Saturday, June 9, 2007

NRC "no bozos" rule issued for nuclear startups

Adm. Rickover would be proud of NRC chairman's policy

In a speech before a a large number of chief executives from the nuclear utility industry, Dale Klein, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, issued what may come to be called the "no bozos" rule for involvement in building a nuclear power plant. Klein said the NRC was watching to make sure that "inexperienced companies" don't jump on the nuclear bandwagon. He added that allowing "amateurs" to start up financing and construction of new plants "could threaten the resurgence of nuclear power in the US."

Klein's comments come right out of the tradition of US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover who insisted that his officers be thoroughly qualified for the job. Shooting straight from the hip, Klein said;

My subject is something that each of the five Commissioners believe in, and have said before—which is this: owning a commercial nuclear reactor is not a business for amateurs. If the nuclear power business is treated with less than the seriousness it deserves—and people begin to think that anyone can just jump on the nuclear bandwagon—it opens up the very real danger of making the “wave” of the nuclear resurgence look more like a “bubble.” And bubbles have a tendency to pop.

It is not my function as a regulator to tell industry how to manage its capital investments or construct its business models. As a regulator, however, I do have a legitimate interest in seeing that the “captains” of the nuclear energy industry have a proper appreciation for the technical, engineering, and security challenges involved in operating commercial nuclear reactors. So when I observe utilities spinning off their nuclear energy components, or see plans for changes in the ownership of nuclear power companies, I think it is worth reiterating the basic point that the nuclear energy business is in many ways unique, and should be treated as such. Highly qualified technical leadership will continue to be essential—and so it needs to be developed and maintained.

And to make sure there are fully qualified people running the industry, the NRC is ramping up to meet the expected growth in nuclear power. Klein gave these highlights of the NRC's response to the resurgence of the industry.
  • We’ve been told by industry to expect license applications for 27 new reactors in the next two years... and every day our Executive Director of Operations warns me to prepare for an even higher number.
  • The NRC expects to add 1,200 people to the agency's staff.
  • To do that, we had to create an entirely new inspection office in Atlanta.
  • We are scrambling to increase our workforce by a net of 600 employees
  • With uranium at $100 a pound, we are hearing from a dozen companies expressing an interest in new mining operations in the U.S.
  • We are dealing with a huge increase in public inquiries from people wanting more information about the expansion of nuclear power.
  • Our office in charge of international programs is in overdrive to deal with the fact that nuclear energy has become, in almost every respect, a multinational business.
  • And all of that is on top of our regular workload of overseeing the safety of the 104 plants already operating in the U.S. and a large number of licensees using radioactive materials.
The NRC is busy, but it doesn't want to be more busy than it has to policing people who have no business in the business of building nuclear power plants.

4 comments:

Ohadi Langis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

Well, if some of these small-fries (Bozos?) want to get in on owning and profiting from nuclear plants, then they should be looking at something like UniStar. This is the type of model that should be adopted throughout the world, especially if we want to talk about providing nuclear energy to third-world countries, who do not have the technical expertise and infrastructure to support a robust nuclear industrial and regulatory system.

Nuke Runner said...

Having worked Startup at a nuclear plant with "Bozo" management, I agree 100%. It takes special knowledge and sensitivity to reactor safety to construct, startup and operate a nuke.

Joseph Somsel said...

Another example of how regulation protects existing firms and works to discourage new entrants and future competitors.

Of course he has a point but talent CAN be hired by a new company.