Monday, April 7, 2014

The Truth About Nuclear Power - Part Nine

Subtitle: Nuclear power plants require long construction schedules
Up until now, the Truth About Nuclear Power series has discussed the costs of operating and constructing the plants, and the impact on scarce water resources.  It has been shown that nuclear power plants cost far too much to construct, use far too much water, cannot compete in today’s electricity market, and if they were the sole source of electricity on a grid, power prices would escalate to unacceptably high levels.   
This article discusses one of the reasons nuclear plants cost so much, and debunks one of the favorite talking points of the nuclear advocates.  The advocates are fond of saying that nuclear plants would not cost so much if only the lawyers would step aside and let the plants be built without lawsuits.   In fact, frivolous lawsuits are now barred for new nuclear power construction in the US.  However, costly delays are occurring, and will occur in the future for the usual set of construction delay issues.  Delays cost money, and the longer the delay, the more money is spent by one of the parties to the construction. 
Examples of construction delays include, but are not limited to, tearing out and re-working faulty construction, equipment suppliers providing late or defective items, serious adverse weather, unforeseen site conditions, and redesign for new NRC requirements.  Also, delays can be caused by worker slowdowns, lawsuits for allowable causes, owner-contractor disputes, faulty design that requires corrections, acts of God or the enemy (force majeur), improper scheduling by the contractor, inadequate workforce staffing or untrained workforce (learning on the job), poor supervision, and others.
As one example, nuclear power plants have many critical welds.  The critical welds must be performed by qualified welders, who are paid a premium.  Also, the critical welds are required to be x-rayed to ensure the welds meet quality control specifications and will be sufficiently strong.  It takes time, and costs money to x-ray and inspect all those critical welds.  It is well-known that the South Texas Nuclear Plant had many faulty critical welds that failed x-ray inspection and had to be welded again until they were right. 
Another example, again from the South Texas Nuclear Plant, of faulty design that required correction is the mis-match on the drawings for two halves of the plant.  The piping and other items that were to connect across the match-line were off by a noticeable amount.  The work was delayed while the engineering firm re-engineered and re-issued the proper drawings.  Delays caused by faulty rebar for concrete have been an issue at the Vogtle plant under construction in Georgia, USA.   Other delays at Vogtle include design changes, and delivery of equipment.  Vogtle is now reported to be 21 months behind schedule.  That number will surely increase as more time passes.    See link for list of delays and cost over-runs at Vogtle.  
Delays occur in other countries, also.  As an example, the Finland plant being installed by Areva had delays with the concrete.  Apparently, the concrete was not to the required specification.  That project is also years behind schedule. 
Even without delays, nuclear plants require longer to construct due to the inherent danger of nuclear power (discussed in Part Five) and the three levels of containment required by the NRC.  In short, there are many more items of equipment required to contain the deadly radioactivity if and when an accident occurs.   More items of equipment require longer construction times.  Also, more testing is required before startup, more inspection as the construction progresses, all of which take time. 
Nuclear power plants require long construction schedules, made longer by delays that have nothing to do with lawsuits to impede progress.
Previous articles in the Truth About Nuclear Power series are found at the following links.  Additional articles will be linked as they are published. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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