Nuclear Power Plant Designers Should Assess O&M Costs Early In The Process

Startups and established companies around the world are working on new nuclear reactor and plant designs (“designers”). Their quest to create the next successful reactor design is a continuous source of buzz and excitement in the global power industry. At the beginning of the design process, designers often focus on two issues:

The reactor and fuel designThe “overnight costs” of constructing and commissioning

O&M costs will exceed construction and commissioning costs

The next issue is forecasting ongoing O&M and Capital costs for the life cycle of the plant design. These costs will far exceed construction and commissioning costs for most designs. Yet surprisingly, most designers place little or no emphasis on addressing this issue.

In our experience, most designers understand the importance of forecasting O&M costs, but elect to postpone a detailed analysis to address this issue. Given the magnitude of these ongoing O&M costs, it is easy to understand why potential purchasers are often interested in more detail on this topic, ideally from a neutral third party.

Incorporate humans into the design as early as possible

New reactor designs create challenges often not initially considered by nuclear and design engineers. The initial design focus will be on fuel safety and effectiveness, followed by system and plant safety systems, followed by heat transfer and energy conversion systems. Along the way, we have seen several examples where the opportunity to minimize human interaction was lost within these design processes. Minimizing human interaction will have a direct reduction in O&M cost.

Labor requirements models are needed to estimate the O&M costs. Those labor requirements must examine each of 46 unique staffing functions to determine how many of each type of person will be needed, including personnel pipelines for on-going operations. From the labor requirements analysis, known labor rates can then be applied to estimate the labor portion of O&M costs. This will be needed as a key element of the total costs that the Owner/Operating organization will need to charge its customer base.

There are many ways to reduce O&M costs

Other opportunities for O&M cost reduction can be realized from non-technical issues, such as fleet deployment approaches, brown-field versus green field deployments, and the role of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) beyond plant commissioning. There are many examples of how to minimize O&M costs prior to completion of the final design and deployment of a new nuclear plant. These examples below provide some insights across a range of opportunities:

Maintenance requirements – Motor operated valves with easy access/easy to remove and replace electrical connections; Batteries with energy indicators and built-in handgrips for ease of installation/removal; positioning components within normal reach of maintenance personnel, or when that is not possible, including built-in stands or platforms for access, etc.Staffing requirements – Identify appropriate labor requirements based on the plant design, site layout, equipment operations and maintenance requirements, regulatory requirements, and opportunities for centralization in a “fleet” environment or in conjunction with the OEM. Then develop an optimized organizational model for those labor requirements in concert with the vision and mission of the organization.Technology applications beyond the reactor – Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) systems, such as modern personal computers to replace complex/custom plant process computers; Hot swappable control boards, with on-board diagnostics and redundant backups, remote monitoring radiation protection systems, etc.Refueling outages – Given that most reactor designs will require occasional opening for inspection and refueling, design the reactor vessel and associated systems for efficient disassembly/reassembly, and those systems should also be designed and accessible for ease of maintenance.Fleet deployment– Economies of scale apply to nuclear reactors just as they do for any product or service. Deploying more than one reactor of the same design will allow for production cost savings to the OEM, as well as to a buy who procures multiple reactors. Once deployed, those buyers with more than one reactor can take advantage of centralization within their own organization, and through standardization.The role of the OEM– Take advantage of potential opportunities for the EOM to serve as a centralized design authority, ensure consistency of modification approaches, support the relationship with the regulator, and ensure maximum standardization of operational and supply chain approaches.Decommissioning/End-of-life– Design the plant for easier ultimate shutdown and decommissioning. Recognize that doing so will also make refueling outages during the regular lifecycle more efficient.

Modeling O&M Costs Can Provide A Marketing Edge

Goodnight Consulting has worked with these issues for a broad range of international clients, including numerous Gen III/III+, Gen IV, and SMR designs. We can develop an O&M Costs model, and provide other final design support, for new reactor designs. Our third-party analysis can help inform the design and enhances credibility with potential customers, providing an edge in sales and marketing.

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