The standardisation of new nuclear units being planned for the US will be the most significant factor in reducing up-front costs for reactors, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) president and chief executive officer has said.
In an interview with NucNet, Marvin Fertel said he doubted if the US would introduce the kind of market mechanisms being planned in the UK in an effort to attract investors to the nuclear sector.
But he said: “What we can do from our side concerning the up-front costs of nuclear energy is to stay standardised”.
Mr Fertel said standardisation will reduce the timeframe of the construction for nuclear power plants.
He said: “We have 104 reactors and in general they are all customised. The two units being built at Vogtle and the two at Summer are standardised AP1000 units.”
Mr Fertel said “staying standardised” should provide efficiency in the licensing process because the country’s regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reviews standardised construction and operating applications based on each reactor design.
As much as 70 percent of the NRC’s licence application references the reactor design and should be streamlined as a specific design penetrates the market, he said.
“It also means getting construction techniques improved because we have done it more than once,” Mr Fertel said. “This would have a dramatic impact on the ultimate cost of building a new nuclear plant.”
From the licensing to operation, the time it takes to build a reactor like Georgia Power’s Vogtle is about 10 years. Mr Fertel said with continued standardisation, this could be reduced to between six-and-a-half and seven- and-a-half years.
The NEI says design standardisation offers “significant benefits”. The approach anticipates that reactors will be built in families of the same design, except for a limited number of site-specific differences.
Standardisation will reduce construction and operating cost, and lead to greater efficiencies and simplicity in nuclear plant operations, including safety, maintenance, training and spare-parts procurement.
The NEI said: “Standardisation is a major departure from the first generation of US nuclear reactors, built in the 1960s and 1970s, which are nearly all one-of-a-kind.”