Response to Article: “If Radical Innovation Makes Nuclear Power Expensive, Why Do We Think It Will Make Nuclear Cheap”

Forbes Magazine
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Dear Sir:

In a well-sourced article entitled “If Radical Innovation Makes Nuclear Power Expensive, Why Do We Think It Will Make Nuclear Cheap,” Mr. Michael Shellenberger posits the thesis that the nuclear industry’s attempts to innovate are responsible for its present travails. I submit that his narrative of nuclear energy’s ascent and decline, while based on factually accurate strands of logic, leads to a conclusion that does not do justice to the range of issues that afflict the industry.The underlying reasons for the industry’s problems are far too complex.

The author cites the innovations introduced by Westinghouse in its AP-1000 reactor to be behind its spiraling cost. This is only partially true; the major cause is the new regulatory regimen known as 10CFR52 adopted by the government which, while well intentioned, has failed to streamline the nuclear plant regulation process in practice. Much of the delay in completing the AP-1000 plants can be attributed to the untested “Part 52” regulations. Imperfect innovations, to the extent they have played a part, can be traced to the erosion of practical know-how which occurred because of nearly three decades of hibernation that the industry suffered in the wake of TMI and Chernobyl.

On a more fundamental level, the safety regulation of nuclear power plants has been on national level with each country’s regulator reigning as its uncontested sovereign. There is no global regulator like there is the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This is peculiar for an industry where a mishap in for instance, Chernobyl, affected millions of citizens in far-away countries in central and Western Europe. This fragmentation of regulatory control has led to uneven regulations and their enforcement. Thus, while the AP-1000s in China are smartly coming on line, the ones in the United States lumber along.

A pernicious offshoot of the uncertainty in regulations is the “cost plus” culture for building nuclear power plants. It is not hard to deduce that “cost plus” contracts dampen the drive for, yes, innovations! Contrast the paucity of robots in the nuclear plant construction industry to the automotive manufacturing industry which is swimming in robots.

There are many drivers behind the nuclear industry’s present difficulties but the quest to innovate is not one of them. Our company, unconstrained by the quarterly report pressure of Wall Street, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a new innovative 160 MW reactor we call SMR- 160. Our reactor is brimming with innovations with unconditional safety as its core mission. Our belief in success through innovation is so firm that we are soldiering on without a dime of funding from any government. We are among the small coterie of entrepreneurial companies who believe that creative ideas and innovations tempered with lessons learned from seven decades of nuclear plant operations will deliver bounteous amounts of competitively priced carbon-free energy to a world desperately in need of it.

Very truly yours,

Dr. Kris P. Singh, President & CEO

Remarks by Dr. Kris Singh, General Chair of the American Nuclear Society’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia (June 18-21, 2018)


Ladies and Gentlemen: It is my distinct honor and great privilege to open the 2018 annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society here in the City of Brotherly Love. First, we should salute the hard work and dedication of the members of the Meeting Planning Committee who have made this event possible: They are our unsung heroes. Please join me in showing our appreciation for their hard work. (Applause)

Founded in 1954, ANS is the oldest such organization in the world. Its mission is to chaperon advances in peaceful use of nuclear energy which was, as you all know, born in the United States of America. In its early years, ANS was the intellectual guardian of this transformative technology that would make energy plentiful and its generation indisputably clean. Its promise for mankind’s universal benefit was held to be so compelling that America launched the Atom for Peace initiative to freely share the nuclear power generation knowhow with its closest allies. This American benevolence led to the rise of several world-class companies in Europe, one of them beginning as the Franco-American Atomic Company or Framatome that later became Areav. As this diffusion and sharing of nuclear technology continued, one can justifiably assert that America’s original resolve to leverage the atom to give the planet an abundant source of clean energy has succeeded famously. China views nuclear power to be the path to lift the stubborn smog over its large cities and is building nuclear power plants at a breakneck speed to improve the quality of air its citizens breathe. China’s embrace of nuclear has followed on the heels of South Korea which did the same starting in the 1980s to nourish its rising manufacturing sector. Both Korea and China have experienced rapid growth rates which coincide with the rise of nuclear power in their countries. In South Asia, India is poised to implement a massive nuclear plant construction program to support its ongoing rapid growth rate. Even the middle-east, which is blessed with vast reserves of fossil fuels, has awakened to the need to summon nuclear energy to diversify its power generation infrastructure. Thanks to the successful efforts of their policy makers and thought leaders, Britain and France continue to successfully expand their nuclear energy programs. While nuclear energy struggles to keep its foothold in its place of birth, it is booming in the most populated parts of the planet.

Unlike coal, the obstacle facing nuclear power in America is fundamentally economic, not environmental. “Fracked” gas has made combined cycle plants much cheaper to build and operate. The public has not yet connected climate change with the copious quantities of the infamous greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide-disgorged into the environment by the gas-fired plants. Hundreds of combined cycle plants are being built with little public opposition. It is a unique irony of our times that gas-fired plants get a free pass even as nuclear power generation, which emits no greenhouse gases, is hounded by self-appointed environmentalists. Disingenuously,

they invoke the absurd accident scenarios to stop nuclear energy at every step of the way. In an act of brazen prevarication, they have even termed a used nuclear fuel facility — which cannot possibly become a risk to public health and safety under any conceivable extreme environmental phenomenon delivered to it by Nature or mendacity of man — as a potential Fukushima or a putative Chernobyl ! Unfortunately, we in the industry have been passive and clumsy in educating the public. The dishonest narrative against nuclear energy is noisily repeated endlessly by the canard-mongers while we in the industry sniffle at their ignorant polemic but do little to raise our collective voice. The dialog in the public square is not fair and balanced. I call upon you, the stewards of nuclear technology, to take your rightful place in the public square and join the battle to protect truth and facts against mischievous and untrue propaganda.

The anti-nukes in Western Europe are the most effective salesmen for Russia’s Gazprom: they have been successfully shutting down nuclear units turning the West’s grave dependence on Russian “gas” into a desperate one. Only Britain and France in Western Europe seem to understand the merit of nuclear and seem to know how to deal with the perverse agenda of their misguided domestic activists. We should learn from them how to shine light on the untruthful and diabolical utterances masquerading as public interest in the United States. My disappointment is not with the established NGOs such as the National Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists who, by and large, have been quite deliberate and responsible in articulating their positions. What we find quite annoying is the nonsensical diatribe spread by bands of local activists around nuclear plants who deftly utilize the mass media to advance their sinister agenda.

But exposing the purveyors of misinformation is only half of the job; the other half is to make the new nuclear walk away safe. Without the guarantee of unconditional safety built into the DNA of nuclear plants, the ghosts of Fukushima and Chernobyl will continue to haunt the industry. Our new generation of reactors must be provably immune from any serious accidents. We cannot design reactors that have a credible core damage frequency, no matter how small! In a recent meeting chaired by the President of Ukraine, who owns numerous confectioneries in Ukraine and Russia, I joked that our small modular reactor being developed in collaboration with our partners in Canada, Japan and Ukraine, would be as safe as a chocolate factory! I firmly believe that unless we walk the talk of safety, the nuclear industry will not realize its full potential as the savior of our planet against environmental catastrophe triggered by rising greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

I believe that if we do our part to deliver unconditionally safe reactor designs and to conduct an effective public outreach to provide solid facts to the public, we will ensure that the best days of nuclear energy are ahead of us. Our company expects to sell over 500 of our SMR-160 reactor’s over the next 30 years. Other world developers of meritorious reactor designs, I believe, will achieve similar success propelled by the vast global demand for baseload power. A sustained nuclear renaissance beckons us to play our part to make it happen. Our effort to re-vitalize nuclear energy is necessary to undo the damage that humans have inflicted on the environment over the past two centuries through relentless emission of harmful gases for power generation.

In this conference, we have the unique privilege to welcome industry leaders from Canada, India, Spain, Switzerland, UK, Ukraine and US who will share their wisdom and perspective on the industry’s present and future with us. Throughout this conference, we will also learn about the recent exciting developments in nuclear technology from academics, nuclear technologists and scientists from America and abroad. I believe you will have much to take way from this conference, which I have the unique privilege to Chair.

Dr. Kris Singh
General Chair

Safety, Continuous Improvement Make First Used Fuel Storage Campaign a Watts Bar Team Success

A large, integrated team from across the site worked together to safely complete the first Watts Bar used fuel storage campaign during the past several weeks. The team, which included Watts Bar employees, Holtec and D&Z team members, and support from Sequoyah and Browns Ferry, loaded 222 used fuel assemblies into six massive storage cask (shown behind the team) below the overall project dose goal.

A very large and integrated team focused on safety and continuous improvement to successfully complete Watts Bar’s first used fuel storage campaign.

During a span of seven weeks, the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) team loaded and moved 222 used fuel bundles from the spent fuel pool into robust storage containers and then onto the seismically designed ISFSI pad.