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Power The Almighty Buck

Decommissioning Nuclear Plants Costing Far More Than Expected 288 288

Lasrick writes: "This article takes a look at cost estimates of nuclear power plant decommissioning from the 1980s, and how widely inaccurate they turned out to be. This is a pretty fascinating look at past articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that consistently downplayed the costs of decommissioning, for example: 'The Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, Massachusetts, took 15 years to decommission—or five times longer than was needed to build it. And decommissioning the plant—constructed early in the 1960s for $39 million—cost $608 million. The plant's spent fuel rods are still stored in a facility on-site, because there is no permanent disposal repository to put them in. To monitor them and make sure the material does not fall into the hands of terrorists or spill into the nearby river costs $8 million per year.'"
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Decommissioning Nuclear Plants Costing Far More Than Expected

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  • First.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by funwithBSD (245349) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:13PM (#46874741)

    Kill all the lawyers.

    • Re:First.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by penguinoid (724646) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:06AM (#46875251) Homepage Journal

      Also got to kill the stupid environmentalists (only the stupid kind that are opposed to nuclear because it contains the word "nuclear", to coal, oil and gas cause it contains carbon, to hydroelectric cause of sediments, to wind cause of birds, to solar cause of toxic elements during production, ...). Sadly, there aren't enough environmentalists who can look at the whole picture and realize that nuclear plants produce less radioactive waste than coal plants, skyscrapers kill more birds than wind power, etc., and that if they want to accomplish something they need to support a realistic objective.

      • by siddesu (698447)
        Yeah, kill all people that don't like your idea of the world.

        nuclear plants produce less radioactive waste than coal plants

        This is so stupid it defies belief. Care to substantiate this claim with numbers and sources thereof?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cheater512 (783349)

          Hey if all the hardcore greenies die off, that will leave plenty more of the Earth's resources for the rest of us, and we could have clean nuclear energy without any issues.

          And yes Coal does release more radiation than nuclear. Funnily enough they keep the radiation in the nuclear plant extremely well.
          Coal contains radioactive compounds in small quantities, which are then burnt, sent up a chimney and left to spread wherever the air currents want to take them.
          http://www.scientificamerican.... []

          Who is so stupid

          • Re:First.... (Score:5, Informative)

            by siddesu (698447) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @01:40AM (#46875703)

            One, you have serious reading comprehension issues. OP claims coal produces more nuclear waste than nuclear power.

            Two, that SA article has been debunked so many times, it isn't even funny. The 'research' it is based on is from 1977 and it discusses coal plants that aren't built anymore. Here, for your reading pleasure: []

            • by Firethorn (177587)

              OP claims coal produces more nuclear waste than nuclear power.

              Are the byproducts economically useful? No.*
              Are they hazardous? Yes.
              Then it's waste. The radioactivity makes it 'nuclear', for a limited definition of nuclear(IE you have to really stretch; you'll be poisoned chemically long before the radiation hurts you).

              Still, I can't help but think that part of the problem is that since the power plants were constructed we completely rewrote the book on what's required in decommissioning it, besides inflation alone.

              Really, it's a good thing most nuclear power plants

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        How about the all the raving nuke-u-like fans stop blaming the straw man environmentalists and come up with a workable solution to the actual problem?

      • > Also got to kill the stupid environmentalists (only the stupid kind

        It's always funny watching the pro-nuke crowd try to find who to blame for the current market drought.

        Anyone who has any experience in the power industry knows precisely why this is occurring. Overnight CAPEX is too high, there's a decided lack of long-term funding available, and lifecycle costs keep cropping up, as this article points out. Worse, as we learned the hard way in the early 1970s, building very large plants has the effect o

    • Re:First.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Qwertie (797303) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:52AM (#46875497) Homepage
      It's hard to have a proper discussion on this one because there's no cost breakdown given, no reason why decommissioning is so expensive. There's not even any indication if it's just this one plant that is expensive, all plants in the U.S., or all first-generation plants in the world.

      While the $39 million build cost would be far, far greater after adjusting for inflation, making the $608 million decommissioning seem less ridiculous, this still seems much more expensive then it ought to be. Why? Lawyers? Regulations? A poor reactor design that is simply very difficult to dismantle safely?

      Coal is the largest and fastest-growing power source worldwide, and as I understand it, the dirtiest in terms of pollution in general as well as CO2. Wikipedia [] seems to say that renewables (including, er, wood burning?!) currently have 5% market share in the U.S. (the tables could use some clarifications). In practice, nuclear energy is a necessary ingredient to get CO2 emissions under control. So let's figure out what these huge costs are and then talk about how to reduce them in the future.
      • Worldwide.

        Not in the US, where the discussion is occurring about dismantling.

        In the US, coal is being replaced by cleaner and cheaper Natural Gas.

      • by mdsolar (1045926) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @07:57AM (#46877099) Homepage Journal
        The plants are breaking down. They are used. Decommissioning Maine Yankee (900 MWe) took eight years and cost $500 million. It ran for 25 years. For Humboldt Bay(63 MWe) it is $982.3 million [] it ran for 13 years. Vermont Yankee (620 MWe) is expected to cost $1 billion to decommission [] after a run of 42 years. This estimate will likely balloon. There is severe ground contamination at the plant site and perhaps beyond its perimeter as well. Crystal River (860 MWe) ran for 32 years and is estimated to cost $1.18. billion [] This is low ball because sea level rise will make the site vulnerable to storm surge and letting it sit for 60 years will not be an option. The more contamination, the greater the decommissioning cost. Extending licenses for power plants may double or triple the decommissioning cost owing to larger contamination and for sea level plants, a rush to decommission as the storm surge risk becomes higher.
  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:18PM (#46874781) Journal

    Is there a shortage of concrete?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mr D from 63 (3395377)
      Yes, the costs are high, higher than originally predicted, but when averaged out per KWH produced by the plant, its really not that much. These articles always lack the perspective of scale and production life of the plant. D&D costs could go even higher and it would still be a good deal.
      • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:24AM (#46875349)

        I know getting all the books for 5th edition will be expensive but I still can't see D&D costing 640 million dollars-- even with a redone Vault of the Drow module.

      • This is about the funds reserved for decommissioning out of the profits made from the plant while in operation. The idea is that you create a fund where you put in money for every KWh sold. Then, by the end of the lifetime of the plant, you use those funds to adequately deal with what needs to be done to keep the radiation and poison out of the environment. If those funds aren't sufficient because of miscalculations or bad fund management (sub prime mortgages anyone?) Houston won't help you with your proble

      • by fnj (64210)

        I admit I couldn't believe it was so, so I worked out the numbers. Bear with me for a few assumptions. The plant is a tiny 185 MWe. If it runs 8766 h/y for 32 y, it will produce a total of 51.9 billion kWh. Even at only, say 8 cents/kWh (one wouldn't count delivery charges), the revenue over the plant lifetime is $4.15 billion. $0.6 billion does not seem a crushing burden weighed against that revenue, although it is a very significant cost element.

        As a check, says 44 billion kWh; no doubt the

    • They usually try to return these plants back to something close to a greenfield state. As if it were never there... (except for the fuel storage)
    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Is there a shortage of concrete?

      There is going to be a moratorium on concrete lest it lead to an end of the American Empire.

  • Of course it is going to be wildly expensive and take forever. Plus, it will be over budget, over due, and a basic cock-up because the government takes the lowest bidder regardless of past performance.
    • by mellon (7048)

      No, Rowe was not a government plant.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The costs associated with Nuclear energy are always downplayed.

    The truth is we have no coherent plan of what to do with the waste products. Lots of good ideas, but that ain't a plan.

    Not to mention when things go wrong, it is VERY wrong.

  • by valpo homeboy (3552227) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:22PM (#46874805)
    How about a study on the cost of upgrading? All that infrastructure, real estate, containment vessel, gen set, distribution hardware, cooling .... has to be worth something? How about reprocessing the fuel to reduce its volume and remove the plutonium? I agree with first poster, killing each and every lawyer peripherally involved with the project is the first step.
    • by confused one (671304) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:15PM (#46875071)
      By the time they decommission a reactor it is usually 30 or 40 years old. By that point everything is worn out. You could save some hardware and infrastructure; but, you would be replacing most of the equipment, including all the expensive bits. You'd basically end up tearing it all out and rebuilding it new. Car analogy: I'm restoring a 40 year old truck. Engine had to be torn down to raw casting and rebuilt with all new parts (only I didn't have to deal with neutron damage or metal embrittlement) The truck chassis and body: Well, I'm tearing everything off the frame and I'm starting from there. It will all get disassembled, cleaned, repaired and painted, then go back through a complete re-assembly process using factory manuals. When I'm done, it'll be a 30-40% new 40 year old truck. If you count my time at typical shop labor rates, it could end up costing almost as much as just going down to the dealer and stroking a check for a brand new one. The new one would probably be safer...
      • Man, I was changing a flat on my bike the other day and ran into that neutron damage thing. I decided to walk.

        (This comment has nothing to contribute really.)

      • You must be cheap labour, Bangladesh rates? A typical restoration costs way more in time and material than an equivalent new vehicle would cost. Not only that, you'd be left with an inefficient design that wouldn't benefit from 30-40 years of improvements in efficiency and safety. This applies both to cars and nuclear power plants. What you *could* do however is use the same location (providing it's a safe location according to current standards) and share spent fuel facilities and such. That way you would
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Given how much space most nuclear sites have, you could build a new nuclear 'plant' - reactor and associated generation equipment every ~60 years or so, retire the old one, decommission it gradually over the course of the next 30 years or so, then build a new one - with the general effect of the plant 'shuffling' a bit around on the property, potentially for centuries.

          Nice thing about nuclear power stuff is that if you can let it sit for a few years it generally becomes a lot less radioactive and easier to

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c6gunner (950153)

      In addition to the lawyers you'd have to kill a significant percentage of environmentalists, plus all the NIMBYs. The real issue isn't decommissioning costs, the real issue is the inability to build new reactors. If it wasn't for the public/political aversion to nuclear reactors, you could decommission the place, build a modern one right beside it, and use the leftover waste to power the new reactor.

      • Which is ironic because nuclear fallout preserves nature but wipes out mankind from the lands. Given that these environmentalists are anti human civilization, you would think they would be all over nuclear energy.

        • by (595837)

          Which is ironic because nuclear fallout preserves nature but wipes out mankind from the lands.

          It preserves inorganic nature and the lowest lifeforms.

          The Chernobyl exclusion zone acts like a sink for big mammals coming from safe areas.
          This is not a paradise where they thrive.

          Also, there is a gradient between the misanthropes that would pretty much like a planet Earth in the state it was ten thousand years ago, and left activists who pose as environmentalists and feel uneasy when one talk about overpopulation.

      • by fnj (64210)

        In addition to the lawyers you'd have to kill a significant percentage of environmentalists, plus all the NIMBYs.

        And nothing of value would be lost.

    • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:17PM (#46875085) Homepage Journal

      A lawyer can't make you do anything. I once had a business partner who froze like a deer in headlights whenever our lawyer opened his mouth. As I said to him, the lawyer's job is to advise you of the trouble you might get into; but there's always *something* to be concerned about; it's *your* job to make a decision and shoulder the consequences. Business people choose which risks to take, and lawyers help them figure out what those risks are, simple as that. If your plans go kaplooie, it's your fault; possibly for hiring the wrong lawyer, or possibly hiring the right lawyer but letting him run your business for you.

      This "it's all the lawyer's fault" business is childish baloney. It's not lawyers that keep owners from continuing to use these old reactors, it's the fact that these reactors are old and obsolete. It's not lawyers that made decommissioning the plants more expensive than projected, it's that nobody had ever done such a thing when the costs were estimated, and everyone chose a best case scenario in their plans because they wanted to see the things built. That's a *business* mistake, and an engineering mistake, but unless the lawyer was telling them they'd be able to cart their waste off to the town dump it's not a *legal* mistake.

    • Why don't we use the lawyers to line the containment facility? There is a near limitless supply of lawyers.

      Not talking main structure here, just internal, cosmetic purposes.

      There has to be a huge cost saving this way.

  • by macpacheco (1764378) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:23PM (#46874809)

    This is a solid fuel water cooled reactor problem. Ok, that's 95% of current reactors, but there are many alternatives.
    We must see all water cooled, solid fuel reactors as a legacy.
    LFTR Molten salt reactors running primarily on Thorium could take 3% of it's fuel as spent nuclear fuel from water cooled reactors are fission that completely (99%). There is so much nuclear energy on accumulated depleted uranium and spent nuclear fuel to produce a trillion dollars worth of electricity.
    Remember, it's not nuclear waste, its mostly unburned fuel, a result of extremely inefficient solid fuel reactors cooled by water.

    • by kimvette (919543)

      > a result of extremely inefficient solid fuel reactors cooled by water

      , a design which was chosen over thorium reactor designs because thorium reactors do not produce any significant amount of "waste" plutonium required for nuclear weapons production.

      Fixed that incomplete thought for you.

      • by macpacheco (1764378) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:33AM (#46875395)

        The true reasons for the MSR project at ORNL (Oak Ridge National Labs) being cancelled look more like this:

        It was never a mainstream project. Dr. Alvin Weinberg got funding for his idea due to ORNL being the sole responder to USAF demand for a nuclear powered bomber in the 60s. They managed to do their thing kind of under the radar, I believe other nuclear guys thought they would never be successful, so when he showed he was (MSRE 5MW test reactor ran for 22000 hrs) and he asked for real money to do the whole thing, then he got shot down.

        Only ORNL was researching into Thorium, all other nuclear labs were working on fast uranium/plutonium breeders.
        The thing about other reactors being better for Plutonium production is a very big misconception that conflates reactor grade plutonium and weapons grade plutonium. Weapons grade plutonium has always been produced by irradiating lots of U-238 with a fairly small dose of neutrons, to avoid double irradiation of U-238 atoms (leading to Pu-240). Conceivably weapons grade plutonium can even be produced by placing a blanket of U-238 around any existing reactor (catching only neutron losses). Any reactor will do. But today it's way easier to obtain highly enriched U-235 instead. Reactor grade plutonium = premature detonation or nuclear artifacts becoming duds in storage, both a huge problem. Too much Pu-240 and Pu-241. Pu-239 does simple alpha decays, while Pu-240 has spontaneous fission probability.

        Plus the main fast breeder research site was in Southern California, right where Richard Nixon was from (exactly when the ORNL Thorium project was cancelled and officially buried). There is a very complete video about this on youtube:

    • The data I've seen suggests that Thorium reactors are still somewhat experimental. That's ok, everything is experimental before it becomes real; but it seems wise to try them out on a small scale before switching fully to Thorium. Fortunately, China is doing exactly that, so we should have a lot deeper understanding of Thorium soon.
      • by dcollins (135727) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:13AM (#46875293) Homepage

        The Slashdot frenzy for Thorium reactors which do not exist anywhere in the world, except as a hypothetical, is constantly astounding. It's nigh-equivalent to denying the round Earth, evolution, or global warming. Sure, they may exist "soon" if your definition of "soon" is on the order of a century. India has had a 3-stage plan for Thorium reactors since the 1950's and they're currently about halfway through that plan, according to its handlers:

        "According to replies given in Q&A in the Indian Parliament on two separate occasions, 19 August 2010 and 21 March 2012, large scale thorium deployment is only to be expected “3 – 4 decades after the commercial operation of fast breeder reactors with short doubling time”.[66][31] Full exploitation of India’s domestic thorium reserves will likely not occur until after the year 2050.[67]" []

        • Thorium molten salt reactors were tested in the 60s/70s, achieving 22000 hrs of trouble free operation. Got cancelled by Richard Nixon because the lab researching it wasn't from his home area (south Cali). Plus they didn't wanted advanced nuclear power to succeed, since inefficient nuclear power was enough of a threat to mighty american coal and Oil in general. Most great research projects outside of wartime are meant to take a long time. Employ a lot of people, give profits to pork&barrel govt supplier

          • You do realize that the US is not the only country in the world with nuclear labs, right?

          • by dcollins (135727)

            "Employ a lot of people, give profits to pork&barrel govt suppliers."

            For example: Flibe Energy, whose shill video you linked to, and whose master plan is to pull down a few hundred million in U.S. military contracts.


            These "corporate conspiracy" arguments are self-defeating when they come from another corporation in the same industry.

            • Shill ?
              How would the US Army / Air Force rather power a base in the middle of nowhere ?
              Trucking diesel fuel for 1000 miles (hundreds of truckloads of fuel / year) or a single truckload of nuclear fuel for a decade ?

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          Sure, they may exist "soon" if your definition of "soon" is on the order of a century. India has had a 3-stage plan for Thorium reactors since the 1950's and they're currently about halfway through that plan, according to its handlers:

          So what you're saying is we should start building them now?

      • I am pretty skeptical molten salt reactors are going to be cheaper to decommission. Liquid anything is going to contaminate whatever it's stored in more or less permanently. The real issue is almost certainly that we simply haven't been doing enough decommissions (because we keep extending the license and operating periods) for any sort of standard practice to really emerge. A decent fuel reprocessing industry would help a lot, because at least you could ship the rods somewhere and remove radioactive materi

  • I'm not against nuclear power per se but the more I learn the more it seems that it's just too expensive and won't be able to compete with other forms of power production. Many blame anti-nuke and environmental activists for the fact that no nuclear plants have been built in the US since the 1970's but I think most of the reason was that it was just too expensive compared to coal plants and now natural gas plants. They still can't be built without government guarantees for the loans to build them and gove

    • by jader3rd (2222716)

      Many blame anti-nuke and environmental activists for the fact that no nuclear plants have been built in the US since the 1970's but I think most of the reason was that it was just too expensive

      It's possible that the activists made building one too expensive. I'm all for doing things safely, but committee meeting, after committee meeting starts to costs real dollars (which is why the activists insist on their being so many).

  • by Todd Palin (1402501) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:30PM (#46874857)
    Nuclear power has always been a pipe dream of some sort. Once it was "power so cheap we won't even bother to meter it". The fact of the matter is cleaning up a mixed bag of uranium, plutonium, and whatever isotopes is a complicated matter that costs a shitload of money. The pie-in-the-sky promoters of nuclear energy have always underplayed the costs. No reactor has ever been built under budget. No clean-up has been under budget. It is just incredibly expensive to build, operate, and decommission a nuke plant. The promoters just don't want to deal with realistic figures. And, then there is the cost of disposing of the spent fuel....
    • by macpacheco (1764378) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:36PM (#46874893)

      Spent fuel is 96% fuel. Combined with the depleted uranium its 99% fuel. It just takes a more efficient reactor to burn it.
      Nuclear energy is orders of magnitude environmentally cleaner even than natural gas.
      The main issue is nuclear regulators decided to make it economically unfeasible to to nuclear power.
      Learn about it and you will find out you are wrong. []

      • by mellon (7048)

        Oh for fuck's sake, can we please stop talking about "burning" nuclear fuel? It doesn't burn. It fissions, releasing heat and neutrons. If you're going to be pro-nuke, at least learn the science. Given that Project Orion never took off, it's not rocket science, either.

    • Once it was "power so cheap we won't even bother to meter it".

      Now that's actually something worth researching towards. Imagine what we could do with such plentiful electricity.....

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:15AM (#46875299)

      Nuclear power has always been a pipe dream of some sort.

      Not in France.

      "France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy. This is due to a long-standing policy based on energy security.
      France is the world's largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation, and gains over EUR 3 billion per year from this.
      France has been very active in developing nuclear technology. Reactors and fuel products and services are a major export.
      It is building its first Generation III reactor.
      About 17% of France's electricity is from recycled nuclear fuel." []

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @10:32PM (#46874873)

    The plant's spent fuel rods are still stored in a facility on-site, because there is no permanent disposal repository to put them in. To monitor them and make sure the material does not fall into the hands of terrorists or spill into the nearby river costs $8 million per year.

    4th generation reactors can use this material as fuel and the new waste created will only be dangerous for hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands.

  • In other news (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hoover Dam cost $49m to build. Today, the price tag would be over $10b. Stuff gets more expensive over the years. Today the power plant produces 4.2TWh per annum. At $100/MWh, that's $420,000,000 of power per year. Kind of significant ROI.

    The bottom line is, long term projects like nuclear or hydro will always cost massively more in the future than today simply because of inflation. This is another reason why these are strategic assets to invest in.

    As for decommissioning of nuclear power? It sits there for

  • counting for inflation to 2007 dollars it took 267.7 million to build, not to mention the safety risk of disassembling an irradiated environment that probably had every square inch covered in asbestos and lead paint, in the day and age where a contractor cant even scrape a window sill without getting it lab tested ...

  • If nuclear plants were held to the radiation standards of coal plants and if fuel reprocessing had actually been implemented, it would be a lot cheaper.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Quite so, though I'm not so sure it's the nuclear plants we should be changing the standards for...

  • From Wikipedia:

    The eight-year $500 million decommissioning process spanned from 1997 until 2005.[6] In 2000, the first structures were gutted out by workers. In 2003, the reactor pressure vessel was shipped to Barnwell, South Carolina via barge. Finally, in 2004, the facility's containment building was brought down by explosives.

    Maine Yankee shut down after about 25 years of operation due to significant deficiencies and cost to correct them. Younger, but no one seems to claim that decom was easier because

  • After all, it seems the only advantage of nuclear energy was to avoid emitting greenhouse gas (which is a big advantage). It is not cheap, and as usual, the cost overhead will not be payed by the one that benefited from selling it once.
  • First, are we talking inflation adjusted dollars? Second, a large part of the problem is the continued ever since the 70s anti-nuclear power hysteria. This has greatly inflated costs, danger estimates, required procedures and so on. It is also why we have no spend fuel repository although we no several ways to create a quite good one. And it is also why all forms of breeder reactors, even those not good for making weapon grade materials, were killed. That move means there is around 20x more "nuclea

  • by GumphMaster (772693) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @01:56AM (#46875753)

    'The Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, Massachusetts, took 15 years to decommission—or five times longer than was needed to build it.

    Of course it takes longer to decommission than to build. When it was built all the materials were essentially safe, non-toxic materials where handling is easy, well-understood, and well supported by standard systems, factories and the like. When it is torn down much of the material is unsafe or toxic to some degree, some is extremely unsafe and toxic, and all of it must be dealt with in situ using systems that are not commonly used elsewhere. Handling toxic material safely takes more time than handling safe materials. The extended time leads naturally to extended cost. As wise people have observed, time is money.

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up.