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  • Energy in America, economics, politics, environment, science, technology, etc.

    This seems like a good long term topic for discussions.
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  • #2
    Originally posted by MIT_News_Office

    Study identifies reasons for soaring nuclear plant cost overruns in the U.S.

    Analysis points to ways engineering strategies could be reimagined to minimize delays and other unanticipated expenses.


    by David L. Chandler
    18 November 2020

    A new analysis by MIT researchers details many of the underlying issues that have caused cost overruns on new nuclear power plants in the U.S., which have soared ever higher over the last five decades. The new findings may help the designers of new plants build in resilience to the factors that tend to cause these overruns, thus helping to bring down the costs of such plants.

    Paper: “Sources of Cost Overrun in Nuclear Power Plant Construction Call for a New Approach to Engineering Design.”

    Many analysts believe nuclear power can play a significant part in reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, and finding ways to curb these rising costs could be an important step toward encouraging the construction of new plants, the researchers say. The findings are being published today in the journal Joule, in a paper by an MIT team: professors Jessika Trancik and Jacopo Buongiorno, students Philip Eash-Gates SM ’19, Magdalena Klemun PhD ’20, Goksin Kavlak PhD ’18, and Research Scientist James McNerney.

    Among the surprising findings in the study, which covered 50 years of U.S. nuclear power plant construction data, was that, contrary to expectations, building subsequent plants based on an existing design actually costs more, not less, than building the initial plant.

    The authors also found that while changes in safety regulations could account for some of the excess costs, that was only one of numerous factors contributing to the overages.

    “It’s a known fact that costs have been rising in the U.S. and in a number of other locations, but what was not known is why and what to do about it,” says Trancik, who is an associate professor of energy studies in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society. The main lesson to be learned, she says, is that “we need to be rethinking our approach to engineering design.”

    Part of that rethinking, she says, is to pay close attention to the details of what has caused past plant construction costs to spiral out of control, and to design plants in a way that minimizes the likelihood of such factors arising. This requires new methods and theories of technological innovation and change, which the team has been advancing over the past two decades.

    Many of the excess costs were associated with delays caused by the need to make last-minute design changes based on particular conditions at the construction site or other local circumstances, so if more components of the plant, or even the entire plant, could be built offsite under controlled factory conditions, such extra costs could be substantially cut.

    Taking the containment buildings surrounding the reactor as an example of a cost component, certain design changes could help to reduce the costs, Trancik says. For instance, substituting some new kinds of concrete in the massive structures could reduce the overall amount of the material needed, and thus slash the onsite construction time as well as the material costs.

    Many of the reasons behind the cost increases, Trancik says, “suggest that there’s a lack of resilience, in the process of constructing these plants, to variable construction conditions.” Those variations can come from safety regulations that are changing over time, but there are other reasons as well. “All of this points to the fact that there is a path forward to increasing resilience that involves understanding the mechanisms behind why costs increased in the first place.”

    A more resilient design can help achieve cost savings: “If you’re having to go back and redo the design because of something about a particular site or a changing safety regulation, then if you build into your design that you have all of these different possibilities based on these things that could happen,” that can protect against the need for such last-minute redesign work and costly delays.

    “These are soft costs contributions,” Trancik says, which have not tended to be prioritized in the typical design process. “They’re not hardware costs, they are changes to processes responding to the environment in which the construction is happening. … If you build that in to your engineering models and your engineering design process, then you may be able to avoid the cost increases in the future.”

    One approach, which would involve designing nuclear plants that could be built in factories and trucked to the site, has been advocated by many nuclear engineers for years. For example, rather than today’s huge nuclear plants, modular and smaller reactors could be completely self-contained and delivered to their final site with the nuclear fuel already installed. Numerous such plants could be ganged together to provide output comparable to that of larger plants, or they could be distributed more widely to reduce the need for long-distance transmission of the power. Alternatively, a larger plant could be designed to be assembled on site from an array of smaller factory-built subassemblies.

    “This relationship between the hardware design and the soft costs really needs to be brought into the engineering design process,” she says, “but it’s not going to happen without a concerted effort, and without being informed by modeling that accounts for these potential ballooning soft costs.”

    Trancik says that while some of the steps to control costs involve increased use of automated processes, these need to be considered in a societal context. “Many of these involve human jobs and it is important, especially in this time, where there’s such a need to create high-quality sustained jobs for people, this should also factor into the engineering design process. So it’s not that you need to look only at costs.” But the kind of analysis the team used, she says, can still be useful. “You can also look at the benefit of a technology in terms of jobs, and this approach to mechanistic modeling can allow you to do that.”

    The methodology the team used to analyze the causes of cost overruns could potentially also be applied to other large, capital-intensive construction projects, Trancik says, where similar kinds of cost overruns often occur.

    “One way to think about it as you’re bringing more of the entire construction process into manufacturing plants, that can be much more standardized.” That kind of increased standardization is part of what has led, for example, to a 95 percent cost reduction in solar panels and in lithium-ion batteries over the last few decades, she says. “We can think of it as making these larger projects more similar to those manufacturing processes.”

    Buongiorno adds that “only by reducing the cost of new plants can we expect nuclear energy to play a pivotal role in the upcoming energy transformation.”

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    • #3
      One of these days, I'd like to see a good cost comparison of different power generation models (I've left off some, like wave power, as not-yet-ready-for-prime-time).


      Cost to acquire fuel:

      Coal – digging, processing, miners' health issues

      Oil – digging, processing

      Gas – digging, processing

      Nuclear – digging, processing

      Solar – collecting

      Hydro – dam construction, population/wildlife displacement




      Cost to generate power:

      Coal – plant construction

      Oil – plant construction

      Gas – plant construction

      Nuclear – plant construction

      Solar –

      Hydro – plant construction




      Cost of by-products:

      Coal – greenhouse gases

      Oil – greenhouse gases

      Gas – greenhouse gases

      Nuclear – potential radiation leakage; very long-term waste disposal

      Solar –

      Hydro –




      And, for completeness,

      Conservation – retrofitting buildings, improving energy yield


      Trust me?
      I'm an economist!

      Comment


      • #4
        DOR,

        One argument about solar is it takes land out of use for farming...that is a real sore point in my county right now as 3 large farms have or are in the process of being taken out of production and converted to solar farms.

        This makes sense as Dominion Power operates one of the most polluting coal fired plants within view of the RIchmond skyline and a nuke plant down river.

        Some local farmers are up in arms over this as they see the loss of farmland as an "assault" on family farms.

        The counter argument to that is the Netherlands...where almost all land is used to produce tulips, dairy and some grans and all other food is raised hydroponically indoors.

        Also you need to add to all of these the cost of maintenance as you cannot just build and leave them....hydro damn maintenance and erosion, nuke refueling, coal annual shutdown for cleaning, etc.

        Interesting topic.

        When I was in college in the 1970s I took a poli sci class based on 4 areas....Energy, Food, Water & Weather. Very Rollerball-ish. We studied the future impacts on the global situation based on these 4 resource areas. Interesting to see how things have played our over the intervening 40+ years.
        “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
        Mark Twain

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
          DOR,

          One argument about solar is it takes land out of use for farming...that is a real sore point in my county right now as 3 large farms have or are in the process of being taken out of production and converted to solar farms.

          This makes sense as Dominion Power operates one of the most polluting coal fired plants within view of the RIchmond skyline and a nuke plant down river.

          Some local farmers are up in arms over this as they see the loss of farmland as an "assault" on family farms.

          The counter argument to that is the Netherlands...where almost all land is used to produce tulips, dairy and some grans and all other food is raised hydroponically indoors.

          Also you need to add to all of these the cost of maintenance as you cannot just build and leave them....hydro damn maintenance and erosion, nuke refueling, coal annual shutdown for cleaning, etc.

          Interesting topic.

          When I was in college in the 1970s I took a poli sci class based on 4 areas....Energy, Food, Water & Weather. Very Rollerball-ish. We studied the future impacts on the global situation based on these 4 resource areas. Interesting to see how things have played our over the intervening 40+ years.
          Fair comment, and thanks for reminding me of the cost of maintenance.

          Trust me?
          I'm an economist!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by DOR View Post

            Fair comment, and thanks for reminding me of the cost of maintenance.
            I'm an Acquisition Logistician. I ALWAYS consider project life cycle costs when figuring out total system cost...including disposal at the end of service life!
            “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
            Mark Twain

            Comment


            • #7
              Viewpoint: Nuclear, the auctions and the grid
              09 December 2021
              Meredith Angwin

              US electricity grids, especially deregulated grids with auctions, have become fragile and unreliable due to over-dependence on intermittent renewables and just-in-time delivery of natural gas, together with a reliance on imports, writes Meredith Angwin. Nuclear energy, she says, could break the trifecta and prevent rolling blackouts.

              I have been a nuclear supporter for many years, ever since I moved from the renewable group at Electric Power Research Institute to the nuclear group. When I moved to Vermont in semi-retirement, I noticed that Vermont Yankee was constantly attacked in the press and with demonstrations. Some friends and I began to defend Vermont Yankee with letters to the editor and counter-demonstrations. I also started a blog: Yes Vermont Yankee. My blog covered many electricity issues in New England, such as Vermont utility contracts for Hydro-Quebec power.

              While blogging, I realised I was out of my depth about the grid. Sometimes, I couldn’t even understand announcements about grid decisions that affected the nuclear plant - for instance, what did "not allowed to delist from forward capacity auction" even mean? I began my studies of the grid, in order to write reasonable blog posts.

              Since I was covering the grid, one blog reader suggested that I join the Consumer Liaison Group of our grid operator, ISO-NE. I did, and it was a revelation. I knew that power plants bid into an auction. In the Consumer Liaison Group, I was able understand the auction rules, and to see how different groups succeed in changing the rules.

              Our New England grid has two main auctions: energy and capacity. The energy auctions are auctions for kWh, and they run every five minutes. In this auction, low-priced units get chosen first, but all the units get paid the “clearing price,” that is, the kWh price of the highest-priced unit chosen. Reliability is not valued in these auctions, and that is putting the matter mildly.

              In a capacity auction, the plant is paid for its “capacity,” that is, for being available if the grid needs its output. However, receiving capacity payments does not mean that the plant is available, because it does not guarantee that the plant can get fuel. In cold weather, gas-fired plants are often not available, because homes are using more gas, and the power plants can’t get fuel.

              Our local grid operator set up the Winter Reliability programme, which provided oil for some plants which could burn either oil or gas. Thirty percent of the electricity on our grid was provided by this oil during the 2017-2018 winter holiday cold snap. Fuel stored on site is valuable! However, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shut down the Winter Reliability programme as not being market-based and giving an advantage to one fuel: oil.

              Basically, I came to the conclusion that grid after grid, especially "deregulated" grids with auctions, are going down the path to the fatal trifecta. With auctions, it is easier and quicker to go down this path: overdependence on 1) renewables, 2) just-in-time natural gas, and 3) imports from your neighbours.

              It works this way. First, renewables that get subsidy payments can "outcompete" other plants, because of the subsidies. Wind especially can bid into the energy auctions at zero cents or below, and it will usually be chosen first, as the least expensive set of plants. Meanwhile, the wind turbines get their subsidy payments, so they are profitable. Consequently, many wind turbines are built.

              However, wind and solar are intermittent, and they need to be backed up by "fast acting resources". This is not about load following, which tends to be a rather smooth process. This is about "fast acting when the wind dies down or the sun sets". Gas-fired plants can provide this service and they do.

              So far in this story, the grid has become dependent on intermittent renewables and just-in-time delivery of natural gas. Just-in-time gas delivery failed in bad weather in Texas and in New England. It is now in trouble in Europe. Two legs of the fatal trifecta are in place. In the final part of the trifecta, the grid operator says: we can always get electricity from neighbouring grids (import electricity). But the neighbours are having the same weather you are having. In bad weather, the neighbouring grids are not going to export power when they need it themselves.

              The outcome of this process is a fragile, unreliable grid, deep in the fatal trifecta, and subject to rolling blackouts.

              To break this scenario, we need to take grid reliability seriously, including by planning. Before the auction systems were implemented, Integrated Resource Planning was important. It is still done in many areas, but it is almost irrelevant if the area has the auctions. Also, fuel stored on site should be encouraged and subsidised by the grid operator. Since wind turbines can be subsidised, on-site fuel could also be encouraged. On-site fuel includes the nuclear fuel that can keep a plant going for 18 months without refuelling, but it would also include oil to be stored at dual-fired gas plants.

              Unfortunately, many areas of the USA and Europe are pushing toward 100% renewables. They are launching themselves at the fatal trifecta, and basically doing everything to encourage it. This path will not end well, and we can see the beginning of the end already.

              Grid reliability is absolutely key to people's health and prosperity. In many areas of the world, people have forgotten that, and instead are putting their faith in renewables and supposed markets. When all is said and done, I consider my book - Shorting the Grid, the Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid - to be an exposé of what is actually happening on the grids.

              It is hard for ordinary people to find out what is happening on the real grids. In contrast, it is easy to find out about the grids we "could" have. Many popular articles and academic papers describe what I call the "Could Grid". In the Could Grid, we have huge batteries available, plus carbon capture, plus green hydrogen. And so forth. Not many articles describe the grids we have, or the way the auctions work, or the path of the fatal trifecta.

              Supporting nuclear energy could break the trifecta and prevent rolling blackouts. Nuclear supplies steady, reliable energy. Claiming that reliability doesn't matter and all we need is flexibility - that assumes that we keep building more and more intermittent renewables, and therefore must build "flexible" gas plants to back them up.

              If our aim is low-emission power, nuclear will provide that. If our aim is steady power, nuclear can provide that without overbuilding gas-fired plants to back up the overbuilding of renewables. If our aim is reliable power in cold weather, nuclear has fuel on site, without forcing the grid operator to set up complex Winter Reliability programmes. However, for nuclear to survive in auction areas, some of the auction rules must change to value steady power that is available when needed. Payment for reliable power is currently undercut by intermittent plants that receive so many subsidies that they don’t actually need to be paid for kWh. Encouraging nuclear will take some changes to grid auction rules, but that is not impossible.

              The first step is knowing about the auctions, and how they work. The second step is changing some aspects of the auctions. In my opinion, all citizens need to know about the real grids, not just the Could Grid. We need to work to keep our real grids reliable.

              ———————

              Meredith Angwin is a physical chemist and a former project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute. Her most recent book is Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid.

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              • #8
                Solar and wind both have extensive need of landfills as they are not currently recyclable. They also involve a lot of mining and use of petrochemicals in the manufacturing. Wind and solar can also be dangerous to birds based on the type of generator. A super solar farm in the Sahara may kill the Amazon so smaller more numerous systems might be better. Home solar protected by net metering may impose risks to long term grid maintenance. Adding lithium battery backup has additional costs. Making wind and solar winter proof adds more cost as we saw in Texas.

                Nuclear needs to ditch President Carter, use breeder reactors to get way higher efficiency from fuel rods/pellets and treat as much waste as possible with classification for long term (eons) storage. Current US nuclear efficiency is about 1% of each fuel rods potential power. The rest gets polluted with nuclear by products.

                White/IR reflective roofs Can radically reduce residential and commercial cooling costs. Walmart now uses natural lighting and white roofs to save 50% over old black tar roofs. White roofs can also help restore the planets total albedo even if not at the poles. As AGW continues the earth will green lowering the planets albedo and increasing the amount of solar radiation that doesn't bounce back out

                Comment


                • #9
                  Nuclear needs to find a safe way to keep waste out of the environment for a period of time longer than that of written language.
                  Trust me?
                  I'm an economist!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    [QUOTE=DOR;n1579365]Nuclear needs to find a safe way to keep waste out of the environment for a period of time longer than that of written language.[/QUOTE
                    see my point about Carter and breeder reactors. Less waste but more radioactive. Also I misremembered classification. It's vitification. Been a decade since I wrote an undergrad paper on it.

                    In the US the ban on breeder reactors means we do not reprocess commercial power fuel rods. One and done.

                    https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-c.../radwaste.html

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      [QUOTE=zraver;n1579370]
                      Originally posted by DOR View Post
                      Nuclear needs to find a safe way to keep waste out of the environment for a period of time longer than that of written language.[/QUOTE
                      see my point about Carter and breeder reactors. Less waste but more radioactive. Also I misremembered classification. It's vitification. Been a decade since I wrote an undergrad paper on it.

                      In the US the ban on breeder reactors means we do not reprocess commercial power fuel rods. One and done.

                      https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-c.../radwaste.html
                      "Less waste but more radioactive"
                      Therein lies the rub: rather than not creating any, let's make waste more deadly!

                      Now, about that period of time longer than written language issue ...
                      Trust me?
                      I'm an economist!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Vitification turns it into glass. Glass does not decay or erode if dropped down a dry hole.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by zraver View Post
                          Vitification turns it into glass. Glass does not decay or erode if dropped down a dry hole.
                          So, forever waiting for some poor species to find it.
                          Pass.
                          Trust me?
                          I'm an economist!

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by DOR View Post

                            So, forever waiting for some poor species to find it.
                            Pass.
                            Better than writing millions of species out of existence via AGW.

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                            • #15
                              False equivalence.
                              It is not a binary issue.
                              Trust me?
                              I'm an economist!

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