UCS Clarifies Stance on Nuclear Power

From the Union of Concerned Scientists.

7 Things People Got Wrong with our Recent ‘Nuclear Power Dilemma’ Report

Steve Clemmer, director of energy research, Clean Energy | November 16, 2018, 1:29 pm EST

On November 8, UCS released The Nuclear Power Dilemma: Declining Profits, Plant Closures, and the Threat of Rising Carbon Emissions, which found that more than one-third of existing nuclear plants, representing 22 percent of total US nuclear capacity, is uneconomic or slated to close over the next decade. Without new policies, we found that if these and other marginally economic nuclear plants are closed before their operating licenses expire, the electricity would be replaced primarily with natural gas. If this occurs, cumulative carbon emissions from the US power sector could rise by as much as 6 percent at a time when we need to achieve deep cuts in emissions to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, some of the media coverage and statements by the nuclear industry and other groups have mischaracterized our report and our past work. Here are seven points to correct the record:

1. The report does not promote new nuclear power plant construction.

Our analysis is focused on the economic viability of existing nuclear power plants in the United States through 2035. The cost of keeping existing plants operating is considerably less than building new ones. While new nuclear plants could be built under a national carbon price or low-carbon electricity standard, our modeling shows they are too expensive compared to new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency programs, and natural gas plants with carbon capture and storage.

The only new nuclear reactors included in our analysis are the two currently under construction at the Vogtle plant in Georgia. Their cost has ballooned to more than $27 billion, which is double the estimate approved by regulators in 2008, and the project is more than five years behind schedule. This 2012 UCS analysis shows that building the two new Vogtle reactors would be more expensive than other alternatives. And the Vogtle reactors’ cost has escalated significantly over the past six years, while the cost for wind and solar has fallen dramatically.

This isn’t the first time UCS has shined a spotlight on the high costs of building new nuclear reactors. This 2016 UCS power sector deep decarbonization study found that nearly all nuclear and coal plants in the United States would be replaced by low-carbon technologies by 2050 under every scenario, except our “optimistic nuclear case.”  A blog I wrote in 2013 explains why calls by some climate scientists to build new nuclear plants are misguided.

2. The report does not advocate for subsidies for any specific nuclear plants.

The report emphasizes that a price on carbon or a low-carbon electricity standard (LCES) would be the best options for internalizing the costs of climate change in the price of burning fossil fuels and providing a level playing field for all low-carbon technologies. As explained by UCS President Ken Kimmell in his recent blog, “the report does not argue for subsidies to any specific plants. That case will have to be made in state-specific forums. Should states decide to support nuclear power plant subsidies, our report calls for them to be temporary and subject to periodic reassessment. Companies seeking subsidies must open their books and allow the public and regulators to make sure that the subsidies are needed and cost-effective, and that the same level of carbon free power cannot be provided during the relevant time period with less costly options.” Any subsidies also must be part of a broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions that increases investments in renewables and efficiency.

Finally, our report makes clear that UCS would never support financial assistance that is also tied to subsidizing fossil-based energy sources, such as Trump administration proposals to bail out coal and nuclear plants based on spurious grid-reliability and national-security grounds.

3. Existing nuclear plants must also meet strong safety standards to be eligible for support.

Since the 1970s, UCS has been a leading nuclear safety watchdog. The new UCS report recommends that nuclear reactors must meet or exceed the highest safety standards under Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Reactor Oversight Process to be eligible for any policy or financial support. If the NRC weakens these standards, as proposed by the nuclear industry, UCS could no longer support this recommendation. At the same time, UCS will continue to push for better enforcement of existing regulations, the expedited transfer of nuclear waste from overcrowded cooling pools to safer dry cask storage, strengthened reactor security requirements, and higher safety standards for new plants. We also consider the NRC safety standards to be a floor, not a ceiling. States could encourage plant owners to make other safety improvements that go beyond current NRC standards.

4. Not every currently operating nuclear plant should stay open.

The report highlights examples where it might make sense to shut down existing nuclear plants that are saddled with major, reoccurring safety issues such as the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts that Entergy is closing next year and the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio that FirstEnergy is threatening to close in 2020 if it doesn’t receive subsidies. Other examples include Indian Point, due to its proximity to New York City, and Diablo Canyon, which is located near earthquake fault lines in California.

It also might make sense to shut down plants with high operating costs or ones that need to make major new capital investments to continue operating safely. Examples cited in the report include Crystal River in Florida and San Onofre in California, which were retired in 2013 following failed steam generator replacements. Fort Calhoun in Nebraska shut down in 2016 primarily for economic reasons following several years of extended outages and flood damage. Chris Crane, CEO of Exelon, agrees that some high-cost plants should probably close: I will be the first one to tell you that some of the nuclear plants are small, uneconomic and they won’t make it and they probably should not make it,” he said. “Let’s not save every one.”

5. Not every nuclear plant that retires early will be replaced with fossil fuels.

The report acknowledges that with sufficient planning and strong climate and clean energy policies, some existing nuclear plants can be replaced with renewables, energy efficiency, or other low- carbon technologies. For example, California passed legislation in September that commits the state to replace Diablo Canyon with zero-carbon energy sources by 2025. And states experiencing rapid wind and solar power deployment such as Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas could potentially replace their nuclear plants with low-carbon energy sources over a reasonable period of time. However, a significant portion of the electricity in most of those states is still generated by coal and natural gas. Replacing those fuels with renewables and efficiency would result in much greater emissions reductions than replacing nuclear plants, another low-carbon source of electricity.

6. UCS has long recognized the role of existing nuclear plants in reducing carbon

UCS has long supported keeping existing nuclear reactors that meet high safety standards operating to combat climate change. In 2004, the director of our energy program at the time, Alan Nogee, stated: “We cannot phase out current nuclear generation quickly, especially without [a] significant increase in carbon emissions.” Five years later, we released our “Climate 2030 Blueprint,” which assumed the fleet of more than 100 US reactors would continue to operate through 2030 and beyond. You will find in the report’s executive summary: “Hydropower and nuclear power continue to play important roles, generating slightly more carbon-free electricity in 2030 than they do today.”

US Electricity Generation under the UCS Climate 2030 Blueprint

Two years ago we posted a  “Nuclear Power and Global Warming” page on our website, highlighting the need for all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power, to limit the worst consequences of climate change. The web page also warns that replacing existing nuclear power plants with natural gas plants would increase carbon emissions.

In 2016, UCS was involved in negotiations in Illinois to keep two uneconomic nuclear plants running, while strengthening the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. We posted the following blogs on the topic: “A Huge Success in Illinois: Future Energy Jobs Bill Signed Into Law,” “The Future Energy Jobs Bill: Promise, Pitfalls, and Opportunities for Clean Energy in Illinois,” and “New Analysis Shows Fixing Illinois Clean Energy Policies Is Essential to Any ‘Next Generation Energy Plan.’”

7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES), but not at the expense of renewable electricity standards (RES).

Since at least 2011, UCS has engaged in constructive dialogues and provided support for LCES proposals. See here, here, here, and here. More recently, UCS advocated for the 100 percent zero-emission electricity standard in California that was signed into law in September.

Read the full post here.


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November 23, 2018 11:06 am

Paraphrasing: It has come to our attention that people believe we have become thoughtful and rational. We must put our foot down and make certain you see us for who we really are.

Thanks for the update!

November 23, 2018 11:06 am

No invitations to nice cocktail parties until they walk back their paper. Don’t call the progressives stupid, or they’ll make the Noel Coward calibre rejoinder: Who are you calling stupid?

Alan Tomalty
November 23, 2018 11:09 am

These people are living in an Alice in Wonderland world where the sun always shines and the wind always blows. The total life cycle costs of having wind and solar with natural gas carbon capture backup is much greater than natural gas plants alone. The carbon capture capability that they want with the natural gas plants is just a ridiculous extra expense for no benefit and in fact would be detrimental to the environment. The atmosphere needs more CO2 NOT less.

John Endicott
Reply to  Alan Tomalty
November 23, 2018 11:18 am


Reply to  Alan Tomalty
November 24, 2018 9:09 am

Is reality different in California? I can think of no circumstance where Diablo Canyon’s output of 24/7 power can be replaced by renewables.

Reply to  oeman50
November 24, 2018 9:17 am

Here are 34 examples of how Diablo Canyon’s output of 24/7 power can be replaced. Additionally, these 34 plants are excellent places to get rid of the buildup of wildfire fuel in the forests.

Tom Halla
November 23, 2018 11:13 am

They are assuring their contributors they still want to destroy the grid with “renewable energy standards”, and don’t much care about reliability. They also could not care less that they and other NGOs are responsible for much of the cost of nuclear, with endless delays and appeals.

John Endicott
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 23, 2018 11:20 am

Indeed. If the greens would simply get out of the way, New nuclear plants would be able to be built quicker and cheaper than currently.

tim c
Reply to  John Endicott
November 23, 2018 2:22 pm

The power companies have outrageous cost over runs on nuke plants they need to pool resources for a design they all can use. Their design build program has really devastated the industry.

Reply to  tim c
November 23, 2018 7:26 pm

Standardized Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) designs. Instead of one-off giga-Watt range reactors, deploy an array of smaller, standardized reactors. Get the facility producing power faster, abet with incremental ramp-up. This also reduces the financial risk. The MSRs can be fueled using the “spent” nuclear fuel in existing sites “swimming pools”, and the tonnes of depleted uranium we have in stock. This is a fuel supply that would last for millennia.

Michael Keal
Reply to  LarryD
November 24, 2018 3:41 pm

MSRs definitely have a place in the future, once coal has run out. However by then perhaps fusion will be cheap and practical. In the meantime old king coal was a merrie old soul …

Oh and as for carbon capture? Yes we’ll need plenty of coal capture plants, you know, like trees.

Michael Keal
Reply to  LarryD
November 24, 2018 3:43 pm

Oops, that should be carbon capture plants. (Getting past my bedtime!)

November 23, 2018 11:21 am

UCS baselines US electricity generation with no efficiency savings.
UCS blueprint case US electricity generation with 30% efficiency savings.

There is no possible way to find an additional 30% savings in -generation- never mind by the year 2030. There are not enough generation loses extant to find 30%.

Reply to  Rob_Dawg
November 23, 2018 12:19 pm

What they really want is for other people to use much less electricity. Freezing to death is an option.

Tom Graney
November 23, 2018 11:21 am

I’m beginning to hate “concerned” people; does that make me a bad person?

Reply to  Tom Graney
November 23, 2018 11:27 am

It makes you an anti-concerned, concernist, or perhaps concernephobe, under the doctrine of diversity (i.e. color judgments) and policies of political congruence (i.e. profitability).

Robert of Texas
Reply to  n.n
November 23, 2018 7:55 pm

Oh! I want to be labeled a “concernaphobe”! Where do I sign up? LOL

Reply to  Tom Graney
November 23, 2018 1:47 pm

No, you’re a smart person. “Concerned” is a virtue-signal word for the commies. As soon as you hear it, ignore the rest as lies.

Nick Schroeder
November 23, 2018 11:22 am

There is more to the energy issue than nuclear fueled electricity.

Electricating the entire transportation sectors and homes and water heated w/NG will be daunting to say the least.

mark from the midwest
November 23, 2018 11:23 am

Six inches of wet snow will insure that a solar array will not function for at least 48 hours, even if the next two days are clear and sunny. Cleaning a two acre solar installation is neither easy or fast, it moves at about the same speed as commercial window washing on a large building. One of the primary problems with estimates of solar generation in northern latitudes is they fail to factor in these lag times. The generation estimates are based on “available solar energy” at the site, not “available solar energy at the site that can actually make it to the surface of a panel.”

Reply to  mark from the midwest
November 23, 2018 1:47 pm

Thanks for that information. It is planned that a ‘solar farm’ of 250000 solar panels is to be constructed near here. There has been a dust storm for the past day or two so I guess settled dust needs to be cleaned off? I guess that those who have OKed this farm are thinking of jobs for window cleaners!

Reply to  Old Woman of the North
November 24, 2018 6:19 am

Panel cleaners.
Green jobs at last.

Although I suspect those cleaning panels may not be able to afford seafront mansions like – say – Al Gore.

Auto – not in the least bit /Sarc.

November 23, 2018 11:24 am

100% [local and published] zero-emission electricity standard including variable availability and reliability without [local and published] non-zero emission smoothing sources. Then there is the environmental blight factor of popular “green” solutions to consider. All for the sake of the prophecy of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming supported by myth, inference, and broad-spectrum bullhorns.

Tom Graney
November 23, 2018 11:24 am

Ok, I’ll allow for their concernedness, but complaining about the high cost of nukes is a bit like the guy who murdered his parents begging mercy from the court because he’s an orphan.

Bruce Cobb
November 23, 2018 11:53 am

UCS backpedals and spins. Methinks they doth protest too much.

William Astley
November 23, 2018 12:02 pm

The Green left are akin to little children who earnestly and deeply believe in a green care bear like world which includes engineering and economic fantasies.

The left is all Green now.

There is a black hat of basic engineering and economic facts that the Green and the Left ignore.

It is time for us to have a grown-up conversation rather than just respond to green care bear propaganda.

Germany has proved that is engineering and economically impossible to reach their goal of reducing emissions by 40% 1990 values compared to 2020.

There is no ‘green’ engineering miracle that can reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions to zero.


But Germany’s emissions decreases are relatively minor, which is confusing given that Germany has dramatically increased renewables with its Energiewende policy and that total energy use has decreased in that country.

It is not yet obvious that Germany’s experiment with high renewable penetration will meet their ambitious climate goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 40% over 1990 values by 2020, despite spending almost $800 billion on green energy subsidies.

Even the Berlin energiewende-based think-tank Agora Energiewendeprojected that it won’t be a near miss – but a booming failure.

Those who understand both energy and climate know that we need to bring up all low-carbon energy sources – renewables, nuclear and hydro – as quickly as possible to meet our climate goals in time to make any difference.

Otherwise it’s just an interesting experiment.

November 23, 2018 12:13 pm

UCS: concerned, yes. Scientists, NO.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 24, 2018 2:16 am

Union of Concerned Socialists?

Reply to  Eugene S Conlin
November 24, 2018 3:40 am

Union of Covetous Socialists?

November 23, 2018 12:19 pm

Perhaps unconcerned scientists should also form a union.

Bob B.
Reply to  Canman
November 23, 2018 12:30 pm

I’m neither a scientist nor concerned. Is there a union for me?

Mike Bryant
Reply to  Bob B.
November 23, 2018 6:50 pm

Perhaps “The Society of Unconcerned Non-scientists”. SUN.

kent beuchert
November 23, 2018 12:33 pm

The claim that conventional nuclear plants in Georgia will cost twice the original estimate , to $27 billion
ignores the illogical case of multiple examples being built by Russia and China for less than half that. Certainly there have been studies that show the several reasons that U.S. built nuclear is way more expensive than than in other countries, starting with the insane regulatory situation and the almost complete lack of
heavy steel fabricating capabilities in this country . The UCS anti-nuclear programs of the past are partially reponsible for the death of nuclear plant fabrication in this country. I find it laughable that they now complain about the situation they helped create. The very same Westinghouse AP1000 plants being built in China are costing not half as much. It might be added that China’s nuclear program is expanding and it dwarfs the renewable capacities that wind proponents have bragged about inthat country. In fact, China has banned any further wind, as disruptive of grid stability and too expensive. BUT, to make the case against nuclear by citing the problems with traditional light water reactors is missing the enormous advantages, economic and technolgical, that exist with the next generation of nuclear : molten salt reactors being developed by a dozen companies, and two countries : China and Russia. Recommending wind and solar demonstrates the utter ignorance of the horrible economics of both of these unreliable and primitive technologies and ignorance about the obvious future energy technoliges of molten salt nuclear reactors. The UCS continues displaying its ignorance of energy, present and future.

Reply to  kent beuchert
November 23, 2018 12:50 pm

“In fact, China has banned any further wind, as disruptive of grid stability and too expensive.”


1) The Gansu Wind Farm Project

2) Yangjiang Nanpeng Island

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Dave Burton
November 23, 2018 7:20 pm

They are or were planning a multi-billion dollar wind farm in Mongolia planning to send the power south.

Reply to  kent beuchert
November 23, 2018 1:40 pm

Quite right Kent. Slash the AEC/NRC et al redundant/unnecessary/fear-monger-inspired regulations and the army of bureaucrats administering them, and nukes could be built and operated economically, just like in many other countries.

Reply to  kent beuchert
November 24, 2018 2:23 am

Indeed. Our 2400 MW new VVER plant in Hungary costs a mere $11.3 billion, and that’s on a Russian loan and in an extremely corrupt country.

Reply to  kent beuchert
November 25, 2018 8:38 pm

I speak as a former nuclear power reactor designer and researcher. The case for light water reactors was made through duplicity regarding their manifest shortcomings. Hopefully, honesty will replace duplicity in making the case for molten salt reactors, if there is one.

November 23, 2018 1:09 pm

7 things the UCS get wrong in this statement:

1. Still promoting the fallacy that energy efficiency can be considered an energy source. It can’t. Numerous economic analyses over many decades have shown that greater energy efficiency leads to more energy use.

2. Nuclear plants are not immortal. This article says two contradictory things, that nuclear generation should not be lost and replaced with fossil fuel burning, but no new plants should be made since they’ve too expensive.

3. The extra costs of wind and solar, which reduce carbon emission (supposedly) should be met by government spending. But the extra costs of nuclear (especially capital cost), which reduces carbon emissions much more than intermittent renewables, should receive no subsidies, and nuclear should sink or swim in a market rigged against it. This is not a position taken by anyone serious about reducing carbon emissions. It is the position of a religiously fanatical and unconditional opponent of nuclear.

4. A price on carbon is the answer to a clean, contented and wealthy economy. Well the French have tried it and it’s not looking so promising.


In Europe, tax on fuel already accounts for 80-90 % of the price of diesel and petrol. Stagnant economic grows means more increasing of fuel tax will simply kill the economy.

5. “Grid reliability grounds for (subsidising) coal and nuclear are spurious”. This is a deliberate fallacy – no-one can pretend not to see that intermittent renewables are to an electricity grid what nerve toxins are to a living organism. They are utterly toxic, causing all regulation and balance to be destroyed. Intermittent renewables are catastrophic to grid reliability.

6. The authors fail to see that flat out contradicting themselves is not a logical fallacy. It is. At the outset they argue against any new nuclear investment on the grounds that it is cheaper to keep old reactors going. Then later they seem to forget that they made this argument and recommend closing all nuclear plant with cost and/or technical challenges. This could easily mean all nuclear plant. Postmodern logic. “It is, except, it’s not”.

Do they imagine that they can still have 100 operating nuclear plants in 2030 with zero investment in new nuclear generation? They can’t. Any they ignore one corrosive consequence of stopping nuclear build. Nuclear industry, science, expertise and capability will die. Only countries like Russia and China and maybe India who continue making atomic power stations will maintain an alive nuclear science and industry.

7. If in future there are unforeseen negative consequences of an anti nuclear, anti fossil fuel and pro intermittent renewable energy policy, then these consequences can be hidden from the public eye with distracting rhetoric and some creative government accounting. Wrong – this is the biggest fallacy of all. The costs involved of energy, and it’s importance as the pillar of the modern economy, are too great for hiding to be an option. Without effective energy supply, the world becomes North Korea. The elites may want this but the majority of normal people don’t.

Rich Davis
November 23, 2018 1:16 pm

Oh thank goodness, it was weighing on me thinking that I might have ANY common ground with UCS. Now that it’s clear that there is absolutely nothing that I agree with in their blather, all is right with the world.

November 23, 2018 1:18 pm

According to the latest report
America is doomed !
don’t believe a word of it, whoever are the doom-sayers who wrote it.

November 23, 2018 1:27 pm

Other examples include Indian Point, due to its proximity to New York City

Well, there ya go. Gotta shut it down ’cause it’s just too close to the big, rotten apple. The rotting apple that otherwise sucks every dollar, kilowatt & morsel of food out of surrounding areas, and then discards their stinking trash somewhere far away.

Reply to  beng135
November 23, 2018 2:04 pm

I believe that “somewhere” is in Virginia.

Ivor Ward
November 23, 2018 1:32 pm

China stops wind projects in the windy provinces


November 23, 2018 1:45 pm

Nuclear is the ultimate call BS card on …oh dear me the earth is on fire promoters .
Unless we come up with some other magic energy solution nuclear is going to save
the human race . The fact the eco anarchists don’t like it exposes their hypocrisy
as if we didn’t know .

Stanislav Jakuba
November 23, 2018 1:47 pm

An example of the cost of building a nuclear plat, its first reactor (two more were built subsequently. The first reactor of the Millstone 1970s nuclear plant cost 2.4 $/W, the dollars adjusted for inflation and the wattage reflecting the actual average power delivered over the decades. The subsequent reactors cost several times more. One reason: The first one was built by a consortium of utilities, before DoE existed. DoE did the next two reactors A copy of the third reactor was build concurrently on Long Island, NY. The copy was again many times more expensive that the original. It never fired and was eventually scrapped. UCS, check the statistics in your own backyard.

Compare that with the life-performance of an off-shore wind farm at 21.0 $/W – almost ten (10!) times dearer. That ten times ratio has not yet reached customer’s electricity bills thanks to, mostly, subsidies. The wind turbines are being dismantled after the usual two decades. The Millstone nuclear plant is still running in its fifth decade whereas the wind is for the third built and re-installation .

November 23, 2018 1:52 pm

Given the predicted solar minimum and record cold do you think people will start thinking more rationally when they start to freeze? Reality has a way of forcing silly ideas off the page. (I hope but won’t hold my breath. It may take a while for true believers to face facts.

Reply to  Old Woman of the North
November 23, 2018 2:02 pm

No, people will be told by ‘93% of experts’ that cold is caused by global warming, which now is called ‘climate change’ so anything goes: hot cold, flood, drought, too much snow, no snow, whatever else you can think of.

Reply to  vukcevic
November 23, 2018 4:08 pm

No, No, No….Now it is called….”Climate Disruption” ! LOL

Stanislav Jakuba
November 23, 2018 2:07 pm

Here an example of a nuclear power plant and its cost the UCS ignore: The first reactor of a near-by nuclear plant (two more were built subsequently) cost 2.4 $/W, the dollars adjusted for inflation and the wattage reflecting the actual average power delivered over the decades. The subsequent reactors cost several times more $/W. One reason: The first one was built by a consortium of utilities, before DoE existed. DoE did the next two reactors. A copy of the third reactor was build concurrently on Long Island, NY. The copy was again many times more expensive than the original. It never fired and was eventually scrapped. UCS, please check the statistics in your own backyard. It’s the bureaucracy that costs: Its salary and perks and its interference in the design and building process.

Compare that above life and cost with the life-performance and cost of an off-shore wind farm: it is 21.0 $/W – almost ten (10!) times dearer on the first major one replaced. That ten times ratio has not reached customer’s electricity bills thanks to, mostly, subsidies. The wind turbines are being dismantled after the usual two decades. The Millstone nuclear plant is still running in its fifth decade whereas the wind is shut down and being dismantled. It would be for the third built and re-installation in the same life of the nuke that may still keep going by then.

Bruce Cobb
November 23, 2018 2:13 pm

“Union of Concerned Scientists” sounds so much better than “Group of Idiotic, Misinformed Ideologues Who Wouldn’t Know Science if it Bit Them On the Ass”. Also, it’s a lot easier to say. Just rolls off the tongue.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
November 23, 2018 2:18 pm

“To bite them on them on the ass.”
Isn’t that Kenji’s job? 😎

Gunga Din
November 23, 2018 2:15 pm

7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES), but not at the expense of renewable electricity standards (RES).

7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES) unless they actually work, but not at the expense of taxpayer subsidies and Government regs biased for renewable electricity standards (RES).

Reply to  Gunga Din
November 23, 2018 3:03 pm

Here’s another translation:
The UCS is betting on every horse in the race, and expecting a cut of the purse.

michael hart
November 23, 2018 5:34 pm

Union of irrelevant busybodies pretending to be more important than they are by using the word “science”.

How about the Union of Concerned Chiropodists? The foot warriors have just as much right to be heard, and also know that the best place to plant your feet is not in your mouth.

Dr. Strangelove
November 23, 2018 7:44 pm

The answer to energy, water and cancer is… thorium

Hocus Locus
Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
November 23, 2018 8:40 pm

Robert of Texas
November 23, 2018 8:17 pm

If the U.S. would get serious about nuclear power, the costs would fall dramatically. We need to settle on one or two designs, they should be smaller, repeatable designs, and no more of this changing specifications halfway into construction. The government would have to pay for the research as no private industry dares take on all the risks after all the nutty law suits we have had.

Once research is complete, and some designs are settled on, then private companies pay for licensing and the government can get back some of the upfront costs.

In the last 100 years, there have been well over 40,000 direct deaths due to coal (mining, moving, burning). I am not including untold illness and deaths due to indirect causes (pollution) in the USA. An average of at least 400 per year.

Using data from England (apparently the place that calculated deaths caused by Wind Turbines in 2011), I came up with an estimate of at least 140 human deaths in the USA and likely much higher, not to mention all the bird and bat deaths. This is over the last 10 years, so say 14 per year.

Since civilian nuclear power came online, there have been less then 20 direct deaths, and probably as many indirect in the USA. (not counting military testing of nuclear bombs, which has nothing to do with civilian power). An average of about 1 person per year… So which is cleaner, safer, better?

Beta Blocker
November 23, 2018 10:10 pm

Here in the US, including the options of nuclear, wind, solar, and hydro in the power generation mix is strictly a public policy decision. Left to its own devices, the power market in the US would swing decisively towards gas-fired generation given that among all the choices available for the next several decades, gas-fired generation has the least technical, environmental, and financial risks. It also has the highest profit making potential for private investors.

More than a decade ago, in about 2006 when the initial cost estimates for pursuing a 21st century nuclear renaissance were being done, the 6 billion dollar estimate for a pair of new technology AP1000’s was thought by many to be too low. With twenty-five years passing without construction of a clean-sheet reactor design having been initiated, the US nuclear industrial base was in a deeply withered state. It was recognized that the steep learning curve for doing nuclear construction in the US had to be passed through for a second time, and that the cost estimates for initiating new projects had to include the costs of rebuilding the nuclear industrial base and of passing through the nuclear construction learning curve for yet another time.

More realistic estimates for two AP1000’s were developed in 2009 and later in 2012 — 9 billion dollars and 12 billion dollars respectively. It cannot be emphasized enough here that the estimate of 12 billion dollars when onsite construction began in 2012 included the expected costs of full compliance with NRC regulations and of passing through the nuclear learning curve for a second time. These estimates also assumed that all the difficult lessons learned from the nuclear projects of the 1980’s would be diligently applied to the latest projects as they were being initiated and while they were in progress.

How did 2012’s estimate of 12 billion dollars for two AP1000’s grow to 2017’s estimate of 25 billion dollars in just five years?

The answer here is that all the lessons learned from the 1980’s were ignored. Thirty years ago, a raft of studies and reports were published which analyzed the cost growth problems and the severe quality assurance issues the nuclear construction industry was then experiencing, and made a series of recommendations as to how to solve these problems. Those studies had a number of common threads:

Complex, First of a Kind Projects: Any large project that is complicated, involves new and/or high technology, has several phases, involves a diversity of technical specialties, involves a number of organizational interfaces, and has significant cost and schedule pressures—any project which has these characteristics is a prime candidate for experiencing significant quality assurance issues, cost control issues, and schedule growth problems.

Strength of the Industrial Base: Nuclear power requires competent expertise in every facet of design, construction, testing, and operations. This kind of competent expertise existed in the early 1980’s but was not being effectively utilized in many of the power reactor construction projects, the ones that experienced the most serious cost and schedule growth issues.

A Changing Technical Environment: The large reactor projects, the 1300 megawatt plants, were being built for the first time. They were being built without a prototype, and they were substantially different from previous designs. Those big plants had many new and significantly revised systems inside them, systems that had to be designed, constructed, tested, and subsequently operated.

A Changing Regulatory Environment: In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was a continual increase in the regulatory requirements being placed on power reactors. The Three Mile Island accident, the Brown’s Ferry fire, the Calvert Cliffs environmental decision, all of those events required the power utilities to change the way they were dealing with their projects in the middle of the game. Some power utilities were successful in making the necessary changes, others were not.

Project Management Effectiveness: Those nuclear projects which had a strong management team and strong management control systems at all levels of the project organization generally succeeded in delivering their projects on cost and on schedule. Those that didn’t were generally incapable of dealing with the changing technical and regulatory environment and became paralyzed in the face of the many QA issues, work productivity issues, and cost control issues they were experiencing.

Overconfidence Based on Past Project Success: Many of the power utilities which had a record of past success in building non-nuclear projects, and which were constructing nuclear plants for the first time, did not recognize that nuclear is different. Those utilities which did not take their regulatory commitments seriously and which did not do an adequate job of assessing whether or not the management systems and the project methods they had been using successfully for years were up to the task of managing a nuclear project.

Reliance on Contractor Expertise: The projects which succeeded had substantial nuclear expertise inside the power utility’s own shop. Those utilities who were successful in building nuclear plants were knowledgeable customers for the nuclear construction services they were buying. They paid close and constant attention to the work that was being done on the construction site, in the subcontractor fabrication shops, and in the contractor’s technical support organization. Emerging issues and problems were quickly and proactively identified, and quick action was taken to resolve those problems.

Management Control Systems: The nuclear projects which failed did not have effective management control systems for contractor and subcontractor design interface control; for configuration control and management of design documentation and associated systems and components; and for proper and up-to-date maintenance of contractor and inter-contractor cost and schedule progress information. Inadequate management control systems prevented an accurate assessment of where the project actually stood, and in many cases were themselves an important factor in producing substandard technical work.

Cost & Schedule Control Systems: For those projects which lacked a properly robust cost & schedule control system, many activities listed on their project schedules were seriously mis-estimated for time, cost, scope, and complexity. Other project activities covering significant portions of the total work scope were missing altogether, making it impossible to accurately assess where the project’s cost and schedule performance currently stood, and where it was headed in the future.

Quality Assurance: For those nuclear projects which lacked the necessary management commitment to meeting the NRC’s quality assurance expectations, the added cost of meeting new and existing regulatory requirements was multiplied several times over as QA deficiencies were discovered and as significant rework of safety-critical systems and components became necessary.

Construction Productivity & Progress: For those nuclear projects which lacked a strong management team; and which lacked effective project control systems and a strong management commitment to a ‘do-it-right the first time’ QA philosophy, the combined impacts of these deficiencies had severe impacts on worker productivity at the plant site, on supplier quality and productivity at offsite vendor facilities, and on the overall forward progress of the entire project taken as a whole.

Project Financing and Completion Schedule: As a result of these emerging QA and site productivity problems, many of the power utilities were forced to extend their construction schedules and to revise their cost estimates upward. Finding the additional money and the necessary project resources to complete these projects proved extremely difficult in the face of competition from other corporate spending priorities and from other revenue consuming activities.

A Change in Strategy by the Anti-nuclear Activists: In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the anti-nuclear activists were focusing their arguments on basic issues of nuclear safety. They got nowhere with those arguments. Then they changed their strategic focus and began challenging the nuclear projects on the basis of quality assurance issues, i.e., that many nuclear construction projects were not living up to the quality assurance commitments they had made to the public in their NRC license applications.

Regulatory Oversight Effectiveness: In the early 1980’s, the NRC was slow to react to emerging problems in the nuclear construction industry. In that period, the NRC was focusing its oversight efforts on the very last phases of the construction process when the plants were going for their operating licenses. Relatively little time and effort was being devoted to the earlier phases of these projects, when emerging QA problems and deficiencies were most easily identified and fixed. Quality assurance deficiencies that had been present for years were left unaddressed until the very last phases of the project, and so were much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive to resolve.

Working Relationships with Regulators: The successful nuclear projects from the 1970’s and 1980’s, the ones that stayed on cost and on schedule, did not view the NRC as an adversary. The successful projects viewed the NRC as a partner and a technical resource in determining how best to keep their project on track in the face of an increasingly more complex and demanding project environment. On the other hand, for those projects which had significant deficiencies in their QA programs, for those that did not take their QA commitments seriously, the anti-nuclear activists introduced those deficiencies into the NRC licensing process and were often successful in delaying and sometimes even killing a poorly managed nuclear project.

If it’s done with nuclear, it must be done with exceptional dedication to doing a professional job in all phases of project execution from beginning to end.

Once again, it cannot be emphasized enough here that the estimate of 12 billion dollars for two AP1000’s when onsite construction at VC Summer and at Vogtle 3 & 4 began in 2012 included the expected costs of full compliance with NRC regulations and of passing through the nuclear learning curve for a second time. These estimates also assumed that all the difficult lessons learned from the nuclear projects of the 1980’s, as I’ve described them above, would be diligently applied to the latest projects as they were being initiated and while they were in progress.

For those of us who went through the wrenching experiences of the 1980’s in learning how to do nuclear construction right the first time, what we’ve seen with VC Summer and Vogtle 3 & 4 has been deja vu all over again. The first indications of serious trouble came in 2011 when the power utilities chose contractor teams that did not have the depth of talent and experience needed to handle nuclear projects of this level of complexity and with this level of project risk. That the estimated cost eventually grew to 25 billion dollars in 2017 should be no surprise.

The project owners and managers ignored the hard lessons of the 1980’s. They did not do a professional job in managing their nuclear projects; and they did not meet their commitments to the public as these commitments are outlined in their regulatory permit applications. Just as happened in the 1980’s, the anti-nuclear activists and the government regulatory agencies are now holding these owners and managers to account for failures that were completely avoidable if sound management practices had been followed.

[Recommend you submit this for consideration as a stand-alone topic. .mod]

Steve O
November 26, 2018 9:25 am

The cost of nuclear power is going up? Gosh, I wonder what could possibly be the driver…

Johann Wundersamer
December 2, 2018 8:16 am

“7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES), but not at the expense of renewable electricity standards (RES).”

UCS even has acronyms for

a low carbon electricity standard (LCES),


a renewable electricity standards (RES).

If thei’re so clever, why ain’t they successful

( in points 1. to 7. )

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