Thursday, November 30, 2006

Remembering the First Nuclear Electricity

The first electricity generated by nuclear power was produced December 20, 1951, soon to be 55 years ago, at the Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (EBR-1) in Idaho.

For a comparison of past vs. present practices, that pioneer nuclear power plant was announced March, 1949. The first, albeit token, juice was produced 33 months later.

Yesterday, I participated in a scheduling meeting for the next new nuke. It will take us 14 months to mobilize then prepare and submit the application - and that's for a proven, certified design. First safety-related concrete pour takes another 24+ months following combined construction and operating license (COL) approval.

The take-home point is that the very first nuclear power plant was designed, built, tested, and on-line in the time it takes for a contemporary project to complete its paperwork.

Now, granted, there is a huge difference between EBR-1's 500 watts and tomorrow's 1400 megawatts, but those pioneers built their new, experimental reactor to be cooled with molten sodium metal while our plants are the result of 50 years of painstaking development and refinement of the light water reactor.

Perhaps the NRC's rules on "Limited Work Authorizations" (LWAs) could use some tweaking?

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'd be so quick to hold up EBR-1's rapid design and construction as a model to be emulated by today's industry. The reactor experienced a meltdown six years later in 1955.

http://www.nucleartourist.com/events/part-melt.htm

Maybe there are good reasons why more time is taken now for design and safety reviews.

Alex Brown said...

What really amazes me is not just the fact that it takes many years to get the paperwork done, it also costs tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars just to get everything in order before you can even start building the plant. And that money is invested with no assurance that a plant will ever even be built.

Joseph Somsel said...

The up-front cash invested in a merchant plant's mobilization, application, and early site preparations could be considered proprietary information these days.

They'd kill me if I divulged that - I'm probably already in trouble for the schedule info.

As to EBR-1, it was a test reactor built to "go where no man has gone before," built in a cold, rocky desert where no man would want to live.

It does raise the issue of "paralysis by analysis." A favorite political tactic is to call for more analysis and review of any opposed project.