Having discovered surprising reasons why nuclear power plants are more expensive in the West, a new MIT study offers a prescription for lowering those costs.
Idaho National Laboratory Fellow David Petti said he was surprised to discover that the high cost of nuclear plants in the U.S. and Europe derives not from the reactor. Nor does it derive from the usual suspects: labor costs and regulation. Instead, MIT found that reactors cost so much in the West because of poor construction management practices.
Petti and the study make a number of recommendations to correct those.
“This is true for all plants and all technologies,” he said. “We feel without these inherent technology features, we will not get the cost reductions necessary.”
1. Standardization On Multi-Unit Sites
Like suits, nuclear plants cost more when they’re tailor-made and fitted. The solution, Petti said, is serial construction of standardized plants. Plants get even cheaper with more than one unit on a single site.
“So you can set up a team and they can start construction on the first unit and then evolve to the next unit and the next unit,” he said in a briefing on the study’s findings. This is what’s been done in Japan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. ”If you stretch the builds out over too great a length of time, people get promoted and you start again with a new workforce. So there’s a strategy in terms of timing.”
2. Seismic Isolation
Designed to protect structures from earthquakes, seismic isolation is already used extensively in Europe, Petti said. In the U.S., a rule allowing seismic isolation is in draft form at NRC. Currently, seismic concerns are addressed late in the design process, specific to the site, Petti said, making plants more expensive. “Seismic is usually done very late in the design phase. It is very cumbersome, difficult, and it’s not as optimized as you might think because it’s done very late in the design phase and it’s so cumbersome.”
If the NRC allows seismic isolation in standardized designs, it would make plants more independent of site conditions and cheaper to build, he said.