The press and media miss the citizen’s business with notable regularity.  The one we all should be watching and getting involved with is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s activity regarding a proposed new rulemaking on the annual fees charged to nuclear reactor licensees.  Already there are the lawyers who are in FAT city due to their ability to charge great fees doing the same thing over and over.

The important issue is in the justification for the need for a restructured system that takes into account the regulatory costs that may very well be quite different for the new small, passively safe reactors compared to the old large central station systems that depend on engineered safety systems, multiple back-up power supplies and a trained force of hundreds of plant operators.

Under current law, the new 10 MWe power reactor designed to provide all of the electricity and heat needed for small utilities serving up to say 20,000± people, would have to pay a $4 million annual fee, just like a multiple 1000 MWe power plant built by a large utility.  An individual plant may have to supply both peaks and valleys in power demand, it might operate at an annual capacity factor of only 50% with an availability factor closer to 100% due to the 20 year refueling cycle and to account for the peak load. At that cost factor, the license fee would be about 9-10 cents per kilowatt-hour, making the regulatory fee alone more than the total costs for coal plant supplied power.  Something is way, way wrong here.

US Electricity Production Costs 1995 2008.  Click image for the larger view.

US Electricity Production Costs 1995 2008. Click image for the larger view.

This illustrates why small power plant developers, utilities and ratepayers need to get on this issue now, otherwise there will not be a small reactor industry developed in the United States.  There is a lot at stake.

The Wall Street Journal published Bob Metcalfe’s June 24, 2009 opinion piece titled “The New Nuclear Revolution: Safe fission power is our future — if regulators allow it.”

Now 104 nuclear energy plants provide 20% of U.S. electricity.  These are already cheaper and cleaner than burning coal, oil and gas with all their pollutants.  The big names in nuclear energy like Areva, Hitachi, Babcock & Wilcox, General Electric and Toshiba — have recently been joined by high-tech start-ups seeking to develop advanced nuclear-reactor designs for both fission and fusion energy production. Hyperion, NuScale, Babcock & Wilcox, and Toshiba each have small reactors plans coming for fission reactors.  At least Bussard’s Nebel lead group, Rostocker’s TriAlpha and Lerner’s FocusFusion as well as the blunderbuss ITER in Europe each have good prospects to make breakeven, some sooner than others in the fusion field.  Just to cap all of that potential is the stunning availability of thorium for fission fuel that dwarfs uranium in potential supply and has had the bulk of the technology worked out for about 40 years.

The barrier, dam, deal killer, obstacle to progress or other description is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Rod Adams discuses it this way, “The obstacle to closing any deal is when we tell them (potential customers) that we cannot obtain permission to even build a demonstration unit without paying the US government at least $50 million ($250,000 initially plus $250 for every bureaucrat hour billed to the process – with NO CAP) and going through a process of legal and regulatory reviews that will take a minimum of 42 months. Even that duration estimate is suspect since regulators have publicly stated that they believe it will take longer than that already challenging (from an investor point of view) 42 months since our technology is not as familiar to them as the technology used in established extra large light water reactors. They ignore the documented history of projects like AVR, Peach Bottom 1, and the currently operating HTR-10 in China that provide the technical lineage of our concept.”

Metcalfe puts his position this way, “As venture capitalists, we at Polaris might have invested in one or two of these fission-energy start-ups. Alas, we had to pass. The problem with their business plans weren’t their designs, but the high costs and astronomical risks of designing nuclear reactors for certification in Washington. The start-ups estimate that it will cost each of them roughly $100 million and five years to get their small reactor designs certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. About $50 million of each $100 million would go to the commission itself. That’s a lot of risk capital for any venture-backed start-up, especially considering that not one new commercial nuclear reactor design has been approved and built in the United States for 30 years.”  Its also a bunch of money to land on the plant operator and pass along to the ratepayers.

Metcalfe thus makes clear, the fight for abundant, low cost energy isn’t to do with anything other than public policy set forth by the Congress, signed by the President and administered by the regulating bureaucrats.   Look again at those numbers, millions, tens of million and years of delay.

But today the Democrats rule the government and the nuclear solution isn’t getting better at all.  But today, the businesses know that Democrat rule isn’t forever, the Republicans have caught on, and four years in the nuclear business isn’t a long time at all for now.  But in the meantime, a false cost structure is being set up for alternatives that will fail to support them over time.  As for policy to conserve capital, expand the economy and maximize the growth of jobs, payrolls and community security the Congress is in gross failure mode.

Meanwhile the rest of the developed world won’t wait for American leadership.  The small reactors in particular have huge potential and one can fairly expect American ingenuity to be gone soon losing the production investment, jobs, sales and profits to others.

That’s a policy mistake of historic proportions.  It’s landing squarely on the President and Democratic Congressional leadership.  But it can be still be addressed by the public so contacting your Senators and Representatives is well worth the trouble.  As Adams and Metcalfe make clear, its not the regulators who need citizen counsel, it’s the elected officials who need to get back to work setting things for the better.


2 Comments so far

  1. Mike Swift on July 7, 2009 11:27 PM

    Unfortunately our congress does not really care about economics. Their only concern is getting the money and votes of their special interests. Large unions like the UAW, Teamsters, railway workers, and their employers , celebrities, entertainment workers, and companies. Actions that would piss off these constituents before the next election will not happen. The Atomic worker unions have negligible influence due to the small number of members. A good example of our current crop of politician today is what happened in California in 2001. For over twenty years California legislators fought any new power plants in California, because their support by environmental groups like the Sierra Club would guaranty their re-election. When the lights went out, and the general population could not watch American Idol, or 24 all hell broke out. Within two weeks they approved 13 new power plants. Only ones that could be brought on line in the next 18 to 24 months. We now have some of the highest electric rates in the country, but the general public doesn’t seem to mind as they can now watch their TVs.

  2. John Kutsch on July 8, 2009 3:03 PM

    Looks like someone need to be at the Thorium Energy Alliance Conference in Washington DC.!
    Give me a call – and see below.
    For Immediate Release
    is holding the 1st Ever
    Thorium Energy Alliance Conference : The Future Thorium Energy Economy
    October 19th and 20th , 2009
    Washington D.C.
    Kellog Conference Center at Gallaudet University
    (Please see also text invitation Below)
    The Thorium Energy Alliance was formed in the Spring of 2009. It is a 501(c)3 pending organization dedicated to educating the public and leadership about the benefits of using Thorium as a fuel source to power a modern economy.

    A Thorium Based Energy Economy Would Have Several Core Key Benefits

    You can not use Thorium to make Nuclear Weapons.
    There is 4 times as much Thorium on the planet as Uranium.
    The United States has 1000 years worth of Thorium.
    Thorium power sources will recycle and eliminate nuclear waste.
    The U.S. has built Liquid Salt Reactors before – this is not a new technology.
    A Thorium generator , called a LiFTeR (Liquid Floride Thorium Reactor, can be developed in a few years, commercialized and widely deployed within the decade.
    Thorium creates less than 1% of the waste of Uranium Power.
    A Thorium power plant needs no pressure vessel or containment building.
    The cost per Megawatt would be less than 2 million dollars.

    Some Other Thorium Resources

    Thorium Technology Websites:

    Youtube-Search for Thorium Energy Future or
    There are also 3 long form Technical Talks at Google Tech Talks

    Thorium Energy Alliance (T.E.A.) Background and Objectives:
    T.E.A. educates our leaders with Conferences , round table discussions, provides them with expert witnesses, white papers, and demonstrates the technology and it’s uses. TEA will provide staff with executive summaries and talking points supporting the technology development.
    TEA engages the public through all media channels. Tea provides the public with experts to appear on radio and television.
    TEA provides subjects for interviews for all media.
    TEA generates it’s own media including , Webcasts, Pod Casts, Videos, pamphlets, books and articles.
    TEA is the creator of resources for LFTR to be taught in universities so that there are the engineers , chemists and technicians who can work with LiFTeR.

    Thorium Energy Alliance 107 W Front St. Harvard, Il. 60033 Phone : 312-303-5019 Please ask for John Kutsch 1st Ever Thorium Energy Alliance Conference:
    The Future Thorium Energy Economy
    October 19th and 20th , 2009
    Washington D.C.
    Kellog Conference Center at Gallaudet University

    Cost for the 2 day event includes 2 Luncheons;
    Thorium T-Shirt; and Conference Online Media.
    A select block of rooms have been reserved.

    A Selection of Topics:
    History of Thorium
    The Future of Thorium
    Solid vs. Liquid Fuel
    Investing in Thorium
    Media Training
    Learning how to Lobby Congress
    Developing LiFTeR Designs
    The Thorium Prize
    Opponents and the Competition
    Progress in Developing Course Material
    Markets and uses for Thorium
    Our Future & a member Survey

    We Still Need Speakers! (We can provide Topics)
    Also Requesting White Papers and Posters

    A selection of Presenters :
    Kirk Sorensen
    Rick Martin
    John Kutsch
    Robert Hargraves
    Members of Congressional Staff

    We will also be deciding on the future direction of the
    Thorium Energy Alliance
    You need to join and attend in order to let us hear your voice.

    Please sign up as early as you can to help
    us organize the best possible conference.

    Cost (PayPal and Credit Cards accepted):
    $90 Membership
    $235 Conference Only
    $295 Conference & Membership

    $1,100 Corporate Member (Call for info)
    Would you or your company like to sponsor an event,
    dinner or cocktail hour at the conference?

    A limited amount of Student and Educator rate seats available.
    Press credentials available

    Please go and Join :
    or , eMail :
    or , feel free to contact us directly by Phone or Mail :
    107 W Front St. Harvard, Il. 60033

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