McCain Sees Need for More Nuclear Power – WSJ.com
The key words….. “developing domestic capability to manufacture key parts.”

I think in many ways, Nuclear energy could have played a substantial role in energy policy…. but alas, its time has come and gone. In part, due to the regulatory and litigious climate today, the publics view of nuclear disasters,  but on a very practical basis…. I seriously doubt we could manufacture them anymore for a number of reasons…. its not that we lack the technology, certainly manufacturing tech is light years ahead of where it was in 1960, but there are huge problems.

First, every engineer or designer from that era is either at the point of retirement, or long ago did so. Prints only tell a small story when it comes to manufacturing, no matter how well documented they are. It is indeed, the craftsmanship that resides in the assembler, the maintenance tech, the  engineering techs, and the engineers that make the difference, not so much as what is on paper (which of course is what we are led to believe today with all our super cool and whippy high tech tools)

Second, any and all prints from that era, are likely to be in archive status, if indeed they are still around at all. Fragile blueprints, the smell of ammonia, and massive rows of drafting tables have long since fell by the wayside. Even cad systems have a finite lift, and it is indeed likely much of the documentation is either missing, or incorrect, thus leading to a multitude of rabbit trails should a call be made to tool up and crank out parts.

Perhaps most critical is the mindset…. I’ve brought back to life more than a few legacy products over the years, in addition to maintaining some pretty archaic products as well… (yep, I’ve worked off of prints from the 40’s) The mindset of production in the 60’s up to the mid 80’s was totally different. I don’t know how many times I’d send something out for a quote, only to have it come back as we can’t build that, its impossible…. and my response was… no its not impossible, as your company built a bunch of these for us in the past, ie, in 1973, and my records show, the acceptance rate was very high, and there are even file notes saying how impressed the guys were with the quality.

Todays emphasis on lean manufacturing by the least common denominator skill wise, combined with huge reductions in overhead don’t allow for designs with low yields, or processes which require a high degree of supervision, typically by an old grey beard craftsman. Thus, its easy for vendors to no bid, rather than to take risks on huge scrap rates and failures in order to provide a limit quantity of product which meats spec. Then add in huge increases in labor costs since then, and its understandable why things are the way they are today. Yet, if one needs a specific part, understanding a vendors issues doesn’t cut it.

To rebuild the nuclear manufacturing base will require a huge change in mindset, throughout a vendors operation. I would not rule it out as being impossible, but todays climate makes it unlikely, and if possible, the costs would be out of this world.

Imho, a better solution is a focus on technological solutions aligned with what we have, and what we can project into the future, rather than trying to relive the era of 30-50 years ago. Minnesota is primed and ready for such new challenges, the issue is whether the social political climate will embrace  such, or try to revert and live in the past.