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All Nuclear Power Plants Are Not Created Equal

Fortnightly Magazine - April 1 1998

of these regional variations are due to local regulatory requirements, union labor practices or the cost of other forms of electricity? Nuclear power plant managers should consider these questions, particularly those now facing deregulation at their utilities. However, just comparing oneself to the economically most efficient plants gives a distorted picture. Not surprisingly the most efficient plants are dual-unit PWRs built before 1974 or after 1984, with capacities at the lower end of each size group. For a utility owning a single-unit BWR, comparisons appear uninformative.

Bonneville Power Administration used this analysis to decide whether to shut its

Washington Public Power Supply System's WNP-2 plant (BPA pays 100 percent of the costs of this plant and receives all output). To identify possible improvements, 30 different cost, labor, safety and performance criteria were analyzed. Over the past three years, this work helped avoid premature shutdown and cut operating costs 35 percent and staffing 25 percent.

Other utilities interested in safely and efficiently reducing their costs should consider a similar approach to the one described here. This analysis can lead to realistic improvements in cost and output while minimizing the potential for long-term regulatory or performance problems.

Finally, from an industry perspective, we now can determine which plants perform "best." From these plants much can be learned. If economic competitiveness cannot be accomplished quickly, early retirements of managers, staff and nuclear power plants will rapidly follow after deregulation.

Jay Maidment is an operations research consultant with broad international experience. Geoffrey Rothwell, Ph.D., is a senior research associate with the Department of Economics at Stanford University and chairs the committee on "Evaluation of Plant Technical Performance" of the Nuclear Power Division of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both have been associated with U.S. nuclear power for almost 20 years.


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