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Prospect for Nuclear Power Industry in US

  1. Apr 28, 2005 #1


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    President Bush gave a speech this week which, in so far as the nuclear power industry is involved, can be summarized as:

    Nuclear power is good. Let's make more. (In his usual inapt kind of way).

    So, who thinks this is for real? Will we be seeing a jump start in nuclear power plant construction in the near future?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2005 #2
    As long as they have a good way of dealing with the nuclear waste I'm all for it.
  4. Apr 28, 2005 #3
    I am gald he brought up nuclear power, but everything I have read about his speech does not reference it much. I think he only just casually slipped it in.

    Even if our president is for nuclear power, I doubt he can do much to make it a major source of power. However reducing restrictions may change the minds of some private companies and they may end up building some of their own plants.
  5. Apr 28, 2005 #4


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    Yucca Mountain has been very thoroughly studied, and the long term
    storage of nuclear waste has been modeled via computer simulation:


    at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    Sandia National Laboratory has done extensive testing of the
    transportation issues:

    http://www.sandia.gov/recordsmgmt/ctb1.html [Broken]

    That's why LLNL scientists recommended that DOE proceed with the
    Yucca Mountain project in September of 2000; and then Secretary of
    Energy Bill Richardson followed the LLNL recommendation.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  6. Apr 28, 2005 #5
    We must remember the powers of the President. Since budget bills are brought up in the House of Representatives, there is a chance that even the best budget proposal that the President may have will be shot down by those in Congress. Because of the fairly uncontrollable nature of Congress and all the self interest and pork barrel legislature, we all know how they can be :uhh:. But I find myself digressing a little.
  7. Apr 28, 2005 #6


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    It's going to take action by the Congress! More specifically - a revamp of
    the licensing process; going to a one-step licensing process.

    For example, let's take the case of the licensing process that one goes
    through when building a new custom home. One has to submit the plans
    for the house to the local building department. The plans have to be
    inspected for compliance with local building codes. One may have to
    make sure that the house complies with the "CCRs" for the development,
    etc, etc, etc....

    However, after all that - the city issues a building permit and the
    construction can begin. At regular intervals, the house is inspected by
    the local building inspectors. Anything that is not up to code must be

    At the end of construction; if the building inspector states that the
    house was constructed as per the building permit - the house is certified
    to be occupied.

    That's a single step licensing process.

    However, if home licensing was a two-step process - then
    after the house was built, and certified by the building inspector, you
    would have to apply for a permit to inhabit the house. At this point,
    all the issues that were gone over in the permit phase are revisted. If
    your new neighbors didn't like the way things were resolved in the
    construction permit phase - they get a second chance to complain
    about the color of the house, or the direction the garage door faces....

    The occupation of your house could be held up for years in Court while
    all the issues are revisted. All the while, you have to make payments
    to the bank on the mortgage of your new home, even though you can't
    live in it.

    That's what it's like for a nuclear power plant. A company can get
    permission to build the plant, and build it exactly according to the specs.
    However, they must then apply to operate the plant - and if someone
    didn't like the way issues were resolved in the construction permit
    phase - they can now go to Court to have the operating license denied.

    Companies are not going to invest large sums of money with such

    For example, Long Island Lighting [ LILCO ] built the Shoreham Nuclear
    Plant on Long Island in New York. After the plant was built; the State
    of New York essentially forced LILCO to dismantle the plant without it
    ever having run a single day!!!



    Does that make sense?

    No power company is going to build a nuclear power plant under those

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2005
  8. Apr 28, 2005 #7


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    The US NRC is implementing a one-step licensing process - COL

    See - http://www.nustartenergy.com/Progress.aspx [Broken]



    Regarding Shoreram - it did operate in the testing phase for about 3 effective full power days, IIRC, but it never generated electricity (never went into full operation). So the fuel was slightly irradiated. The fuel ended up being shipped by barge and cask to the Limerick station in Pennsylvania where is was used.

    LILCO got a good deal in which they made millions to hand the plant over to NY state, which cost the NY taxpayers hundreds of millions.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  9. Apr 28, 2005 #8


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    Not the problem at all. The big problem is who wants these things in their states? People, as usual, fear what they dont understand and we can't force it on states. Theres your main problem, getting people to take them in. Decades of dumb lil hippies crying out 'radioactive babies!!' has kinda got its dumb lil image stuck into the popular culture.

    The thing is... this all seems kinda like pipe dreaming but wheter you like him or not, this President sure can get the impossible going. I mean people are starting to admit thsi impossible dream of democracy in the middle east is actually showing the signs of beginning... then you got social security who they all said would be impossible to truely change... well hes getting somewhere there too... and hopefully this would be a hat trick for him.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2005
  10. Apr 28, 2005 #9


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    Why isn't Commonwealth Edison, a firm which runs a number of light water reactors, in a state (Illinois) which is much less anti-nuke than most, building more reactors? They have retired their old Zion reactor and probably are in need of more power, so what is holding them back?
  11. Apr 29, 2005 #10


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    Commonwealth Edison, which became part of Unicom, is now part of Exelon - from a merger between Unicom and PECO Energy (Philadelphia Electric Company). They own/operate about 20 reactors - almost 20% of the nuclear plants in the country.

    Incidentally, Zion is laid-up and could be brought back on-line.

    Exelon, like other utilities, do not wish to risk capital and cash flow on a new plant. They are waiting for government subsidies and risk assumption.
  12. Apr 29, 2005 #11


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    As I recall [ and as is stated in the first paragraph of the first link in my
    preceeding post ], New York state got Shoreham for $1.

    The good deal for LILCO was that they got the money they paid for the
    plant back from the New York ratepayers.

    Even though the State of New York would not participate in the contigency
    planning for any emergency at the plant, the NRC was prepared to issue a
    license to LILCO to operate the plant.

    That's when the State of New York, and in particular Gov. Cuomo; really
    put the screws to LILCO. The State is responsible for governing the
    electric rates - i.e. what LILCO can charge its customers.

    So the State of New York told LILCO that they would not be allowed to
    charge for electricity that was generated by Shoreham. However, if
    LILCO sold the plant to the State for $1; then the State would allow
    LILCO to recoup the cost of its investment in Shoreham.

    The job of a business is to make money - and the State tells you that you
    can not make money doing your normal business - in the case of LILCO,
    generating electricity - but you can avoid the loss by decommissioning
    the plant.

    It was an offer that LILCO couldn't refuse.

    However, it was a waste of over $5 BILLION - a cost that was paid by
    the poor ratepayers of New York. They, of course have Cuomo to thank
    for that!!

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  13. Apr 29, 2005 #12
    Why are the taxpayers covering the cost of the plant and how was Cuomo responsible? Are they really paying for all five billion dollars of the plant?

    Also, does the federal government not have a say in this? If something like this happened today, would President Bush or COngress have higher authority in this or would that be impeding on state's rights?
  14. Apr 29, 2005 #13


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    Then New York Gov. Cuomo was very anti-nuclear.

    The reason the rate payers are paying for the plant is that was the deal
    that the State of New York offered LILCO.

    Although the State of New York was using obstructionist tactics to
    prevent Shoreham from operating - by not participating in emergency
    planning - the NRC was prepared to issue LILCO an operating license

    The State of New York was running out of ways to stop Shoreham from
    operating - so they used their option of last resort - they bought the
    plant. They couldn't legally force LILCO to sell the plant - but since the
    State controls LILCO's rate structure - the State of New York told LILCO
    that they would not be allowed to make any money with Shoreham.

    So Shoreham was then a financial loser for LILCO. Then the State offers
    to buy Shoreham from LILCO for $1, in exchange for a change in the
    rate structure to allow LILCO to recoup its $5 BILLION investment.

    Courtesy of the University of Texas chapter of the American Nuclear


    So the ratepayers of New York had to pay $5 BILLION to LILCO without
    getting any electricity from Shoreham in return. That's just how the
    politicians running the State of New York chose to stop Shoreham from
    operating - they bought it with the ratepayer's money. That's why the
    New York ratepayers are paying for the plant - their duly elected
    political leaders saddled them with that burden.

    The Federal Government doesn't have a say in how much money an
    electric utility can charge - that's a State issue.

    The Federal Government - via the NRC - can decide whether a nuclear
    plant will be allowed to operate. The NRC decides if the plant is built
    to specs, meets safety requirements, has properly trained operators....

    However, the Federal Government doesn't control the utility's finances -
    the State does! The State of New York essentially bought the Shoreham
    plant from LILCO to ensure that it would not be run. To make sure that
    LILCO had to sell the plant to the State - the State would not allow
    LILCO to charge for the electricity that Shoreham generated.

    If the State is willing to buy the plant - and won't let you make money
    on the plant if you don't sell - what else is there for the utility to do -
    BUT to sell.

    In a regulated market like electric utilities - the State controls the
    power of the purse.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2005
  15. Apr 30, 2005 #14


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    I was thinking about this issue and then saw this thread - excellent.

    As an engineer, I have to say I strongly question the logic of that study. It seems to me that requiring more than about a 100 year lifespan of the facility is not just pointless from an engineering standpoint, but politically damaging and the reason it hasn't been built yet.

    The assumptions required for trying to contain the waste for 100,000 years are, essentially, the fall of civilization as we know it. If civilization fails, then we will stop maintaining the site. Ok, but if civilization fails, what is the site protecting? In addition, requiring more than 100 years of storage is a bet against scientific progress that will almost inevitably find a better way to deal with the waste than simple long-term storage. But even if it doesn't, that doesn't preclude us from maintaining the site or building another, possibly better one 100 years from now.

    Currently, storage is done on site at nuclear plants all around the country and has been successful for something like 45 years (not sure exactly how long). Yes, a central storage location is needed to aleviate the inventory issues at these sites, but I don't see why the central storage needs to be much more sophisticated/permanent than the existing ones.
  16. Apr 30, 2005 #15


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    We're lucky if politicians think beyond the next election, :biggrin: or the planning boards think beyone their 5 or 10 year plan, which changes according to money and politics. :biggrin: :rolleyes:

    Consider than most man-made objects or more than a few hundred years are pretty much ruins, we don't have a track record of durable construction. Just look at the oldest structures like the Pyramids and similar structures. Yes, those are exposed to the elements, rather than being buried inside a mountain.

    In 300 years, most of the radiologically hottest material (e.g. half-life =< 30 years) has decayed by a factor of 1000, and in 600 years by a factor of 1 million, and in 900 years, by a factor of 1E9 (1 billion) and most of that is then inert.

    As for Shoreham, NY State created the Long Island Power Authority ( http://www.lipa.state.ny.us/ [Broken] , http://www.lipower.org/ ), a quasi-government organization. I am not sure what it has cost taxpayers. But certianly LILCo, the publically-owned utility got a sweetheart deal, and yes it probably did very little to help rate-payers. And the CEO and some senior managers did get in hot water about his retirement package. :biggrin:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  17. May 2, 2005 #16


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    I agree. What should be done; is that we should follow the original plan
    that the scientists put together. First of all, nuclear waste definitely
    should be reprocessed. Unfortunately, the anti-nukes got Congress to
    pass a law in 1978 that outlawed reprocessing.

    As Astronuc points out - the radioactivity in nuclear waste is decaying.
    If we reprocess, the longest lived component of any consequence in the
    waste would be Cesium-137. Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years.

    In just a few hundred years, the radioactivity of the nuclear waste will
    be less than that of the uranium that was originally dug out of the
    ground - so your idea for a 100 year repository is the right order of


    The Enivironmental Protection Agency [ EPA ] set a standard that was
    10,000 years long. However, the State of Nevada went to Court and
    last year the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that EPA has to set a standard
    of at least 250,000 years!

    http://www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca/ [Broken]

    The problem is that people don't know the science. The common
    perception about nuclear power and nuclear waste is all the scare
    stories that come from the anti-nukes.

    Whether scientists have failed to communicate the facts is to blame -
    or that the anti-nukes have just done a better job of "marketing" [lying],
    and scare stories sell, or perhaps it's the dismal state of scientific
    education in this Nation. All in all, there is an unfounded phobia when
    it comes to nuclear issues:


    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  18. May 2, 2005 #17


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    So what is the actual worsecase scenario and its effects if the worst did happen in a nuclear power plant anyhow?
  19. May 2, 2005 #18


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    Good question - everyone alludes to it, but few people actually discuss it. This may warrant its own thread...

    First, a quick note - there is always something worse, but one has to consider what is reasonable. The worst that could possibly happen is a meteor strike that atomizes the nuclear fuel and tosses it into the sky, spreading it around the nearby area. While that is, of course, possible, it is also extremelly unlikely.

    One somewhat common scenario that is mentioned is the possibility of a nuclear explosion (ie, like a bomb). This needs to be perfectly clear: it is not physically possible for a nuclear power reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb.

    After recent discussions, I may need to watch "The China Syndrome", but from what I understand, it uses the backdrop of actual historic events (accidents) to support a rediculous fictional disaster scenario. People knew some actual events were depicted and that fooled them into thinking the scenario itself was possible.

    Chernobyl represents the worst [reasonable] case scenario for any reactor - the final result was a fire that engulfed the reactor building and spread a decent amount of radioactive material over the surrounding countryside. The immediate death toll due to acute radiation sickness was about 40 people, virtually all of them firefighters. The long-term death toll won't be known for some time, but estimates range from zero to tens of thousands. The problem is that an increase in death-rates from cancer is extremely difficult to pick up from the background noise of normal cancer rates. A resulting tiny increase in cancer rates, spread through a population of millions over 50 years produces the scary numbers (tens of thousands) that may or may not actually mean anything.

    Had Chernobyl happened near (inside, really) a city, perhaps it could have killed significantly more, but I don't know the geographical placement of Russian nuclear plants.

    Chernobyl is not a possible scenario for an American (or, afaik, any western) reactor. Among other things, all American reactors are surrounded by a containment buidling strong enough to withstand a large airplane crashing into it at high speed (yes, they have tested it - the video is pretty exciting). Older Russian reactors have no such containment, which is what allowed so much radioactive material to be released.

    The worst [reasonable] case for an American reactor is Three Mile Island. A string of coincidental screwups led to what, inside the reactor core, was somewhat similar to Chernobyl - a partial meltdown. The nuclear fuel melted its way through the reactor vessel but did not penetrate the containment building. Due to excess pressure buildup inside the reactor core, air containing some radioactive material was released into the atmosphere. No one died of acute radiation sickness and long term cancer rate studies showed no statistically significant increase in cancer rates in the surrounding area. In addition, the quantity of radioactive material released was calculated to be far below the natural background radiation a very short distance from the plant - in other words, it is not even theoretically possible for TMI to have caused any noticeable increase in cancer rates.

    Morbius may come here and tell you that TMI is no longer possible due to changes in the way reactors operate since then, but I think I'd still include it because while it may be significantly less possible, the remote possibility still exists. I like to be as pessimistic as possible against my own arguments, lest I appear more biased than I actually am. o:)

    I assume you came here looking for information after reading a little about the subject in the politics forum. While this discussion should remain technical, I'd very much like to hear from an "environmentalist" what they think might be possible. I hear a lot from "environmentalists" that TMI shows that 'something bad' "almost" happened and therefore could happen. Setting aside the [il]logic in equating "almost" (didn't) and "could", I'm not sure I've ever heard an explanation of what that 'something bad' is, and I'd really like to hear it. That way we can discuss whether or not the concern is actually a reasonable one.

    http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery;jsessionid=2bp7m79fa6cm1?method=4&dsid=2222&dekey=Nuclear+meltdown&gwp=8&curtab=2222_1&sbid=lc03b [Broken])). [/quote]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  20. May 2, 2005 #19
    Containment shell impenetrability revisited

    They have not tested it. The video shows an F-4 fighter jet crashing into a concrete block.
    http://www.nci.org/02NCI/08/pr9202002.htm [Broken]

    With regard to the aircraft threat, the authors cite an unpublished industry-sponsored report and a videotape on the Internet of a plane crashing into a concrete block to support their claim that an aircraft attack cannot cause enough damage to a nuclear plant to cause a meltdown. In fact, straightforward engineering calculations, utilizing empirically derived formulas, demonstrate that such penetration is plausible. The videotape in question actually provides no information regarding the question of whether a fully fueled commercial jet plane can penetrate a concrete containment wall. The video documents a test at Sandia National Laboratories in which an F-4 fighter jet, with considerably lighter engines than a commercial jet like a 767, collided with a concrete block that was not fixed to the ground but was actually floating on an air cushion. The purpose of the test was to measure the impact force, not to measure the maximum penetration of the target. According to the test report, “the major portion of the impact energy went into movement of the target and not in producing structural damage.” Real-world nuclear power plant containments are anchored to the ground. Sandia National Laboratories, the sponsor of the video, has said that the nuclear industry is misrepresenting the results of the test.

    Commercial jet airliners, besides being much more physically massive and having a lot more fuel whose heat from burning might be able to weaken the steel rebar, have spindles in their engines that may be massive enough to act as penetrators. If terrorists on the ground sabotaged a reactor to cause a meltdown, and their compatriots in the air poked a 6-inch diameter hole in the containment shell by crashing a commercial jetliner into it thus driving an engine spindle through the 2.5-foot thick steel-reinforced concrete, you would have a serious radiation release to the public.

    Besides the threat of spindle penetration is the threat of containment explosion if a containment weakened by burning jet fuel were to simultaneously undergo sufficient atmospheric pressure build-up within the containment. Concrete is very weak in tension, and -- like happened to the WTC buildings -- if the steel reinforcement were weakened by heat of the jet fuel you could have a Chernobyl-style explosion, perhaps even with suicide teams dumping lead on the burning reactor from helicopters, just like at Chernobyl.
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  21. May 2, 2005 #20
    Status of post-TMI passive reactor safety

    Generation II reactors -- which all of the current operating commercial power reactors in the United States are -- are susceptible to core damage from operator error. Generation III reactors, such as those of the recently-qualified Westinghouse AP-600/AP-1000 design, address that problem, meaning they are passively safe.
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