 12/23/2011 8:15:41 PM , Rating: 4
I would add the cost of indefinite storage of nuclear waste (it seems that so far it's been - conveniently - swept under the carpet/into on site pools until cleanup crew (and taxpayer) will take over decommissioned site).

Well be aware that roughly three quarters of waste is low level waste in terms of radioactivity and will be 95 percent decomposed within 100 years, so the long term costs of cleanup/decommissioning are often overstated.

As for quarter that's high level radioactivity, if the AP1000 was mass produced on say a 1000 unit scale worldwide, it might become affordable enough to reprocess and reuse the spent uranium, eliminating the majority of the highly toxic waste.

You can do that currently, the only issue is it's prohibitively expensive to devote a reactor to it, because of the high cost of reactors combined with the fact that you won't get as much energy out of the mostly spent fuel, obviously, as it's less radioactive than standard fuel.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By drycrust3 on 12/24/2011 4:50:48 AM , Rating: 1
low level waste in terms of radioactivity and will be 95 percent decomposed within 100 years

My understanding is that radioactive decay is different from biological decomposition. For example, if you have something that contains radioactive material with a half life of 100 years, and that thing underwent total biological decomposition, so it looked like a pile of mud, the radioactive elements that were in the original material would still be in the mud, and would still have a half life of 100 years.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By bodar on 12/24/2011 7:36:06 AM , Rating: 5
It's clearly stated in Jason's source:

About 95 percent decays to background levels within 100 years or less....Although the classification of waste can be complex, Class A waste generally contains lower concentrations of long half-lived radioactive material than Class B and C wastes.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By toyotabedzrock on 12/29/2011 4:31:11 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Bad cost analysis
By kyp275 on 12/24/2011 2:57:39 PM , Rating: 3
that, and I'm pretty sure reprocessing spent fuel is currently banned in the US

RE: Bad cost analysis
By Gondor on 12/24/2011 3:50:45 PM , Rating: 4
And besides, where do these environazis think the nuclear fuel is coming from, Mars ? No, it was dug from Earth's crust. Leftover radioactive waste ? Put it where you found it - miles under the surface.

In Star Trek they had "Radioactive Garbage Scows" which were basically large dumpster-spaceship-UAVs, blasted off towards the nearest star. 100% pure recycling, but those environazi idiots the article mentions can't put 2 and 2 together.

The material Earth is made of came from a star and will eventually return to one.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By DockScience on 12/23/2011 11:57:53 PM , Rating: 5

Every US nuclear power plant has, for years, been paying a special tax to fund a nuclear waste depository.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By V-Money on 12/24/2011 2:11:08 PM , Rating: 5
Some quick clarifications to help put radiation exposure into an easier to understand perspective. First off, as for the 'radiation' being released, you can quickly read this article where it shows that
In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.
If you look at you can see that we utilize coal for more than 3x our power needs relative to nuclear. In the original article it talks about how the max amount of exposure from coal plants was 1.9mrem/yr (which is higher than you would receive from nuclear plants.) Since these numbers don't mean anything to you unless you've researched them, I'll clarify what they mean. In my six years working on submarines as a nuclear electrician within a very close proximity of a live nuclear reactor I received a total exposure of 283mrem. The Master Chief I worked with who spent 18.5 years on submarines as a nuclear chemist had a total exposure of 1374mrem.

Exposure has 2 different types of effects, stochastic and deterministic. Deterministic means that a given dose will damage biological tissue. The most sensitive part of your body is your eyes and it takes ~15Rem (15,000 mrem) of direct, short term exposure to damage them. The rest of your body (i.e. organs, skin, etc...) takes ~50Rem (50,000 mrem) of direct short term exposure to damage. Now stochastic effects have no direct limit per se, it is more of a generalization where the higher the radiation you receive, the higher the chances of a reaction (i.e. cancer). So more radiation in larger doses in a short period of time will increase the likelihood of something happening, but there is no threshold and it only increases your chances. To put this in a better perspective,
the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.

So the amount you actually receive from nuclear power is very small in comparison. Also, for those who are still against nuclear power and screaming "Fukushima" and "Chernobyl", the first was a 40+ year old design and the second was a poor design from a containment perspective because it was designed to be able to refuel while it was still live. With that said, Chernobyl is still running to this day and the same design of nuclear plant (RBMK-1000) is running in Cuba. People like you who stop the progression of newer, safer plant designs or prevent us from reprocessing fuel accomplish nothing but the production of excess nuclear waste, use of more resources, higher costs, and less safe designs, I hope you're proud for making a difference.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By Lugaidster on 12/24/2011 11:02:37 PM , Rating: 3
A small clarification. Cuba has no working nuclear reactor. They started the construction of one but that got suspended as soon as the USSR fell.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By V-Money on 12/25/2011 10:36:31 PM , Rating: 2
Not really a clarification, more of a correction. In any case you failed my test to see if people actually researched anything because they never attempted to build a rbmk-1000 type reactor, they were going to build 2 type VVER-440 V318 reactors.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By michaelklachko on 12/25/2011 5:00:12 PM , Rating: 3
Another clarification - Chernobyl was completely shut down for good in 2000.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By V-Money on 12/25/2011 10:50:09 PM , Rating: 3
Again, not a clarification, another correction. Chernobyl had 4 plants (and 2 more being built that were scrapped after the accident). Plant #4 was the one everyone knows about and was decommissioned in '86, #2 suffered a major fire in '91 and was shut down, it was officially decommissioned in '96 with plant #1. Plant #3 was decommissioned in 2000.

I just wanted to see if somebody would recognize this and point out it was incorrect, or do some actual research and also mention that there are still 11 rbmk reactors still in use in Russia, 4 in Leningrad, 4 in Kursk, and 3 in Smolensk. FYI, the previous sentence would be considered a clarification. Merry Christmas :-)

RE: Bad cost analysis
By ClownPuncher on 12/27/2011 2:25:54 PM , Rating: 2
Clarification = Chernobyl isn't in Russia.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By JasonMick (blog) on 12/23/2011 8:03:29 PM , Rating: 4
The cost analysis assumes that the 2B per reactor cost is attainable in the US.

It's not.

I notice you didn't provide a full cost estimate yourself. ;)

I just meant the Chinese construction cost figures to be used as a benchmark, not as an absolute guide to how much construction will cost in the U.S. As far as the construction phase goes, the majority of costs are in the materials themselves and in the cost of foreign expert engineers, which won't likely change that much between the U.S. and China.

You can hire construction workers for <$70k a year in todays economy, certainly, so 3,000 workers x 70k/worker/yr x 3 yr. = $630M.... so maybe you might tack on an additional $200M-$400M in costs v. China.

But the cost would still be in the ballpark of $2B USD, as far as construction goes... that was my point.

Granted you raise a good point about lawsuits, but that all boils down to how much BS the federal and state courts system is willing to put up with. They could easily just reject such lawsuits as lacking merit, and then there wouldn't be any extra costs.

The take home message is that the modular approach allows for much lower costs and faster construction, reducing the risk of investment for a utility.

I'm not go to quibble with you about hypothetical scenarios, but I think we can both agree that the take home message is correct, right?

RE: Bad cost analysis
By nocturne_81 on 12/24/2011 3:23:34 AM , Rating: 3
Everyone seems to be negating how construction projects actually work here in the US..

First, planning.. Countless commissions and public advocates have the chance to make their complaints, meanwhile costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceedings costs.. Then, the actual split of the work from the major contract holder into several dozen subcontractors (or several hundred, when dealing with a project the size of a reactor). Months (or often years) then go by while all the miscellaneous hearings are made and permits are doled out. Then, actual construction begins, which is constantly overseen by government regulators -- everything down to the slump of poured concrete is tightly overseen and regulated. Not to mention, a Union laborer may be lucky enough to get prevailing wage of $35-50 an hour (not that common anymore), but -- their (sub)contractor is likely to be charging their parent (sub)contractor $50 an hour for a worker they pay $35 an hour, an occurrence that continues all the way to the top of the ladder, adding 15-30% to the costs at every rung you move upwards.

A project that may cost $2B in China, could easily cost well over $10B here.. not to mention any reactor will take several years in planning and hearings, and just as long to actually construct -- it'll be well over 3-5 years before any of these reactors start construction, not the ridiculous '2 weeks' quoted in this article.

But, as much as it seems to be wrapped up in red-tape -- it's entirely necessary.. First, of course, you have the 'free-market' principles that the majority of the professionals on this site tend to advocate, which is mostly responsible for incredible cost overruns (which you guys also claim is what makes this country so great). And then.. you have the actual government regulators, who ensure I can continue to make sure that I can drink my tap water without glowing in the dark.

Of course, those are just the facts.. I'm no naysayer -- the only way out of our current energy crisis is simply nuclear power. Green energy is great and all, but is still in it's infancy and highly inefficient (when considering cost of investment). Thankfully, as more and more of the cold-war 'relics' die off, public opinion has been swaying in a much more reasonable direction.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By maws13 on 12/24/2011 1:08:16 PM , Rating: 2
Due to the nature of Combined Operating Licenses it is very possible that construction will indeed begin in the stated two weeks. The opportunity for anyone to raise objections (lawsuits) to the plant design has passed. With an early site permit in hand, there should be very few obstacles to building these new plants in a timely manner.
The link below shows that construction has in fact already begun at one of Southern's sites. Southern went so far as to file for a waiver for the 30 day waiting period which we can tell was granted from Jason's article.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By ameriman on 12/25/2011 10:58:21 PM , Rating: 3
Govt backed loans are necessary for Nuclear Reactor construction because corrupt/irrational Govt/legal actions have pointlessly aborted or endlessly delayed dozens of Nuclear Reactor construction projects... wasting hundreds of $billions...

More cost overruns are from the hundreds of pointless, inane/stupid, counter-productive Govt regulations..
These mindless legacy regulations and regulators have prevented important improvements in US Reactor safety... locked us into Fed Govt approved 1950s designs... delayed improvements for decades.

Meanwhile, since liberals have blocked clean, safe, cheap US Nuclear energy (which has never killed a single American civilian), we were forced to coal plants whose particulate and other pollution kills over 30,000 Americans per year.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 9:08:21 AM , Rating: 2
There is no way any plant will be produced for 2B in the US. Regulatory costs will be higher, labor costs will be higher, and land acquisition costs will be higher. A thoughtful analysis might have compared the costs of a coal fired plant in the US versus a similar coal fired plant in China to determine some sort of rough cost multiplier.

The US has a federal system, with a lot of power devolved to the states and localities. Even if the NRC streamlined federal approval that would not streamline state approval. States and localities have the ability to block/delay power plant sites, righfully so if you believe in a federal government model. In China the central government says "The plant goes here, sorry if you don't like it." then builds the plant. That lowers costs considerably.

Your entire costs analysis is based on a hypothetical, since they haven't even built any plants with this design, cost for a nation with an entirely different cost structure than the US. And even those costs were lowballed, since the first pair of reactors are estimated to cost nearly 3B a piece.

The problem is you just pull numbers out of the air. Like your estimate for labor costs. You assume average labor costs of 70K for 3000 workers for 3 years. How do you come up with these numbers? The Sanmen reactors will have taken 4 years to reach commercial operation IF everything goes well. Average total hourly compensation costs for non-residential construction workers is north of 40/hr, 80K per year is a better guesstimate. But even that is a guess because neither one of us knows the mix of skills needed to build such a plant.

The nuclear power industry has historically been over sold. Anyone old enough has probably heard the term "too cheap to meter." But they still do.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 12/23/2011 8:12:24 PM , Rating: 5
2B is perfectly attainable in the US, you just need the NRC to kill the local's ability to file baseless lawsuits against any AP1000 reactors. Since the design is standard and mass produced they should be able to obtain a quick and concrete approval and naysayers can sit down and STFU. Previously the custom nature of each plant design left plenty of holes for analysis of the design vs area it was being placed. This is really no different now than operating a 747 from an airport, either your runways and terminals can handle them or they can't, no need to sue everytime someone tries to park one there.

Really this will come down to the NRC, the courts and the states to bring the hammer down on bullshit lawsuits. They are shuttering older coal plants across the country to reduce pollution and nuclear is going to have to step in and keep energy prices low. Combined with the big push for electric vehicles your option is nuclear. It's time for the government to take away some of the freedoms to sue over anything and everything, it is screwing this country over and will end up as the death of this country if we allow it to continue.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By nocturne_81 on 12/24/11, Rating: -1
RE: Bad cost analysis
By someguy123 on 12/24/2011 4:47:23 AM , Rating: 2
I think you misread his post. He said the NRC should be blocking nuisance lawsuits, not that the NRC are themselves a nuisance.

RE: Bad cost analysis
By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 11:51:44 AM , Rating: 2
2B is perfectly attainable in the US, you just need the NRC to kill the local's ability to file baseless lawsuits against any AP1000 reactors.

Maybe so. But even SCE&G estimates the costs at much higher than 2 billion. The estimated cost to put those plants into operation is 9.8B for two, or 4.9B a piece. I have no idea where the 2B figure came from but it has no basis in reality.

The AP1000 consortium of Shaw and Westinghouse has signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract (EPC) for two 1117 MWe AP1000 reactors at the existing VC Summer nuclear power plant site in South Carolina. The final cost of the units is estimated at $9.8 billion.


RE: Bad cost analysis
By Devilboy1313 on 12/25/2011 1:53:42 AM , Rating: 2
Just a guess on my part, but maybe that will be the attainable cost once all the existing power sources that need to be replaced have been by this design (adjusted back to 2012 cost base). May cost 4.9 billion for the 1st one, including amortized design and legal costs, but by unit 100 the per unit costs should be lower. But then again how many government projects, by any government, have come in below costs?

At least we're having a logical discussion about this and that's a good start.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors
By mjv.theory on 12/24/2011 5:19:45 AM , Rating: 2
China has initiated a research and development program to build thorium molten salt reactors (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors = LiFTeR). This will take 10-20 years and when these come online the AP1000 will be a dinosaur. The AP1000 design is a tiny technological step forward and the only reason for pursuing solid fuel designs of this type is to line the pockets of the uranium industry. Nevertheless, given that coal must be replaced cheaply (sorry wind and solar, you cost too much) AP1000 type designs might possibly be justified as a stop gap until LiFTeRs can be developed, but solid fuel reactors are not the long term answer to the world's electricity woes.

At least Toshiba will be happy, looks like buying Westinghouse was a good investment after all.

RE: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors
By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 9:15:52 AM , Rating: 2
10-20 years is hardly a stop gap.

RE: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors
By mjv.theory on 12/24/2011 4:02:11 PM , Rating: 3
Agreed. New pressurised water designs such as the AP1000 might seem appealing to some, when compared against 20-30 year old nuclear designs or low efficiency, high pollution fossil fuel alternatives. And also against high cost, and not really that green so called renewables - yeah wind and solar are free, after you spend billions on steel and concrete and deployment and non-availability-backups or storage and point of generation to point of use transmission. The problem is, that investment in solid fuel reactors is a continuation of low fuel efficiency, high cost safety systems, long term waste stream problems and a distraction from actually investing in a sustainable future. The present electricity generating base (coal/oil/gas) is not going away for another 2-3 decades, so spending money on new solid fuel designs is a wasted investment opportunity. Fusion is a hopeless con (with the exception of Focus Fusion and the Dense Plasma Focus), maintaining a wind infrastructure is a joke to play on our grandchildren, solar has some potential but remains niche and expensive, fission from thorium is scientifically proven and technologically achievable is a relatively short time frame. If the USA/Europe/Japan doesn't invest in development soon, we'll be buying it from China sooner or later.
You can push an agenda, but logic will forge it own path - either follow it or pay the consequences later.

By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 4:46:29 PM , Rating: 2
It is not, at least it should not be, impossible to build plants with current designs while still investing in future technology. The tricky thing with future tech is you never know what is going to actually be feasible. Someone further down the comment chain mentioned pebble bed reactors, while promising it might also be a dead end. Both South Africa and Germany have dumped their pebble bed plans because they were problematic; China is moving forward in this area, with a slightly different design, and it might prove to be a bad decision. Or perhaps it will be genius.

By MasterBlaster7 on 12/23/2011 10:22:37 PM , Rating: 5
The Gen III+ are not the measure....the Gen IV reactors are the measure...

and...oh wait...China already has an experimental Gen IV pebble bed reactor and is bringing online like 3 or 4 commercial Gen IV pebble bed reactors in the next 2 years.

and...oh wait again...we are building our first experimental Gen IV prismatic core reactor in...oh...10 years....and oh....a commercial prismatic core reactor 10 years after that.

Quit trying to grab headlines and confuse an already confusing situation. The public needs to understand the truth to make informed decisions.

By Unoid on 12/24/2011 2:33:26 PM , Rating: 3
I've actually been to the Sanmen construction site (my father was one of the very few ex-pats overseeing construction with SHAW)

These facilities are much smaller and compact than anyone seems to comprehend. Westinghouse should be making commercials to educate the US populace; it would get more support.

Just visiting the Sanmen location I saw how many Chinese jobs it provided. It essentially is a coastal village that now has a 4 star hotel (american standards) and a booming infrastructure (new concrete roads everywhere).

Good article.

RE: Finally
By Unoid on 12/24/2011 2:34:30 PM , Rating: 2
If anyone has any more specific questions I can try to answer any.

Great post
By deputc26 on 12/24/2011 3:20:09 AM , Rating: 2
Great post, ultimately I don't think we're going to have a choice but to go nuclear. Solar and wind don't produce enough energy/acre and are unlikely to be cost competitive for some time. Oil and coal are finite resources but nuclear can go for virtually ever, even if we launched nuclear waste out of orbit (hope that rocket doesn't malfunction) it would still be cost competitive with burning hydrocarbons.

RE: Great post
By Mint on 12/25/2011 12:22:23 PM , Rating: 2
For wind at least, it's not so much the per kWh cost of generation as it is the intermittency. Wind needs cheap energy storage, or else you need a natural gas plant that plugs in the gaps without increasing capacity (gas turbines are well suited to rapidly ramping up and down).

So basically, for 1GW of "renewable" capacity, you need 1GW of wind and 1GW of gas turbines, and the latter will be providing 65-70% of that capacity. Even if we came up with a magical technology to make wind only $0.01/kWh, the natural gas backup will never be as cheap as nuclear/coal.

By nocturne_81 on 12/24/2011 3:45:36 AM , Rating: 2
Huh.. It was weird enough when NBC was owned by GE.. but Westinghouse being owned by CBS?! Can't believe I never connected those dots.. How the mighty have fallen.

RE: huh..
By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 8:46:09 AM , Rating: 2
It is more complex than that, Westinghouse bought CBS back in the 90's. Then it spun off most of its non-media holdings; Westinghouse Electric Company, which does the nuclear designs, is operated by Toshiba. CBS owns the right to the Westinghouse trademarks nothing else.

Molten Salt Reactors
By tharik on 12/25/2011 3:00:58 PM , Rating: 2
The government should be building MSR's like Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. They can be built close by the AP1000 because they can burn the radioactive waste that the AP1000 produces.

Are the AP1000 reactors the same ones that Bill Gates is pushing?

RE: Molten Salt Reactors
By semo on 12/26/2011 5:33:37 AM , Rating: 2
He's pushing TerraPower. Good idea in principle, but one major flaw as you can see in the following video.

Did you spot it?

Right at the end you can see that this technology belongs to one of the biggest patent trolls out there.

At Paxus Calta
By tharik on 12/26/2011 11:10:25 PM , Rating: 3
Please read up on Molten Salt Reactors.

Molten salt reactors can consume radioactive waste. They can reduce the amount of waste by 98% and the resulting waste is less radioactive and has a much shorter half life.

By Qapa on 12/25/2011 6:03:08 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, so here are my beliefs:
1 - I believe it is possible to make the operation of such a facility "safe", using more or less safe guards, more or less security and safety mechanisms, etc.
2 - I understand this new type of reactor design is inherently safer specially the ability to shutdown without power.
3 - Laws about this make costs about operation and waste management different in different countries/states.
4 - We need to understand that the laws of nature still apply - mistakes will be made, disasters will occur. As such measures need to be in place to minimize damage, but people will suffer problems from that nonetheless - as with tons of other things in life.

Now the problem:
A - There is absolutely no cost analysis on waste management - only saying it shouldn't be too huge is nothing.

B - The amount of waste produced is a good piece of information, but I would also like to know how that translates to wasted space. In other words, if we want to build a containment area, how much land should it have around in order to be safe? Does it need 1000km radius with nothing around? or 100m?

C - Now combine these data and estimate for, X power plants which produce energy for 1 million people, how much would the electricity cost and how much space would the containment facility take for the lifetime (of 60 years) of these power plants. (and assume in 60 years other better solutions would replace these plants)

By saganhill on 12/27/2011 8:33:31 AM , Rating: 2
I just love listening to you armchair scientist and business analyst. Proving that not doing any research to back up your rants make you an "expert".

Hope Germany's gov is right
By Schugy on 12/29/2011 8:06:15 PM , Rating: 2
and we will turn out ahead. I don't feel unsafe near Brokdorf ( ) but there might be enormous costs to come.

Nuclear Myths
By Paxus Calta on 12/25/2011 7:02:01 AM , Rating: 1
Reprocessing does not eliminate radioactive waste problems, it actually worsens them. Reprocessing (as it currently exists in the world) increases the total volume of rad waste dramatically, while creating expensive fresh fuel.

While 3rd Gen costs keep rising in the west (France and Finland), which are the only reliable places to get cost estimates from for 3rd Gen, solar costs continue to decrease. And are increasingly competitive with nuclear without the myriad headaches from waste to decomissioning to proliferation which nuclear suffers from

Only as good as...
By Kougar on 12/25/2011 7:22:16 AM , Rating: 1
Plans are great, but it is only as safe as its actual construction, electronic safeguards, and mainly the operators running it.

Operator error has been the direct cause behind the most well-known incidents to date, 3 Mile and Chernobyl.

Even in the US, initial plant construction of past plants has shown to be substandard, or not built according to code. The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant was not even built to Federal code, and so various parts of the complex were all built several feet below floodstage. Nobody noticed and the complex completely flooded this summer.

Throw in cyber threats such as someone writing a more malicious version of Stuxnet targeting US systems, and safety will always be a major issue. Hell, the US Air Force techs can't even remove a common virus from its Predator drone control infrastructure, and to top that off the operators deliberately declined to notify the Air Force cyber-security wing until 3 weeks after the initial infection was noticed. At the three week mark, by their own words they couldn't even identify the purpose of the virus.

I remember watching a History channel show on one nuclear plant, they showed the classic, iconic 60's era control room, then additional areas where computers & monitors had been added alongside the equipment. The computer systems were apparently unreliable enough they keep the old control interfaces around. Even during the show they had an erroneous computer reading pop in some sub-system, which they walked over and showed was nonexistent on the old control board before they were forced to use the old control system to reset the sensor.

so crazy it may work
By HHCosmin on 12/24/11, Rating: -1
RE: so crazy it may work
By Just Tom on 12/24/2011 9:14:14 AM , Rating: 3
Energy intensity in the US is not much different than energy intensity in Japan, and slightly higher than the EU. If you were to take into account the relative lack of population density in the US, which drive up transportation use, when compared the EU or Japan the US's energy intensity score would be even better.

I don't know where in Europe you are from but there is a good chance that your nations energy intensity is not much lower than the US, there is even a good possibility it is higher.

RE: so crazy it may work
By teldar on 12/24/2011 10:00:38 AM , Rating: 1
And if you're French, f*ck off. 90% of their power comes from nuclear AND they are the host country of a fusion reactor site, which is experimental and could blow an area with a 50 mile radius. Read about ITER.

RE: so crazy it may work
By Etsp on 12/24/2011 12:16:15 PM , Rating: 4
You don't have any idea what you're talking about, do you? Making a bomb out of a fusion reaction is relatively easy compared to generating sustainable energy output. Unlike fission, fusion does not create a chain reaction causing more fusion to occur except in extreme circumstances. There is little to no chance that their fusion reactor will ever blow up.

RE: so crazy it may work
By cmdrdredd on 12/24/2011 12:05:26 PM , Rating: 1
Maybe you should STFU. If I want to watch TV and leave my computer on 24/7 to fold or do correlizer that is my damn business. Energy conscious? should be getting CHEAPER not more expensive as new technologies come to fruition.

RE: so crazy it may work
By kyp275 on 12/24/2011 3:04:24 PM , Rating: 2
Hi, My name is HHCosmin, and I have no idea what I'm talking about

there, fixed your post for ya

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