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Nuclear energy advocates argue that, because of decreasing demand for to drop. But as demand is falling, other utilities are discovering these adverse trends and canceling nuclear plants. And, in any case, fuel costs are about to become irrelevant. The rising capital costs of nuclear plants are ‘soon going to overwhelm other considerations. Nuclear plants’ operating and mainteof coal plants. Nuclear energy is 1.0 cents/kwh, and coal is 0.3 cents/kwh. And O&M costs have doubled since 1980, while those of coal have not changed. The situation is such that, though nuclear fuel is still significantly less expensive than coal, nuclear-generated electricity costs much more because of generating, capital, and O&M costs, and other expenditures. IN TERMS OF comparative performance, coal plants win hands down. One measure of performance is the “availability factor.” This index is the percentage of time a plant was capable of producing power at some level, whether or not it was actually in service. From 1970 to 1984, nuclear plants were available an average of 65.1 percent of the time, while coal plants were available 81.0 percent of the time. A second, better index of reliability is the “forced-outage rate.” This is the Percentage of time during which a plant is out of service because of an equipment failure. Thus, the lower the forcedoutage rate, the more reliable the plant. From 1970 to 1984, the average forcedoutage rate for nuclear plants was 10.9 percent and for coal plants 7.7 percent. Moreover, the reliability of coal plants has steadily improved and that of nuclear plants has deteriorated. Comparing the period from 1970 to 1976 with the period 1977 to 1984 shows that, though the availability factor for nuclear plants remained the same, the plants experienced a statistically significant increase in forced-outage. On the other hand, the availability factor for coal plants increased significantly and the forced-outage rate declined. The upshot of these nuclear plant shortcomings is that they cost money and lots of it. Although nuclear energy champions blame enormous construction cost increases and delays on regulators and anti-nuclear groups, nuclear energy’s primary problems are mismanagement and the complexity of nuclear plants relative to coal. “Nuclear power was killed, not by its enemies, but its friends,” observes James Cook in Forbes, Feb. 11, 1985. Cook impugns the federal government, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, equipment manufacturers, contractors and subcontractors, utility executives, and state regulatory commissions. He places major blame on the utilities’ and contractors’ mismanagement of nuclear plant construction, which, he notes, is far more complex than the construction of coal plants. For example, a coal plant has about 200 pipe hangers, each requiring about 2.5 hours for design and installation, while a nuclear plant needs 30,000 pipe hangers with about 100 hours of design and installation time apiece. So it’s 500 hours for the coal pipe hangers and 3 million hours for nuclear pipe hangers. What the great complexity of nuclear plants means, of course, is that the chances for equipment failure are high, precipitating higher O&M costs. The Kiplinger Washington Letter of June 14, 1985, predicts the worst: about 70 nuclear plants will be decommissioned over the next 25 years, each costing more than $100 million to shut down $7 billion total. S O HOW DO these national nuclear cost and performance statistics apply to the South Texas Nuclear Project? We are repeatedly reassured that both units of STNP are on schedule and there will be no more cost overruns. Somehow, that seems difficult to believe. First, since STNP’s inception, mismanagement has been the outstanding characteristic of STNP. Even though Brown and Root was fired and Bechtel hired, Houston Lighting and Power whose track record doesn’t inspire confidence is still STNP project manager. At least Bechtel has built a nuclear plant before although at the San Onofre plant in California they did manage to install the reactor backwards. Still, let’s assume it’s true that Unit 1 will come on line in 1987 and Unit 2 in 1989 and that the final construction cost will be a mere $5.5 billion. What can we expect then? It’s certainly not likely that a plant with all the construction problems STNP has had will be beating the national performance and cost averages. Yet in cost projections for STNP are based on a very optimistic 78 percent powerproducing capability \(13 percent above the nuclear industry average for 68 STNP’s availability factor will be somewhere near or below 65 percent. That will make the electricity it gener ates much more expensive than CPS’s projections. If it generates 15 percent less than projected, that electricity will cost 17.6 percent more than projected. If it generates 20 percent less than projected, the cost will be 25 percent greater. When Unit 2 comes on line in 1989, the total nuclear plant operating and maintenance costs will have almost doubled again. If nuclear plant operating and maintenance costs keep increasing at the same rate, they will double again by 1989. But with Houston Lighting and Power doing the operating and managing, should we expect STNP’s O&M costs to merely double? By all indication, we should expect the worst from STNP. What can be done? We can cancel STNP and substitute an alternative form of energy. Other utilities across the country are cancelling nuclear plants in epidemic proportions. Utilities don’t abandon these phenomenally expensive projects without good reason. And, despite a recent study that showed converting STNP to a coal plant would be too expensive, other utilities don’t agree. Last year, Wabash Valley Power Association in Indiana estimated the cost of completing the Marble Hill Project as a nuclear plant would be $4.7 billion, while converting it to coal would cost $1.48 billion. When the Zimmer plant in Ohio was 97 percent complete, the participating utilities decided to convert it to coal. WE, TOO, seem to have reached the point where completing STNP as a nuclear plant may be more expensive to ratepayers than walking away from this monument to mismanagement. And we, too, can find energy alternatives. The STNP problem brings up Texas’ problem with energy sources generally. Besides relying too much on nuclear energy, utilities in the state depend far too heavily on natural gas. Statewide, the relative contributions of electrical power generating fuels are 68 percent natural gas, 2.3 percent nuclear, 1.3 percent hydro or other, and 0.1 percent oil. Coal and lignite presently supply only 16.2 and 11.9 percent, respectively. So, when all those air conditioners kick on every summer, utilities meet the extra demand chiefly by burning more expensive natural gas. However, it is both technologically and economically feasible to convert plants that burn natural gas to burn coal or lignite. The cost of converting an existing plant is far less than the cost of building a new example, San Antonio’s CPS could convert the Sommers Plant to burn coal . 18 MARCH 21, 1986