January 25th, 2013 | 9:35 am

The Nuclear Quarterback

The author of a recent opinion piece in Forbes magazine sets up sunk costs as compared between a quarterback and the U.S. nuclear industry, but focuses solely on short-term gains and fails to move beyond the scrimmage line or advance a much needed U.S. clean energy vision.

Taishan 1 EPR(TM) reactor vessel installation

Abandoning the fixed fuel costs of nuclear energy, as the opinion piece recommends, for the uncertain price volatility of natural gas turns a blind eye to its history of variable costs and supply. Using the original article’s football analogy, the fossil fuel quarterback would renegotiate his salary before every play, unlike the nuclear quarterback with a fixed long-term contract.

The original article also fails to complete the story describing the progression of international nuclear energy facility construction projects. The author stops short of disclosing how the nuclear industry systematically captured and transferred learnings from these earlier first-of-a-kind projects, and successfully applied them to subsequent building programs.

For example, AREVA is converting earlier construction experience into tangible cost and schedule benefits, as demonstrated at the Taishan 1 EPRTM reactor project, including:

  • 50% reduction from first concrete pour to containment dome placement
  • 50% reduction from first concrete pour to completed heavy component installation
  • 30% reduction in primary circuit welding process time
  • 40% reduction in production time of the four steam generators

To illustrate these positive feedback loops with the article’s original perspective, this would be as if every rookie quarterback started with the full capabilities of the team’s seasoned nuclear quarterback.

And if the quarterback represents U.S. nuclear energy, the article also misses the glaring point of what to do if you remove this leader from the field and still strive to accomplish America’s clean energy vision. Continuing to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity is re-hiring last season’s retiree to somehow deliver new results without polluting the field – not a forward-looking energy choice. Nuclear energy is the only “round-the-clock” source for reliably generating significant amounts of electricity without emitting ozone-forming, or “greenhouse,” gases.

Renewables on the team play a valuable role, but their output is on a regional, intermittent basis – similar to football receivers advancing the team in turn, but relying on the nuclear quarterback to lead the charge every time.

One final point: U.S nuclear energy utilities continually advance and upgrade their safety and generating capabilities – a daily renewal of nuclear energy – resulting in the best U.S. operating safety record of any energy source, and increasing electricity output during the past 30 years equal to the addition of six new nuclear reactors. U.S. electricity utilities’ long-term perspectives properly value nuclear energy as a now-and-future significant energy source to reliably fulfill consumers’ increasing energy demands.

Contrary to the original article’s sunk costs misperception, funding a nuclear quarterback is signing up a reliable star performer with a proven delivery record, increasing efficiency, and advancing performance to serve as the foundation and driving force for achieving America’s clean energy goal.

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