May. 12, 2017

New vs Retrofit

Re:  The difference in cost between building options new at the time of original construction, and building as a retrofit further down the road
To give you an idea as to how inept governments can be, and how infrastructure costs can escalate; here is the full text of an e-mail I sent to Toronto Star Bureau Chief David Rider commenting on his article on March 25, 2017, "Toronto Hydro and the power of secrecy: analysis":
"Hi David - (FOUND THIS IN MY DRAFTS) - Keep at it - As an former employee of a consultant to the former Ontario Hydro, I have seen how it works: After completing my work within the first four hours of the day and complaining about not enough work, my supervisor told me not to worry about it - I was told that; if it took me 10 hours to do my job, the company would make $100.00, however, if it took me 20 hours to do my job, the company would make $200.00 on that very same report - I left exactly one year after starting with the company
To illustrate another example: On July 9, 2009, I sent this e-mail message to then Liberal Brampton-Springdale MP, Ruby Dhalla:
Hi Ruby,
I am a rather fickle voter, and I don’t support any particular party or candidate. In fact, I am disillusioned with the whole process, fed up with corrupt politicians, and don’t really care much any more.
I did not vote during the last election, and frankly did not really care who got in. They’re all the same as far as I am concerned. Although I initially did have some reservations about Stephen Harper, I have to say that I have been impressed with his performance so far.
With regard to your leaflet blaming the Conservative Government for the “Mismanagement of Chalk River”; if you really want to know who is responsible for the mismanagement of the project, I suggest that you have the members of all parties, at both the Federal and Provincial level, look in the mirror.
On January 19, 2008, the Toronto Star published an article by Science Reporter, Peter Calamai, entitled “Chalk River crisis sired by AECL”. Following are excerpts from that article, followed by my comments on each individual statement:
“Engineering blunders, shoddy workmanship, lax quality control are real cause, nuclear experts say” – Why am I not surprised? During my first year out of school in 1978/79, I worked for an engineering firm that was doing consulting work for Ontario Hydro. I worked on cost control for a 300 million dollar modification and expansion to a coal-fired power station in Thunder Bay Ontario. My role was to process requests from the engineers, for changes to the forecasted costs. I was only making $12,000.00/year at the time, but I estimate that the annual cost for Cost Control [including overhead (administrative costs, computer time, e.t.c.)] would have been at least $350,000.00/year at the time. My role required that I sit with the engineering heads from time to time. The engineers were working on other projects as well as Thunder Bay, including a project in Atikokan. Atikokan was a new plant with a budget of 400 million dollars. One of the head engineers told me that Atikokan was the first coal-fired power plant to be completely automated, and that the plant could not function without the computer. The engineers were frustrated because the Ontario (Progressive Conservative) Government of the day had made a decision to use a soft coal from Alberta, instead of the harder coal from Pennsylvania that the plant had been designed for. Also, Ontario Hydro was constantly changing the design parameters for the computer system. Because procurement had already begun, and contracts had already been awarded, these two requirements alone set off a chain of events that drove the costs out of sight. Major components (boilers and nozzles) had to be redesigned; and the heads of the electrical and the instrumentation and control departments were so overwhelmed with changes to the computer system that at least one of them was on the verge of nervous breakdown, and admitted that they were not even sure that the computer system was gong to work.
I don’t know the final results, I left the company after one year, but I am sure that the inevitable engineering issues, and cost overruns, were likely attributed to the engineers.
And speaking of cost overruns; I remember the powers that be coming out of a meeting to review and decide on a change to add scrubbers (to cut acid gases and toxic emissions) to the new power plant in Atikokan, at a cost of 40 million dollars (an additional 10% to the overall cost), and announcing that the scrubbers had been scrapped. Now I was fresh out of school, but pollution was becoming an issue back then, and I remember thinking what a lack of foresight it was to not go forward with the scrubbers. But hey, who was I but a kid fresh out of school.
A few years after I left the company (early to mid-80s now remember), I heard on the news that Ontario Hydro was the number one polluter in Ontario [ahead of INCO, (I think Ontario Hydro was second in the 70s, before INCO installed their big stack to blow the stuff far enough so that the rest of us could get some)], and that the Ontario Government was going to have them install scrubbers on all of their coal-fired power stations. I know where they could have got one for 40 mill!!! Then when I was looking up the date that the Ontario Government made the announcement in the 80s, I read ….. “March 1, 2007 - Ontario Power Generation wants to scrap the idea of scrubbers - TORONTO - It could take $1.5 billion and four years to install anti-pollution equipment on all of Ontario’s coal-fired electricity stations but it wouldn’t make economic sense if the plants are closed by 2014 as planned, said Ontario Power Generation CEO Jim Hankinson.” Now I’m really confused?! How many new coal-fired plants sans scrubbers did we build since the old plants were retrofitted with scrubbers in the 80s?
But I digress,
“The oldest nuclear research reactor in the world is still chugging away at Chalk River, already running three years beyond its scheduled retirement date to meet global demand for medical isotopes.” – Well, what can I say? This article was published on
January 19, 2008. The new Conservative Party took power in February, 2006. The Liberal Party was in power from 1993 to 2006. Who was responsible for allowing the plant to operate “three years beyond its scheduled retirement date”?
“Yet in a nearby building two new custom-built MAPLE reactors, designed specifically for isotope production, sit idle eight years after they were supposed to replace the 50-year-old, multipurpose National Research Universal reactor.” – Is this building anywhere near one of the brand-new coal-fired power plants partially-built and mothballed, due to overly optimistic projections of future growth and power requirements, by Ontario Hydro, and the Ontario Provincial Government, in the late 70’s. Funny, didn’t I hear that the Ontario government has suspended its plans to build some new nuclear power plants, when a day or so before it was said “Ontario's nuclear plants are reaching the end of their natural lives”? - “Oh how the pendulum doth swing!!” “I am disillusioned ….. ”
“The new reactors aren't operating because of a series of hard-to-believe blunders by once world-class Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation responsible for designing and building them.” – Hard-to-believe? I don’t think so.
I could go on, I have plenty of thoughts on this, and on many other issues, but I’m tired, and I really don’t care anymore. I know that most of the above relates to Provincial issues, but again, I think politicians are all the same. All they care about is the short term, and what they can do before the next election.
It appears that the nuclear issues fall under federal jurisdiction, so I have included the rest of Peter Calamai’s article below.
“The blunders include:
An unproven and overly intricate design that strained the competence of AECL engineers and scientists.
Shoddy workmanship and lax quality control, which meant grit particles stopped two sets of safety control rods from shutting down the reactors.
An unexplained miscalculation about changes in reactivity – the reactor's oomph – on which the entire safety scenario is based.
In the view of most nuclear experts and informed observers, these AECL failures are the real cause of last month's crisis in isotope production that culminated this week in the Harper government's unprecedented firing of Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
A contributing factor was the refusal of the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien to commit roughly $500 million to replace the Universal reactor with a super-reactor called the Canadian Neutron Facility dedicated to scientific research, and test new designs for the CANDU power reactor.
Overarching all this was the meagre funding over the past decade by Liberal and Conservative governments for AECL to remedy health, safety, licensing and security shortcomings at the sprawling Chalk River laboratories.
A special 2007 report by the federal auditor general recently made public by AECL estimated that $600 million would be needed for such urgent improvements over the next five years. Yet since 2002 Ottawa has provided just $34 million.
"We should never have got ourselves in this situation," says Bill Garland, a professor of nuclear engineering at McMaster University who worked at AECL and Ontario Hydro's nuclear division.
"Everybody knew that Canada was the chief source of medical isotopes and yet they just stood by and did nothing. Why didn't the U.S. build its own isotope reactor?"
Everyone also should have known that Canada's isotope production hung by the slenderest of threads. The signs were everywhere.
As far back as October 1998, the Star ran a front-page story saying the Universal reactor was on its last legs and unless work began quickly on a replacement, Canada would suffer from a "neutron gap."
As well, top AECL management was repeatedly hauled on the carpet before the Nuclear Safety Commission and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board, to explain poor operating practices at the Universal reactor, including foot-dragging on implementing safety upgrades ordered by the federal regulator.
In June 2005, staff at the safety commission said in a written report that the AECL staff running the aging Universal reactor were prone to "overconfidence," "complacency" and "deficiencies in management oversight and safety culture."
These same failings, it appears, also lie behind the woes at the MAPLE reactors, which together with an extraction plant make up the Dedicated Isotope Facility.
Originally budgeted at $160 million and scheduled to begin producing isotopes by November 2000, the facility was an example of forward thinking by MDS Nordion, the private company that handles marketing and distribution of the medical isotopes produced in the Universal reactor.
Nordion contracted AECL to build the two MAPLE reactors — one as a backup — in plenty of time to begin producing isotopes before the Universal reactor shut down.
But a flawed design and slipshod workmanship meant the first MAPLE reactor flunked its initial commissioning tests. In early 2000, AECL concealed problems with the new reactor's safety system from the nuclear watchdog for three months.
After AECL missed deadline after deadline and costs skyrocketed, MDS Nordion finally bailed in September 2005. The company handed ownership of the trouble-plagued facility over to AECL and instead signed a 40-year supply agreement.
The MAPLE woes have been a black eye for AECL's international reputation as a designer and builder of nuclear reactors, despite the company's attempts to distinguish them from CANDU power reactors.
Especially upset are the retired nuclear engineers, managers and regulators who largely constitute the membership of the Canadian Nuclear Society.
"It's appalling to have a project that far behind schedule and that far over budget," says Fred Boyd, a former editor and current publisher of the society's magazine.
Yet the most common reaction over the deep-seated woes at Chalk River among experts and well-informed insiders is sorrow rather than anger. The former head of one of the largest federal science agencies, speaking on a condition of anonymity, chose these words:
"Canada was in a position of pre-eminence in the world in basic nuclear research, in the nuclear technology for building reactors and in the production of isotopes. Now we're nowhere as competitive in all three of those areas.
"It's sad, very sad."” – Agreed. It is sad, very, very, sad!!!
Stop blaming the current Conservative government for the issues at Chalk River. You should know it takes time to deal with these issues, and these issues should have been addressed long before the current Government took power.
I don’t blame just the Conservatives, or just the Liberals, for the mess at Chalk River; (and by the way, I do understand that Peter Calamai has his own bias); I blame every government, both federal and provincial, that has ever been in power since the inception of this project.
I will forward a copy of her response (and invitation to BBQ) under separate cover.
The more recent gas-plant fiasco is just one more issue reinforcing my complete lack of confidence in government.