Heat Waves Spotlight Nuclear Achilles Heel

August 9, 2011

 Huntsville Times – River Temp forces Nuke to Power Down:

Not even TVA can beat the heat.

On Wednesday, the utility had to bring a third reactor at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant down to 50 percent power to avoid environmental sanctions because the water in the Tennessee River — where the plant’s cooling water is discharged — already was at 90 degrees.

“When the river’s ambient temperature reaches 90 degrees, we can’t add any heat to it,” said TVA’s nuclear spokesman Ray Golden.

Similar problems last summer forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to spent $50 million for replacement power, according to Golden. The extra expense translated to something between 50 cents and $1 on most electric bills several months later, officials have said.

Reuters:

All existing nuclear plants use vast amounts of water as a coolant. But in recent years — often far from the public eye — hot river and lake temperatures have forced power plants worldwide to decrease generating capacity.

Experts say the problem is only getting worse as climate change triggers prolonged heat waves, prompting calls for changes in siting processes.

“As a long-range strategy, [the industry] might change where we site new plants to have better use of water resources,” Gary Vine, an independent consultant, told SolveClimate News. Vine has worked in the nuclear industry for decades and is a former employee of Electric Power Research Institute, a utility group.

Preliminary data from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an environmental and nuclear watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass., shows that seven nuclear units at five facilities had to reduce generating capacity due to warm waters on at least 15 occasions between May and September 2010. The plants were in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Georgia. While such incidents didn’t affect plant safety, they posed economic risk and decreased power availability.

Nuclear power is not alone in sucking tremendous amounts of water during operations – Power generated from thermal power plants – coal, natural gas and nuclear, withdraws more freshwater per year than the entire agricultural sector; with nuclear using the most.

Overheating occurs during the summer months, when outdoor water temperatures are already high. Environmental regulations prevent power plants from discharging the heated water back into the river when temperatures reach a certain point and could harm fish. When that happens, nuclear operators have to decrease their generating capacity.

These regulations vary from state to state. In Alabama, for instance, once the river hits 90 degrees Fahrenheit, power plants cannot discharge any water that’s warmer than the river’s ambient temperature, TVA’s Golden said.

Climate Central:

With river water so warm, the nuclear plant couldn’t draw in as much water as usual to cool the facility’s three reactors, or else the water it pumped back into the river could be hot enough to harm the local ecosystem, says Golden. But for every day that the Browns Ferry plant ran at 50 percent of its maximum output, the TVA had to spent $1 million more than usual to purchase power from somewhere else, he says.

It’s not the first time high temperatures have affected the performance of the Browns Ferry plant, and extreme heat is a growing concern for power plant operators across the Southeast. While some nuclear plants can improve their cooling procedures to cope with the intake of warmer water, the upgrades can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and still don’t offer an indefinite defense against extreme heat. Because scientists say the Southeast (like many other parts of the world) can expect to see more frequent and intense heat waves by the end of this century, the problems for nuclear power and the people that rely on it for electricity may only be beginning.

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19 Responses to “Heat Waves Spotlight Nuclear Achilles Heel”


  1. [...] Details:  Heat Waves Spotlight Nuclear Achilles Heel « Climate Denial Crock of the Week. [...]

  2. BlueRock Says:

    Must watch:

    * Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo: “…Fukushima I nuke plant has released radioactive materials equivalent to tens of nuclear bombs … I am shaking with anger…. foetuses and children are most at risk.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dlf4gOvzxYc

    * Suicide rate soars in disaster zone poisoned by Fukushima nuclear meltdown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZIvPRMCLr0

  3. jpgreenword Says:

    To your list “sucking tremendous amounts of water”, you could add the Alberta Tar Sands that us about 4 million barrels of water a day. Except, the water isn’t just heated after use, it’s toxic.

    • BlueRock Says:

      In a sane world, the tar sands and those responsible would be on trial for crimes against humanity and the planet. :(

      • silentacorns Says:

        Crimes against the Muskeg River, maybe. Against “humanity and the planet” is ridiculous.

        The vast majority of their environmental impact of their is the radical alteration of the landscape surrounding the mines. Water consumption issues are a virtual doddle.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          nothing could be more short sighted.
          water shortages will pit large thermal plants against agriculture, industry, and human need for water. This is an enormous and little examined issue for China – a potential showstopper.

          • silentacorns Says:

            OK, but how is the level of water use by tar sands companies on the Athabasca in competition with thermal power, agriculture, and China?

            The Athabasca has no thermal plants, virtually no irrigated agriculture, and it’s nowhere near China. The mines are also downstream of virtually all of the municipal use and there are regulations in place to ensure that the oil industry can’t use any more than about 5% of the flow in the river at any given time – and that includes an allowance for a four-fold increase in
            production.

        • BlueRock Says:

          Sure, if you’re in denial – ignorance is no longer an excuse – of all modern climate science and are a sociopath that has no concern for the life of anything but yourself, then you can call it “ridiculous”.

          • silentacorns Says:

            You are assuming a lot about me, most of which would be wrong. For starters, I fully agree with almost everything you’ll find posted at realclimate.org and I have a recent PhD in climate science and have taught about climate change at a major university.

            There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the tar sands operations, but water consumption and the impact on global warming should be far down the list.

            The main reason I say that is because even if the tar sands are exploited at full speed for the next 100 years the CO2 level will only be about 5 ppmv higher than it would be if it was shut down today.

            The tar sands are secondary to the need to de-carbonize the global economy over the next 50 or so years.

          • BlueRock Says:

            > …I have a recent PhD in climate science …

            It’s amazing how many anonymous, self-proclaimed climate experts appear in the comment threads of blogs. My favourite was the one who told me that “anthropomorphic climate change is a hoax”, and didn’t understand what was wrong with the word he’d used even after I explained it.

            James Hansen (real climate scientist): “…exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.” http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/06/05/236978/james-hansen-keystone-pipeline-tar-sands-climate/

            I’m going with Hansen’s analysis.

          • silentacorns Says:

            BlueRock, you were the one who accused me (blindly) of “ignorance” and being “in denial” of “all modern climate science”. I probably agree with you about almost everything about climate science except your hyperbole about tar sands.

            > … It’s amazing how many anonymous, self-proclaimed climate experts appear in the comment threads of blogs.

            Says “BlueRock”.

            As for Hansen, I have total respect for him and if you know anything about the tar sands you will see that none of what I have said here is inconsistent with anything Hansen says other than his conclusion that “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts”.

            He would be correct if the tar sands could be exploited so rapidly that it could be used up entirely within 100 years. If you actually look in to what would be required (in terms of infrastructure, manpower, etc) on the ground to do that you will understand why tar sands are not a global problem.

            At the current rate of production (which is already stretching the Alberta economy to the limit) it will take about a thousand of years to exploit even 10% of the reserves. Hansen’s numbers assume 100% exploitation this century. Even if you allow for a very large increase in production, you still won’t see more than 5 to 10% used up this century.

            Hansen wants to stabilize at 350 ppmv. You can’t do that unless you de-carbonize the global economy (you can’t even stabilize at 450 ppmv unless you de-carbonize). De-carbonizing means making all carbon energy sources irrelevant, not just tar sands.

          • BlueRock Says:

            > …your hyperbole about tar sands.

            Nice try. It’s not *my* “hyperbole” – it’s James Hansen’s. Do keep up.

            “James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature….” http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/23/fossilfuels.climatechange

            Clearly, given his opinion on tar sands, he would include the tar sands as part of the crime.

            > Says “BlueRock”.

            Who never claimed to be a climate scientist but does cite them to prove what he’s saying. Do keep up.

            > …you will see that none of what I have said here is inconsistent with anything Hansen says other than his conclusion that…

            lol. So, you agree with him on everything apart from the absolutely crucial issue of exploiting the tar sands which – according to the world’s preeminent climate scientist – will “make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts”.

            “I believe in evolution – except for the bit where humans come from monkeys and all life evolved from single cell organisms.”

            Got it. Do you convince anyone with this act?

          • silentacorns Says:

            To all, my apologies if this has become way off topic.

            BlueRock,

            “Nice try. It’s not *my* “hyperbole” – it’s James Hansen’s. Do keep up.”

            No, it’s about yours: “In a sane world, the tar sands and those responsible would be on trial for crimes against humanity and the planet.”

            That was you, not Hansen. Hansen was talking about denial/misinformation about climate science not Tar Sands. OK, there is definitely some overlap between climate change deniers and “those responsible” for the tar sands, but they are not (by any stretch of the imagination) the same thing.

            The only thing I disagree with Hansen about is the possibility that the Tar Sands could be completely exploited in a time frame of 100 years. You should note that there is no reason to consider Hansen an expert in the oil production technology. I’m also not asking you to believe me.

            Current rate of tar sands exploitation = 1.3 million barrels/day.

            Long term planned rate of development = 4 or 5 million barrels/day.

            Estimated reserves = 1.7 trillion barrels, 10% of which is recoverable with current technology.

            Those are the numbers I’m working with. There are other estimates but they’re all within this ball park.

            Also, your evolution analogy is a joke. A disagreement about the likely rate of tar sands exploitation is not equivalent to a disagreement about whether or not humans evolved. And just to be annoying I will point out that, technically, humans didn’t evolve from monkeys: monkey’s and humans have a shared ancestor.

            Again, I support the complete de-carbonizing of the global economy over a period of 50 years. I’m furious that we’ve made no progress on establishing carbon taxes in all developed countries. I want to see $100+/tonne carbon taxes being phased in over the next decade or so. I want developed countries that don’t have such taxes to face punishing tariffs, boycotts, etc.

            My concern with tar sands hyperbole is that it distracts from the much more serious problems such as coal and fossil fuel use in general. Too many people are under the impression that the global climate will be won or lost on whether or not the tar sands are developed. They think they’re helping the environment if they fill up their cars with
            10% ethanol and 0% tar sands gasoline and powering their air conditioners with natural gas generated electricity.

            That kind of thinking will lead to 650+ ppmv by 2100.

          • silentacorns Says:

            As for the reason I post anonymously, it’s not to hide myself from the likes of you, it’s to hide myself from the likes of those responsible for what has happened to Charles Monnett (http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/why-scientist-offshore-oil-agency-under-investigation).

            You’re getting this all backwards.

          • BlueRock Says:

            Your juvenile sophistry is no more persuasive than your evidence-free claims.

            I am echoing James Hansen’s opinions and analysis.

            Thanks for your opinion that we should ignore the tar sands. I’ll give it all the consideration it merits.

        • silentacorns Says:

          “Juvenile sophistry” and “evidence free claims”? I’m perfectly happy to let others judge whose contributions here are best described by these labels.

          I gave you the numbers, and they’re easy to look up if you want to verify them. Read your own citations and you will see that Hansen is talking about the full volume of estimated tar sands deposits and not the likely rate of development.

          You want more? Here’s a master’s thesis from Sweden (hardly a tar sands industry hot bed):

          http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/Soderbergh_Thesis.pdf

          It summarizes the current state of the oil sands and it’s expected development pretty well. I draw your attention to the charts on pages 88 to 93, where a number of development scenarios are outlined.

          I fully agree that it would be impossible to meet CO2 targets of 350 or 450 ppmv in an economic environment where the tar sands could be fully exploited over the 21st century. I would also agree that it would be a crime against the planet to let the oil sands be developed at such a rate. But you’re deluding yourself if you think that’s what is being planned.

          I’m also concerned about planned development at a rate of 4 or 5 million barrels/day, but not for it’s impact on global CO2 (which would be relatively small) but its impact on the environment of Alberta, which will certainly not be small.

          The tar sands should definitely not be ignored.

          • BlueRock Says:

            You gave me juvenile sophistry and evidence-free claims – at least aim for originality and not just parrot that back at me.

            Now you provide a paper that completely contradicts your claims – if the tar sands go ahead it will “create an environmental disaster”.

            And now you start back-peddling:

            > I fully agree that it would be impossible to meet CO2 targets of 350 or 450 ppmv in an economic environment where the tar sands could be fully exploited over the 21st century.

            Compared to previous comment:

            > …if the tar sands are exploited at full speed for the next 100 years the CO2 level will only be about 5 ppmv higher than it would be if it was shut down today.

            Which is it? The tar sands are critical to mitigation efforts or just 5 ppm?

            I’ll stick with James Hansen and not some confused, inconsistent, anonymous ‘internet expert’.

            “…exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”

            P.S. Which website did you order that PhD from? ;)

          • silentacorns Says:

            Nice incomplete quote there. Here’s the full quote (page 100):

            “Are the Canadians willing to create an environmental disaster in Alberta only to provide the world market with still relatively cheap oil?”

            I’ve already said many times that there are real risks for Alberta associated with tar sands development. You are the one who claimed that it was a crime against the planet and humanity. No back peddling there.

            “Which is it? The tar sands are critical to mitigation efforts or just 5 ppm?”

            Sorry for any confusion my use of the phrase “full speed” might have caused. By “full speed” I meant the proposed rate of 4 to 5 million barrels per day. To achieve total resource exploitation within 100 years you would have to go at a rate 10 to 20 times that (depending on which estimate of total reserves you go by).

            4.5 million barrels per day, for 100 years, at 110 kg of carbon per barrel, with 40% taken up by oceans and 2.12 ppmv CO2 per GtC works out to 5 ppmv. This would exhaust just about all the currently recoverable reserves (170 billion barrels).

            If you prefer high estimates: 6 million/day, 130 kg of CO2/barrel and 30% ocean uptake then you get about 9 or 10 ppmv.

            This represents a rate of exploitation that is 4 to 5 times what is happening right now. It’s actually very ambitious and there are many reasons to question whether or not it’s feasible. That same report states on page 92:

            “It is important to remember that the mining production in these scenarios is developed at a much faster pace than what is probably realistic!”

  4. silentacorns Says:

    Oops, I said …

    “2.12 ppmv CO2 per GtC”

    That should have been 2.12 GtC per ppmv. But I did the calculations correctly.


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