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Numbers That Make Sense: Gauging Nuclear Cost Performance

Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 1996

own cost data.

This country boasts almost 2,000 reactor-years of commercial nuclear operating experience that could be leveraged to the benefit of all U.S. utilities. If nothing else, the industry can use its experience to quantify historical and current problems and highlight the areas of greatest economic potential.

Some costs are still too high and the ranges of cost and performance are too wide. Some are within the control of management; others are not. Our analyses can quantifiably make such distinctions and should be added to management's arsenal. t

Michael R. Fox has a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Washington, and 29 years of experience in the nuclear energy field (em both at the Hanford plant and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. He is a member of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and served as national chairman for the ANS public information committee from 1990 to 1992. Before coming to the United States in 1977, Jay Maidment worked for 20 years in Europe and Africa for a multinational mining-finance company. Throughout his professional career his main interest has been the application of operations research techniques to solve practical problems. For the past 15 years he has used his expertise to analyze and describe the economic behavior of the U.S. nuclear power-plant program from construction through operations. Maidment has a BS in physics and applied mathematics.

Stretching Reactor Capacity

"Stretching" describes the vendor practice of upgrading reactor capacity as more units are sold to subsequent clients. Our study found that stretching causes major economic variation across the whole spectrum of plants.

For instance, on a per-megawatt-installed basis, the size of a plant can account for as much as a 40-percent difference in materials costs, a 100-percent difference in engineering costs, and more than a 200-percent difference in safety system failures.

We have not tested whether the same effects occur if a utility simply upgrades an existing plant. However, our findings would allow for such a determination.

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