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Nuclear Energy Flooding around Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska.

Published on June 23rd, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

15

Nuclear Power & Flooding (Nuclear Power Getting Less Reliable)



Flooding around Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska.

I can hear the nuclear power lovers coming my way now. They’ll be in the comments soon after I publish this. But publish it I think I should.

We hear all the time, “we need nuclear because it provides reliable, baseload power.” We saw last week how this wasn’t the case in Fukushima, even before the disasters that started in March (which are ongoing). Now, it’s also clearly not the case in Nebraska, where two nuclear power plants have been threatened by extreme flooding, one (at Fort Calhoun) is currently shutdown (was shutdown beforehand for refueling and must remain shut down until flood waters recede, which could mean until late Fall) and the other (in Cooper, Nebraska) may be shut down soon because of rising flood waters.

Useful comments from readers: “You might point out that solar thermal provides baseload capabilities…” and “we don’t need baseload.  We need the ability to provide power when it’s needed.  ‘Baseload’ is old skool thinking. A mix of renewables along with storage and dispatchable would work just fine.  That said, geothermal, biomass and run of the river hydro are the sorts of power the old folks call ‘baseload’.”

This is a video from June 17 on the Nebraska flooding and lack of nuclear reliability:

Now, as anyone who knows anything about climate science can tell you, flooding is expected to increase in the years to come (and we are already seeing it increase). With more and more flooding and extreme weather, nuclear power plants are not nearly as stable or reliable as they are claimed to be. Wind turbines and rooftop solar panels, on the other hand, are unaffected by this flooding from what I gather.

Some useful US Global Change Research Program excerpts from Peter Sinclair over on Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

US Global Change Research Program – Great Plains:

Projected changes in long-term climate and more frequent extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and heavy rainfall will affect many aspects of life in the Great Plains. These include the region’s already threatened water resources, essential agricultural and ranching activities, unique natural and protected areas, and the health and prosperity of its inhabitants.

US Global Change Research Program – Midwest:

Heavy downpours are now twice as frequent as they were a century ago. Both summer and winter precipitation have been above average for the last three decades, the wettest period in a century. The Midwest has experienced two record-breaking floods in the past 15 years.

Another useful reader comment along these same lines:

Too much nuclear has been built on faulty assumptions.  In Japan it was assumed that a tsunami would never reach their reactors (even though at least one had gotten that high in the past. In France and the US  a lot of nuclear was built with the assumption that massive heat waves wouldn’t hit and cooling water would be available. “On July 8, 2010, as the temperature in downtown Decatur, Alabama climbed to a sweltering 98°F, operators at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant a few miles outside of town realized they had only one option to avoid violating their environmental permit: turn down the reactors. For days, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns the nuclear plant, had kept a watchful eye on the rising mercury, knowing that more heat outside could spell trouble inside the facility. When the Tennessee River, whose adjacent waters are used to cool the reactors, finally hit 90°F and forced Browns Ferry to run at only half of their regular power output, the TVA hoped the hot spell would last just a few days. Eight weeks of unrelenting heat later, the plant was still running at half its capacity” http://www.climatecentral.org/news/in-tennessee-heat-waves-frustrate-nuclear-power/ “France is expecting to have an epic heat wave this summer, which, due to a combination of political and environmental factors, will have some serious repercussions for the political scene in Paris. Spring 2011 has been exceptionally hot in France. In fact, has been the hottest in 100 years. Furthermore, it has been the driest spring in the last 50 years and therefore this summer is expected to be one of the hottest on record and that includes the 2005 and 2003 heat waves which were quite serious for France. In 2003 heat wave in France was exceptionally severe, with the French minister of health issuing a report that said that about 15,000 people may have died as result of increased temperatures…. particularly important for France during a drought is because 24 of its 58 nuclear reactors do not have cooling towers and purely depend on the flow of river water to cool the reactor cores. What this means is that if the level of water in rivers drops, it means that some of the reactors may have to be shut down especially those on the Rhone River in southwest France, where temperatures are expected to be particularly high due to its geographical location.”

Any more input on this topic?

More Nuclear Stories on CleanTechnica:

  1. My Thoughts on Nuclear
  2. Wind Power Beats Nuclear Power in Texas
  3. Wind Power in Europe MORE Reliable than Nuclear Power in Japan
  4. Renewable Energy Passed Up Nuclear in 2010
  5. Some Good News From Japan

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



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  • Anonymous

    “A source of power negatively correlated to demand could be described as what?”

    A marketable commodity.

    If climate change is going to bring us higher snowpack in the Pacific Northwest on a regular basis then it may be a good idea to hook Bonneville to the Pacific Intertie and sell some of that power southward.

    And before long the Western grid will be tied to the Eastern and Texas grids, so that power can be sold to anywhere in the lower 48 and most of Canada, even parts of Mexico. Somewhere on the continent there’s a coal plant that can shut down or gas turbines that can stop spinning while all that nice fuel-free wind power gets used.

    • Anonymous

       ”… it may be a good idea to hook Bonneville to the Pacific Intertie and sell some of that power southward.”

      Was this supposed to be a joke? The Pacific Intertie was built to move power from Bonneville to LA.

      • Anonymous

        My bad.  From the way they were curtailing wind I assumed they weren’t connected.

        So the problem is an inadequate connection?  A larger wire needed?  Better connections to the wind farms?

        • Anonymous

          According to Wikipedia, the HVDC line can carry 3.1 GW; the Bonneville Power Authority already has 3.5 GW of wind capacity installed.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks for the info.  I wonder how many years it would take to determine if this heavy springtime melt is going to regularly oversupply the area and create a need for more transmission?

            It could just be the additional 4% of water in the atmosphere along with La Nina weather patterns which would make it an infrequent event.  We should have a much better idea in a couple of years when the the next El Nino shows up.  If snowpack is huge during neutral and El Nino years then I’d expect more transmission rather than curtailment.

            If it happens once every 5-10 years we’ll likely just let the turbines sit idle until river flow is down.

  • Anonymous

    Too much nuclear has been built on faulty assumptions.  In Japan it was assumed that a tsunami would never reach their reactors (even though at least one had gotten that high in the past.

    If France and the US  a lot of nuclear was built with the assumption that massive heat waves wouldn’t hit and cooling water would be available.

    “On July 8, 2010, as the temperature in downtown Decatur, Alabama climbed to a sweltering 98°F, operators at the Browns Ferry
    nuclear power plant a few miles outside of town realized they had only
    one option to avoid violating their environmental permit: turn down the
    reactors.

    For days, the Tennessee Valley Authority
    (TVA), which owns the nuclear plant, had kept a watchful eye on the
    rising mercury, knowing that more heat outside could spell trouble
    inside the facility. When the Tennessee River, whose adjacent waters are
    used to cool the reactors, finally hit 90°F and forced Browns Ferry to
    run at only half of their regular power output, the TVA hoped the hot
    spell would last just a few days.

    Eight weeks of unrelenting heat later, the plant was still running at half its capacity”

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/in-tennessee-heat-waves-frustrate-nuclear-power/

    “France is expecting to have an epic heat wave this summer, which, due to
    a combination of political and environmental factors, will have some
    serious repercussions for the political scene in Paris.

    Spring
    2011 has been exceptionally hot in France. In fact, has been the hottest
    in 100 years. Furthermore, it has been the driest spring in the last 50
    years and therefore this summer is expected to be one of the hottest on
    record and that includes the 2005 and 2003 heat waves which were quite
    serious for France. In 2003 heat wave in France was exceptionally
    severe, with the French minister of health issuing a report that said
    that about 15,000 people may have died as result of increased
    temperatures…. particularly important for France during a drought is because 24 of its
    58 nuclear reactors do not have cooling towers and purely depend on the
    flow of river water to cool the reactor cores. What this means is that
    if the level of water in rivers drops, it means that some of the
    reactors may have to be shut down especially those on the Rhone River in
    southwest France, where temperatures are expected to be particularly
    high due to its geographical location.”

  • Anonymous

    You might point out that solar thermal provides baseload capabilities. . .

    • Anonymous

      And point out that we don’t need baseload.  We need the ability to provide power when it’s needed.  “Baseload” is old skool thinking.

      A mix of renewables along with storage and dispatchable would work just fine. 

      That said, geothermal, biomass and run of the river hydro are the sorts of power the old folks call ‘baseload’.

      • Anonymous

        done & done :D

        i actually thought i put something in there along those lines, must have been another post or just thought about it but didn’t do so

      • Anonymous

        That might be true but we’re dealing with an intense, conservative opposition.  Solar panels practically have to walk on water to win.

        • Anonymous

          That opposition is crumbling.  Lately I’ve seen polls which show that over 70% of Americans want the government to do something about climate change, even if it costs money.  And over 90% of Americans being in favor of solar power.

          We’re at the point where solar power is cheaper than gas peaker power in sunny places.  Conservatives are very concerned about things that cost them money.  As the price of solar continues to drop that opposition will wash away.

          Solar is only months away from $1/watt.  That means $2/watt installed in 5kW and larger arrays.  And that means ~$0.10/kWh electricity. 

          And that ten cents will not increase as will the cost of natural gas plant electricity once we burn through this temporary glut of shale gas and the price climbs back to where it should be.

          • Anonymous

            From the survey I mentioned…

            “94% of Americans think it is important for the nation to
            develop and use solar energy. This was consistent across all political
            party affiliations.80% of Americans agree that Congress should consider reallocating federal subsidies from fossil fuels to solar.Over half (51%) the country would choose to work in the solar industry if they were to start working in renewable energyNearly half (49%) of Americans considering solar for
            their home or business plan to make a decision to adopt solar in less
            than one yearNearly half (49%) of Americans are willing to pay more for clean, reliable solar energy

            October 11, 2010 (Los Angeles) – On the eve of Solar Power
            International, North America’s largest solar energy trade show, a new
            national poll shows that the vast majority of Americans overwhelmingly
            support development and funding of solar energy, and their support for
            solar has remained consistent over the last three years. These and other
            findings were reported today in the 2010 SCHOTT Solar Barometer(TM), a
            nationally representative survey conducted by independent polling firm
            Kelton Research.”

            http://www.seia.org/cs/news_detail?pressrelease.id=1061

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