Poor industry performance is responsible for high nuclear power costs and industry stagnation, not regulation. I’ve had several people ask about this post, so here is a thread on nuclear costs
The post reviews the argument in a recent book “Why Nuclear Power Has Been a Flop.” It notes that nuclear power plants in many countries are expensive, and lays much of the responsibility on nuclear safety regulation rootsofprogress.org/devanney-on-th…
The causes of high nuclear costs are complex and vary depending on projects. Regulation does have costs because safety has costs. That said the book and post do not reflect current literature on the causes of high costs
The large sizes of conventional nuclear power means reactors are construction megaprojects, typically defined as projects costing more than $1 billion.

Across countries and technologies, megaprojects are prone to cost overruns and escalation mckinsey.com/business-funct…
This is true for energy infrastructure as well. When we examined it we found construction cost overruns for most electric infrastructure, but particularly nuclear and hydro units due to their large sizes sciencedirect.com/science/articl… Image
Complexity requires precise project management and even then unexpected events (i.e. a global pandemic) can cause workforce, parts, and other delays.

As capital-intensive infrastructure that must be financed, time overruns breed cost overruns (and higher future financing costs)
Looking at overnight construction costs (w/o financing), @J_Lovering , @arthurhcyip , and @TedNordhaus found wide variations in cost performance.

Many nations saw increases. Low costs were achieved with standardization, multiple units, and learning sciencedirect.com/science/articl…
In the U.S., total costs quickly rose in the 1970s due to rising interest costs, limited workforces leading to salary escalations, poor quality workforces, and a lack of reactor standardization.

Further, the energy crisis evaporated demand for projects
Notably, while largely missing from the literature and public debates, dozens of nuclear projects were cancelled.

So not only do nuclear plants carry a risk of going way over budget, they also have a high risk of being cancelled
For nuclear projects, the construction issues are often driven by concrete and steel. The nuclear island is only a portion of the overall capital costs (and engineering/licensing is tiny on a PROJECT basis) world-nuclear.org/information-li… Image
Based on project analysis, industry experience, and academic literature know why some nuclear plants are cheap and others are expensive. @kirstygogan and Eric Ingersoll lay it out well d2umxnkyjne36n.cloudfront.net/documents/D7.3… Image
Not having standardized designs or, inexplicably, beginning construction before a design is complete are large drivers of high costs Image
What role does regulation have to play in in high costs? Its debatable but probably not a lot.

Specific regulatory changes during construction could cause delays for a project (like NEPA or TMI) but the general scheme of regulation is historically predictable
A recent analysis found that safety related costs were only a minor factor in rising costs.

More important were general increases in construction costs in the economy, and soft costs like labor supervision cell.com/joule/pdf/S254…
So the question is how do we make nuclear cheap?

Reactor standardization, low labor costs, and effective megaproject project management are likely to support Russia and China’s dominance of markets for conventional nuclear power powermag.com/russia-china-d…
In the U.S. and many markets, however, advanced reactors appear to be the only (and perhaps last) hope for a revitalization of the nuclear industry. For the first time, we see dozens of advanced nuclear startups and innovations in the sector thirdway.org/graphic/2020-a…
This is important because business model diversity can be as important as technology for market success (and historical issues are tied to limited vendors/competition).

The reactor designer, EPC construction, and utility ownership model may be an aggravating factor in costs
This is especially important as modern electricity markets are quickly moving away from vertically integrated IOUs (in part due to historical utility bankruptcies from nuclear cost overruns). Relying on utilities to finance and build nuclear power may no longer be a viable option
Even with this market uncertainty, there are many market opportunities for advanced nuclear if costs can be reduced and competitive business models developed @LucidCatalyst lucidcatalyst.com/arpa-e-report-…
To do this, new nuclear construction projects must stop cost overruns and assuage justified fears of risks of overruns.

This is a huge challenge for first-of-a-kind demonstration projects
Modularity in terms of factory production is probably the most known cost and risk reducing feature of advanced reactors. In my opinion, this is likely to be only a minor actual factor, at least initially sciencedirect.com/science/articl… Image
Technological learning and experience project management from rapid iteration of small units is more likely to drive costs down per @J_Lovering @jamesonmcb nae.edu/239267/Chasing…
Smaller designs help considerably. Although they lose economies of scale in process efficiency they avoid diseconomies of scale in construction.

Small means simple simple, simple means quick, low risk of time overrun, low risk of cost overrun, rapid iteration and learning
As a capital-intensive technology, nuclear power needs access to low-cost capital.

Despite its carbon-free nature, most ESG ratings and development banks explicitly exclude nuclear.

That is not analytically sound and somewhat colonialist
What role can regulations play in reducing costs?

Safety regulation can certainly increase costs and pose barriers if done poorly. NRC is embarking on an ambitious regulatory modernization effort so it can efficiently and effectively regulate the next generation of nuclear power
Industry, academia, DOE, and NGO groups like @theNIAorg, @ThirdWayEnergy, @cleanaircatf, and @ClearPathAction are all working to assist and inform NRC in these efforts. Part 53, a new performance-based licensing pathway is critical clearpath.org/our-take/a-sim…
The book identifies fees as a cost driver. Licensing and annual fees were not substantial during the primary era of nuclear construction in the US. @mchammo provides a good overview of these issues
Getting fees right is as much about making sure NRC (or other regulators) have sufficient capabilities to be efficient and effective as it is about minimizing industry costs.

Stay tuned as @theNIAorg has forthcoming work on exactly this topic
I’ll end with this - I’ve met a lot of nuclear regulators, both staff and Commissioners. They are hard working, dedicated, and are not trying to stop nuclear power. Regulatory costs can be minimized, especially with next generation designs
Many are working to align the policy incentives and regulatory environment.

Ultimately, it is on industry to demonstrate that they can build cost competitive projects on-time, on-budget, and predictably (end)

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More from @gilbeaq

6 Oct
1. Does environmental law apply to outer space?

In a new law review, @AstroTraviesa and I explore that question by evaluating whether the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) applies to federal and federally-authorized activities in space environs.law.ucdavis.edu/volumes/44/2/G…
2. Why does this matter? Simply put, the rise of the commercial space industry means we are on the verge of a rapid expansion of space activities – mega constellations, space tourism, private space stations, space nuclear energy, and space mining
3. As commercial and government activities pursue these activities, there is a question of how to manage the space environment. Space debris is already emerging as a leading safety/environmental threat in low earth orbit, as is light pollution from satellites impacting astronomy
Read 24 tweets
15 Feb
1. Extreme winter weather is causing rolling blackouts in Texas which may continue through Monday and potentially Tuesday.

@ERCOT_ISO declared an EEA 3. This is a very dangerous grid event, so please don’t rush to judgment about causes. It is complex
2. When California suffered rolling blackouts last summer, @MBazilian and I cautioned that such events are complex.

Invoking pre-existing beliefs about energy market design, capacity markets, and fuel types are not necessarily correct (and insensitive) utilitydive.com/news/californi…
3. The proximate cause for rolling outages is extreme winter weather, the worst winter storm in Texas in decades.

The energy system in Texas is built to meet summer peaks, not rare winter storms of this severity @joshdr83 @Caitlin0903 forbes.com/sites/joshuarh…
Read 20 tweets
14 Feb
For reference, ERCOT's final winter SARA showed an extreme winter demand scenario just shy of 68 GW ercot.com/news/releases/…
It estimated it could still meet demand with severe outages of about 14 GW, out of a total capacity of 82 GW.

With projections for early next week in the mid-70s, it's going to be very tight.
Much like the polar vortex of 2014 that hit the East coast, fuel supply induced outages could determine whether there are rolling blackouts.

ERCOT is worrisome as they typically don't have the same plant weatherization. That and they don't have a regional grid
Read 4 tweets
6 Oct 20
A new article by Sovacool et. al. in Nature Energy claims nuclear energy is not associated with lowering GHG emissions while renewables are.

The article's analysis does not support this contention but rather reflects the dynamics of global energy poverty nature.com/articles/s4156…
To start, the authors admit that their study is correlation and not indicative of causation.

However, they then base their analysis and conclusions on the inference of causation. Such logical leaps should not have made it past peer review. Here's why:
At the core the article just does a regression of non-transportation CO2 emissions per capita versus nuclear and renewable energy use.

This is immediately suspect as nuclear and renewables are primarily for the electric sector
Read 12 tweets
12 Aug 20
Nuclear energy is really not a competitor with renewable energy.

It's primary competitor in most nations is coal and natural gas. In the US, it is increasingly natural gas.

Existing plants are not closing because of new renewables but because gas has driven prices down
And I really wish the nuclear industry would get it out of their head that renewables aren't reliable.

Reliability is a system-level characteristic. You can design systems with high levels predictable variable energy resources that are as reliable as high levels of dispatchable
If you want to build a nuclear plant in the future, you should primarily be concerned about how competitive you are with gas.

Right now it is cheaper, more flexible, and less risky.
Read 7 tweets
21 Apr 20
We are straight up in black swan territory for oil markets. Negative pricing on an expiring contract is one thing, a 50% fall in the primary WTI contract is another.

Its really hard to emphasize how unprecedented the situation is. The harder the crash, the worse the rebound
Regulators and even the mercantile exchanges need to seriously consider halting trading. The physical market oversupply may require massive global shut-ins and current trading dynamics could cause unimagineable futures prices
There is an outside chance the USO, which owns ~1/3 of June oil contracts, might liquidate. Today's price action even suggests they are already. Imagine what happens to prices at $10/barrel when 1/3 of the futures contracts are forced out. Yesterday's -$37/bbl might not be a low
Read 8 tweets

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