Friday, November 06, 2009

Building a Building

800px-Detroit_GM_headquarters One of the issues in getting the nuclear renaissance rolling – but one that is particularly responsive to capitalist imperatives – is the manufacturing of pieces that make up a plant.

After all, it’s been a long time since an American nuclear plant has been built and a lot of the action moved overseas - to France and Japan, in particular. But it’s not as though America doesn’t have a work force with considerable skill at this type of work – hmm! where might that be?

Michigan needs to get on the nuclear power train because it's getting ready to leave the station -- and take the jobs with it.

No, this isn't a call to green-light yet another nuke plant here. It's a reminder that the Big Mitten still has the ability to make things. Climate-change politics and surging demand for electricity around the world are powering a nuclear renaissance, and states like Michigan -- deep in engineering expertise, surplus industrial capacity and an established transportation infrastructure -- could get a piece of that multi-billion dollar business.

This is from columnist Daniel Howes at the Detroit News. If he coined the term The Big Mitten, points to him. More points for an excellent, though very obvious, suggestion. But:

"I can't make Michigan become a key supplier of nuclear components," Dan Roderick, senior vice president for nuclear plant projects at GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc., told a "nuclear renaissance" seminar this week organized by DTE Energy Corp. "You can. How much of this do you want? Someone's going to come and get it."

Howes further makes the case:

The Environmental Protection Agency predicts the nation will need to build 187 new nuclear reactors, partly to replace existing ones that have reached the end of their functional lives and partly to meet the expanding power needs of a deeply electrified society. Add electrified transportation, and the demand grows even more.

"We've got available capacity and available skills" in Michigan, says Gerry Anderson, chief operating officer of DTE Energy. "If we want to stake a leadership position, we've got to move now."

DTE Energy certainly sees the opportunity, so we paid a visit over there to see what they’re up to. Here DTE makes the pitch:

Michigan has the transportation infrastructure to move parts anywhere in the world ... and we have the engineering and manufacturing capability to meet the needs of the nuclear power industry as it grows globally.  We need to leverage these resources now to stake a leadership position for Michigan as a supply hub to this industry.

And it looks like it wants to get the ball rolling:

If your Michigan business is interested in becoming a nuclear construction and/or maintenance supplier, we encourage you to complete and submit this pre-qualification survey.*

It’s a seven-page form, very detailed and seemingly aimed at retrofitting existing factories rather than building new ones. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Let’s see if – or rather, when - some ambitious entrepreneurs in Michigan step up.

The Detroit skyline.

11 comments:

PFPeterson said...

Manufacturing activities for nuclear energy will certainly grow, because the new computer aided manufacturing and modular construction technologies move most nuclear fabrication work from the construction site into the factory.

Today this includes nuclear reactor buildings too, which can be assembled from factory prefabricated modules using steel-plant/concrete technology. This is a new technology that the NRC is not yet fully familiar with, but which results in building structures that behave much, much better under beyond design basis loads than conventional reinforced concrete structures.

The seismic retrofits of the bridges and elevated roadways in the San Francisco Bay Area use essentially this technology, where the concrete columns have been encased in steel jackets and the space filled with concrete. The steel jacketing is highly effective in allowing these columns to survive very high loading without catastrophic failure (as happened to the conventional columns on a long segment of I-880 in Oakland during the Loma Prieta earthquake, killing over 50 people).

Moving most of the construction/fabrication work for new reactors into factories will create stable, high paying jobs in the communities that have these manufacturing facilities. This would be a great thing for Michigan.

tmarks11 said...

You know what would be a great "job stimulus" package? Something that would create a lasting legacy that would out-shine everything that was constructed under Roosevelt's direction? Something that would not only employ hundreds of thousands of workers, but would also use federal money to create something desperately needed?

How about a program to build some of the 187 power plants that will be needed? Better then pouring money down the drain in "make work" projects? This kind of sweeping industrial works program would build the infrastructure this country needs for the future, and provide needed jobs for technical and industrial worker who have been left behind by the downturn of the economy and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

DocForesight said...

The "Stimulus" bill wasn't designed to create jobs nor to improve the economy. If it had been, there are far better ways to produce the desired effect, at far less cost than $787B.

There are few programs that have as broad a multiplier effect than developing energy and infrastructure. Housing and military/navy/air force procurement comes to mind. But power plants last scores of years and are often capable of retrofit to account for newer technologies to improve what is already there.

IMHO, scrap the "non-stimulus" package and hit the "reset" button for an energy package (without climate change shackles).

Anonymous said...

Newsweek summed up the stimulus best:
"designed to claim credit for any recovery, shower benefits on favored constituencies and signal support for fashionable causes"

Any guess what "fashionable causes" include? (Hint: it involves covering desert ecosystems with energy collection systems boasting a <25% capacity factor.)

http://www.newsweek.com/id/207726

Bryan Kelly said...

Here's a stimulus measure directly on point:

American Energy Act - Contact Congress - Support Nuclear Energy - HR 2828

perdajz said...

Absolutely. This would be a no-brainer for a state with a top-notch nuclear engineering program like the one in Ann Arbor.

Anonymous said...

These comments boil down to: "Government stimulus funds are wasteful pork. Unless they're going to MY industry."

Anonymous said...

"Government stimulus funds are wasteful pork. Unless they're going to MY industry."

I don't think we're suggesting stimulus should have gone to nuclear power, we're suggesting stimulus should not have gone to nutty non-baseload power.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we're suggesting stimulus should have gone to nuclear power, we're suggesting stimulus should not have gone to nutty non-baseload power.

Uh, yeah, some of you at least are. Look at a few of the posts above yours.

"You know what would be a great "job stimulus" package? ... How about a program to build some of the 187 power plants that will be needed? Better then pouring money down the drain in "make work" projects?"

Also Kelly and perdajz posts.

tmarks11 said...

Notice that nowhere in my comment (which you referenced) did I use the word "Nuclear".

But let me be clear: spending some stimulus on LARGE public works project, such as NUCLEAR power plants would be money well spent. Improving the infrastructure in our country would secure our future, reduce greenhouse emissions, and provide support needed for wide-spread use of electric automobiles.

Synopsis: some of that stimulus money would be better spent supporting my industry (Nuclear). That is an accurate statement.

bruce said...

The stimulus package provides over $30 Billion for renewable power, so it already funds energy development.

The last administration to give handouts to the nuclear industry was Bush in 2005, shouldn't those be enough for you guys?