Washington state and Boeing and modular reactors

Energy Northwest is a clean air pioneer, and the potential development of modular reactors in Washington state will be a part of that clean air tradition. I recently wrote a blog post about this. However, just like a character in a movie doing a double-take, I realized that Washington’s clean air history was only part of the story. It’s not just a clean-air tradition: there’s an aircraft tradition, too!

What do most people think of when they hear the words “industry in Washington state”? They think of Boeing and Microsoft. But when it comes to regular nuts-and-bolts manufacturing, not software, but manufacturing that is world-class and competitive and makes big impressive machines… they think of Boeing.

Courtesy: CNN

The Boeing assembly line in Everett, Wash. Photo: CNN

Well, okay. I personally think of Boeing first because our son worked there for several years. I took the tour of Boeing and was incredibly impressed at the complex airplanes, huge machines with miles of wiring and extremely high safety requirements, that came off the assembly line. An assembly line! It completely amazed me (as it should amaze anyone) to see something so complicated made in such a routine way, to such high standards of quality and safety.

Just recently, Evan Twarog, a guest blogger at Atomic Insights, wrote a guest post at Rod Adams’ blog. This post reminded me of the aircraft side of Washington state history, and how that part of Washington’s heritage can affect the nuclear industry. Twarog’s post is titled: What Aircraft Manufacturers Can Teach the Nuclear Industry .

Twarog compares airplane manufacturing to the nuclear industry in terms of regulation, complexity of product, and safety requirements. He points out some painful differences, such as the fact that Boeing and Airbus can afford their license applications. Boeing has a market value around $90 billion, and Airbus is valued at $40 billion. For these two companies, it’s small change to spend $100 million (mere millions) on a license application for a new type of airplane. In contrast, for the start-up companies that want to build new types of nuclear plants, such high expenditures for licensing pose a serious problem which slows innovation.   The airplane industry is definitely in better shape than the nuclear industry!

However, the nuclear industry can learn a great deal from the aircraft industry in many ways other than financing. Twarog reviews Boeing’s “9-Step Plan” which has increased the quality of manufacturing while decreasing the cost. He admires the Boeing “culture of innovation.” And of course, aircraft are built in modules: they are not the equivalent of conventional home construction. They are modular, and newer reactors (SMR- Small Modular Reactors) will also be modular in construction. As Twarog writes: Modularity has the potential to remake the nuclear industry, but it must be executed in a way that will live up to its true potential. The nuclear industry must learn the things the aircraft industry already knows.

And where better to learn these skills than Washington state, the exact state where the aircraft industry already practices these skills. I know that the legislature is considering various ways of encouraging SMRs in the state, and I personally hope the legislature succeeds in encouraging them. Building SMRs in Washington, recruiting some people who work at or who advise Boeing, could be the best place in the United States for this industry. That’s my opinion, anyway!

Evan speaking in favor of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing in November , 2012.

Evan speaking in favor of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing in November, 2012.

A word about Evan Twarog. He is a remarkable young man, graduating high school this year and heading off to the Coast Guard Academy. Twarog also was offered a significant scholarship to Renssellear Polytechnic Institute, after being nominated by his high school science teachers. However, he has chosen to go to the Coast Guard Academy. He also wrote an essay that won a global Rotary contest.

Evan is the son of John and Cheryl Twarog. John is a shift supervisor at Vermont Yankee. Even early in his high school career, the younger Twarog was a very well spoken advocate for Vermont Yankee. I am the director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont, and I was lucky enough to have Twarog as our intern one summer. To give you some idea of his background, I am linking to some posts at my Yes Vermont Yankee blog. Enjoy!




(Post by Meredith Angwin)

1 thought on “Washington state and Boeing and modular reactors

  1. Pingback: Small Modular Reactors and the Northwest | Northwest Clean Energy

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