A brain drain involving everyone from engineers to maintenance staff to construction labor was identified as perhaps the major challenge impacting the resurrection of nuclear energy at the DaratechPLANT 2008 Conference, held in Houston during late February.

One project planned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings already has been cancelled. MidAmerican did not believe that it could bring the nuclear plant into production on a timely basis citing the five to six years the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) takes to approve a large nuclear project in addition to the years of actual construction, according to a conference report from Industrial Information Resources (www.industrialinfo.com).

            Other major challenges identified included:

  • Supply chain problems with vendors pertaining to "N" stamp certification and nuclear accreditation, which means that the authorized vendor/contractor has produced the commercial nuclear-grade components in accordance with the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Codes and Standards.

  • Resource and scheduling difficulties.

  • The rapid rise in the costs of labor and material.

  • Staff training difficulties.

  • Risk mitigation and quality assurance while building large nuclear projects.

On the plus side, the latest computer design software, which includes CAD and 3-D intelligent design, is integral in the developmental design of power plants to limit radiation dosage during and after construction, to help in the operational training of personnel and to better meet project deadlines and control costs during and after construction.

Despite the problems cited, it was concluded that new nuclear plants can be built with careful planning, realistic goals and an effective and intelligent management approach.