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Cost of Regulations?

  1. Aug 18, 2010 #1
    How much of nuclear energy costs go into regulations? I ask because I believe I heard somebody say in China Nuclear energy can compete with Coal much better because regulation costs are much cheaper. Is this true?

    How well would you say the US regulates the Nuclear industry? Is it too much, not enough, or about as good as it can get?

    Just a few questions I had that I figured could be answered here by the experts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2010 #2
    Wikipedia has a pretty good article on this.

    It would be hard to peg down any exact figures. Particularly since no actual plants have been completed in decades in the US. A rough estimate from the Wikipedia link is that the US pays about $5 billion for a new AP1000 reactor (~1.1 GWe). China pays about $2.5 billion for the same AP1000. I'm not sure if China would be a good role model for the US to follow though. France is a better example of a country where the government is embracing nuclear.
  4. Aug 19, 2010 #3
    I don't know if those costs are right, but regardless, the important thing is "for the same AP1000" -- for the AP1000, the Chinese design is essentially identical to the US design (excepting the differences in the shield building made to the US design to accommodate the evolving US NRC requirements for aircraft impact). That means the difference in cost is the difference in labor cost to erect the plant. Apparently the Chinese welders, electricians, carpenters, etc. don't command the same wages as their American counterparts.

    Back to the OP, the 'cost of regulation' is, to me, mostly the cost of the installed safety systems that will likely never be needed at any given plant (since 'the big one' will never occur). Other costs of regulation appear as payroll costs, for all the engineers and technicians kept employed responding to continuous changes in requirements, periodic questions and audits, and testing of those pesky safety systems.

    Now I'm not saying those safety systems shouldn't be there, I'm just saying that in the absence of regulation, the utility companies running the plants wouldn't have paid for them to be installed and they wouldn't pay to maintain them.
  5. Aug 20, 2010 #4

    Not to mention those "periodic questions and audits" often lead to commitments to upgrade or replace said safety systems which can cost on the order of tens of millions of dollars (per project). Security has been a focus in recent years after 9/11. Adding additional fencing, security staff, cameras, security doors, computer systems, etc is quite costly.
  6. Aug 20, 2010 #5
    While obviously labour is cheaper in China those numbers would likely include licensing costs aswell. In the US there are many very expensive steps to getting a NPP licensed before commercial operation can begin. This is on top of environmental assessments and oversight required before construction can ever begin.

    I'm quite new to the nuclear industry (in Canada), but I can already see where regulatory hurdles have made it incredibly difficult to get things done. I know scientist who spend the majority of their time filling out paper work to get approval for simple experiments. In fact, they went so far as to create a full time position dedicated to dealing with the regulatory burden so that the scientist can get back to work instead of doing the paper work. Speaking with people who have been in the industry for a long time, they tell me that it wasn't always this way.

    I don't know if it is right or wrong, but in my opinion, the regulations being placed on the nuclear industry are definitely stifling development. That isn't to say that there isn't good reason for the safety measures, just that it adds greatly to the monetary and time cost of doing business.
  7. Aug 20, 2010 #6


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    Does China have their own equivalent to the NRC? Or do they just use everything the NRC comes up with, thus substantially reducing their regulatory costs (since it is effectively subsidized by the U.S.).
  8. Aug 20, 2010 #7


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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