Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Make no mistake about it, you can always improve safety by spending more money. Even with our personal automobiles, there is no end to what we can spend for safety — larger and heavier cars, blowout-proof tires, air bags, passive safety restraints, rear window wipers and defrosters, fog lights, more shock-absorbent bumpers, antilock brakes, and so on. In our homes we can spend large sums on fireproofing, sprinkler systems, and smoke alarms, to cite only the fire protection aspect of household safety. Nuclear power plants are much more complex than homes or automobiles, leaving innumerable options for spending money to improve safety. In response to escalating public concern, the NRC began implementing some of these options in the early 1970s, and quickened the pace after the Three Mile Island accident.The Forth Bridge has gone up 8 times what it should be & it is stretching credibility to assume that safety & environmental controls have increased the price that much (twice what they did for US nuclear plants) but it is probably at least a partial explanation & I would still really like to have some explanation from those politicians who consider themselves fit to run the place or those journalists who consier themselves fit to explaon politics to us.
This process came to be known as "ratcheting." Like a ratchet wrench which is moved back and forth but always tightens and never loosens a bolt, the regulatory requirements were constantly tightened, requiring additional equipment and construction labor and materials. According to one study,4 between the early and late 1970s, regulatory requirements increased the quantity of steel needed in a power plant of equivalent electrical output by 41%, the amount of concrete by 27%, the lineal footage of piping by 50%, and the length of electrical cable by 36%. The NRC did not withdraw requirements made in the early days on the basis of minimal experience when later experience demonstrated that they were unnecessarily stringent. Regulations were only tightened, never loosened. The ratcheting policy was consistently followed.
In its regulatory ratcheting activities, the NRC paid some attention to cost effectiveness, attempting to balance safety benefits against cost increases. However, NRC personnel privately concede that their cost estimates were very crude, and more often than not unrealistically low. Estimating costs of tasks never before undertaken is, at best, a difficult and inexact art.
In addition to increasing the quantity of materials and labor going into a plant, regulatory ratcheting increased costs by extending the time required for construction. According to the United Engineers estimates, the time from project initiation to ground breaking5 was 16 months in 1967, 32 months in 1972, and 54 months in 1980. These are the periods needed to do initial engineering and design; to develop a safety analysis and an environmental impact analysis supported by field data; to have these analyses reviewed by the NRC staff and its Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and to work out conflicts with these groups; to subject the analyzed to criticism in public hearings and to respond to that criticism (sometimes with design changes); and finally, to receive a construction permit. The time from ground breaking to operation testing was increased from 42 months in 1967, to 54 months in 1972, to 70 months in 1980.
The increase in total construction time, indicated in Fig. 2, from 7 years in 1971 to 12 years in 1980 roughly doubled the final cost of plants. In addition, the EEDB, corrected for inflation, approximately doubled during that time period. Thus, regulatory ratcheting, quite aside from the effects of inflation, quadrupled the cost of a nuclear power plant. What has all this bought in the way of safety? One point of view often expressed privately by those involved in design and construction is that it has bought nothing. A nuclear power plant is a very complex system, and adding to its complexity involves a risk in its own right.
On a previous article it was said that producing regulations costs those protected/the victims (according to taste) 20 times what it costs government to produce & enforce them. This is why ratcheting works as it does - the pain is felt by the wealth producer (& ultimately by the consumer) & not by government thus they have no incentive to ever ratchet down, particularly if "special interest groups" largely funded by government itself are always putting pressure to add regulations.
Firstly some time ago I proposed the establishment of a Parliamentary committee purely to find regulations which should be reduced.
Secondly how about allowing a legal right of appeal. If engineers can go to court & prove beyond reasonable actuarial doubt, that a regulation costs more than twice as much, per statistical life saved, than is allowed in some other industry, the government must refund half of the extra cost. At the very least that would share the pain with the governments that are causing it, which would be likely to be instructive.
(Thirdly & not a legal question - when reporting on some green protest should the media, out of respect for balance, tell us how much their protest or the extra rules they want are likely to ultimately cost us all.)
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