Keeping Nuclear Online a Struggle

April 29, 2022

It’s said that renewable energy is “intermittent”, while Nuclear energy is “24/7 baseload”, but engineers know that ALL generation types are intermittent, just at different times for different reasons.

Sky News:

Half of France’s nuclear power plants are currently out of action, energy supplier Electricité de France (EDF) has confirmed.

On Friday 28 of France’s 56 reactors were shut down due to routine maintenance or defects, forcing EDF to buy electricity from the European grid instead, at a time of soaring demand amid the gas crisis.

EDF stresses there are no safety issues and most are offline for routine checks, but critics have raised questions about nuclear’s reliability, and about Britain’s recent big bets on the energy source.

Why reactors have been shut down

Of particular concern are five reactors that were shut down after cracking caused by corrosion was identified in pipework last year, with tests under way to determine how serious the problem is.

EDF suspects corrosion at least six more plants, and will shut down three especially for testing, and test at least another three in routine maintenance periods.

The firm, which supplies all of France’s atomic energy, confirmed it was importing power from the European grid “to compensate the lack of production of our nuclear plants”.

Pressed on whether it was buying more gas, the power company said it was “impossible to qualify the source of energy production”.

“Of course it is a worry,” said Anne-Sophie Corbeau from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

“This energy has to be replaced by something else, which in many cases will be fossil fuels,” she told Sky News.

“Given the prices of electricity right now, this is very costly. For example, in December, we paid €1.4bn for our electricity imports, while usually we pay in the tens of millions.”

A ‘necessity, not a luxury’, says government

The UK has just put nuclear at the heart of its new energy security strategy, aiming to build eight new reactors to generate 25% of Britain’s electricity by 2050.

“The idea that nuclear reactors are always on is wrong,” said Tom Burke, chairman of think tank E3G and self-described “critic” of nuclear power policy. “We just don’t need [new nuclear plants]. They’re very expensive.”

A spokesperson for Britain’s energy department called nuclear power “a necessity, not a luxury” and the “only form of reliable, low carbon electricity generation which has been proven at scale”.

The UK government is also backing wind, solar and North Sea oil and gas in a bid to reduce dependence on foreign gas, and investing in ways to reduce energy demand.

Climate campaigners have criticised plans for the North Sea, the lack of onshore wind and the cost of nuclear.

‘High level of safety’, says EDF

EDF told Sky News the corrosion in five of the offline reactors “does not call into question the high level of safety of our facilities”.

“We propose to implement the principle of safety primacy on the technical subject of stress corrosion, which we are currently encountering,” a spokesperson said.

The remaining 22 plants are down either for routine yearly maintenance, taking about five weeks, or for 10 or 40 year safety reviews, which take longer, and due to delays from the pandemic.

Los Angeles Times:

With the threat of power shortages looming and the climate crisis worsening, Gov. Gavin Newsom may attempt to delay the long-planned closure of California’s largest electricity source: the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

Newsom told the L.A. Times editorial board Thursday that the state would seek out a share of $6 billion in federal funds meant to rescue nuclear reactors facing closure, money the Biden administration announced this month. Diablo Canyon owner Pacific Gas & Electric is preparing to shutter the plant — which generated 6% of the state’s power last year — by 2025.

“The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, or you miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Newsom said. “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”

He said state officials could decide later whether to pursue that option. And a spokesperson for the governor clarified that Newsom still wants to see the facility shut down long term. It’s been six years since PG&E agreed to close the plant near San Luis Obispo, rather than invest in expensive environmental and earthquake-safety upgrades.

But Newsom’s willingness to consider a short-term reprieve reflects a shift in the politics of nuclear power after decades of public opposition fueled by high-profile disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as well as the Cold War.

Nuclear plants are America’s largest source of climate-friendly power, generating 19% of the country’s electricity last year. That’s almost as much as solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower dams and all other zero-carbon energy sources combined.

recent UC Berkeley poll co-sponsored by The Times found that 44% of California voters support building more nuclear reactors in in the Golden State, with 37% opposed and 19% undecided — a significant change from the 1980s and 1990s.

2 Responses to “Keeping Nuclear Online a Struggle”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    The solutions are: declaration of a national emergency, packing the supreme court, processing long-overdue statehood for DC and all US territories, efficiency, wiser lives, clean safe fast reliable renewable energy, and battery and pumped hydro storage, all done as fast as humanly possible. Cut the military/insecurity budget by 10% a year for the next 10 years, employ the people let go in the Civilian Climate Corps. 75% of them aren’t in combat occupations; they’re mostly in occupations that will readily transfer and are needed to renewablize and efficientate society.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I think immediate need to reduce GHG emissions makes prematurely shutting down nuclear power plants (even if they’re expensive to operate) a bad idea. Good for Diablo Canyon staying open.

    At the same time, building costly new plants that won’t come online for at least 10 years is sucking money from other more cost-effective forms of power and storage.

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