Guest post by DV82XL. He is a Canadian chemist and materials scientist. For his previous article on the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, see here, and on why an informed public is key to acceptance of nuclear energy, see here.
Unless you intend to design a nuclear reactor from scratch, you are going to have to accept whatever level of safety is designed into the one you buy. No original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is going to derate their product to cut costs for you. And that will go for things you will have to build yourself, like the containment, and spent fuel facilities. No one is going to risk their brand letting you install their product on a substandard site. But this is not where costs get out of control anyway.
Nor is it in operating safety protocols, which at any rate are tied into general plant integrity routines that must be done anyway. Ultimately cutting back in this area runs the risk of some failure occurring that might stop the plant from producing power, (i.e. stop making money) or causing harm to an employee. In other words most of this falls under housekeeping anyway.
The only place where costs can be controlled which is often (erroneously) referred to as safety issues, is unreasonable procedural nonsense during the initial build. Even this is not the real expense in and of itself, but it is the delays that these can cause that push cost overruns into the stratosphere. It is seeing that these do not get out of hand that is the real way to keep costs down. In any sane world too, most of these procedural issues would be properly referred to as Quality Assurance, or Quality Control (QC), as they would have little to do with real safety issues, but in the politically charged world of nuclear power plant (NPP) builds, the antinuclear forces spin these to security and safety issues their own ends.
Okay, so how to avoid this sort of pitfall? First and foremost there must be only one government agency/department/ministry/whatever, in charge of oversight, and it needs to be at the national level, and it needs to exercise eminent domain. Once the project has broken ground, it cannot be delayed by politics, or by lower levels of government. Some local water commissioner up for re-election cannot be permitted to bring the project to a halt while he grandstands demanding a second opinion on groundwater contamination, two years after the first one was done and approved. Similarly, abuses of the legal system by non-government organisations (NGO’s) have to be made impossible as well. Many of these like Greenpeace, are well aware of the financial dynamics of these builds, and are past masters at using the courts to get injunctions for the sole purpose of running up the costs, in the hope of getting a project cancelled. In fact they have been successful more than once with this tactic.