All. Power. Plants. Need. Backup.

September 6, 2022

The Anti-Clean energy crowd will tell you that “only wind and solar need backup”.
But professionals know that ALL POWER PLANTS need backup, and it’s been that way for more than a century.

Case in point, Cook Nuclear Plant on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan just went offline in an instant and was down for a week.

No blackouts because, hey, Grid operators know what they’re about.

Nuclear plants in particular, can shut down at a moments notice, taking, in this case, a thousand megawatts offline in an instant.  By contrast, wind and solar are eminently predictable

Meanwhile, wind and solar, backed by ever-increasing storage, have been steady performers in Michigan and across the country this summer, despite record heat and droughts that have caused shutdowns or derating in traditional thermal power plants and hydro dams.

Detroit News:

A nuclear reactor at the Cook Nuclear Plant in Berrien County, Michigan, returned to full service Sunday, a week after it automatically shut down due to a failure in a coolant pump motor, said the plant’s owner, Indiana Michigan Power, on Sunday.

The shutdown was triggered by a reactor coolant pump motor, the company said. No radioactive matter was released and it was not classified as an emergency, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The reactor coolant pump motor failed due to “a fault in a power cable connector,” Indiana Michigan Power said in a news release Sunday. “Operators safely restored the unit to service once the connector repair was completed.”

There were no service interruptions as a result of the reactor shutdown and while the connector was repaired, Indiana Michigan Power said. A second nuclear reactor at the Cook plant remained operational at full capacity while the other unit was out of service.

All systems functioned properly after the reactor shutdown, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Auxiliary feedwater pumps started properly, and decay heat, or energy that continues to be released after a reactor shuts down, was removed from the system using the steam dump system.

“Plant operators followed proper protocols to safely remove the reactor from service,” Indiana Michigan Power said. “The unit trip was noncomplicated.”

The reactor coolant pump that triggered the shutdown helps transfer and remove heat generated in the nuclear reactor core.

“When certain systems have an issue like in this instance, it was a reactor coolant pump … the unit automatically shuts down, operators are there to put the unit in a safe condition, in a full shutdown,” Cook representative Bill Downey said last week.

The Cook nuclear plant, owned and operated by Indiana Michigan Power, a unit of American Electric Power, sits on 650 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan near Bridgman in Berrien County. At full capacity, the two nuclear reactors produce enough electricity to power over 1.5 million homes, according to the plant’s website

Case in point, from Bloomberg earlier this summer:

The Texas grid operator called on residents to conserve energy Friday after six generation facilities tripped offline amid hot weather, prompting power prices to spike.

The power-plant failures resulted in a loss of about 2,900 megawatts of electricity, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said in an email statement Friday. That’s enough power for about 580,000 homes and businesses. Natural-gas fired plants make up all of the generation that failed, an Ercot spokesman said.

Texas Monthly July 12 2022:

On Monday the good people of Texas, many still suffering from lingering trauma as a result of the February 2021 failure of the state’s power grid, braced for bad news. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the much-maligned entity that manages Texas’s famously independent grid, warned that the situation was dire because of “a projected reserve capacity shortage with no market solution available.” If things got worse, rolling blackouts might be needed. Not great! 

Fortunately, the worst didn’t happen. There are a few reasons why. To reduce demand, many Texans turned up the thermostat by a few degrees to help save power, and ERCOT’s emergency response program paid some large energy customers to scale back usage during peak times. And significantly, solar power, which has been the star of the Texas grid so far during this interminable summer, continued to set records for energy production. If your air conditioner has been steadily running all summer long, you can thank the mighty power of the sun.

“We’ve got twice the solar we had last summer, and something like three times what we had eighteen months ago,” energy consultant Doug Lewin told me on Monday. “We actually set another solar record today, and we set one yesterday. Renewables throughout most of May and June, as we’ve been experiencing extreme heat, really were the difference between [having] a whole lot of conservation calls and potential rolling outages and not having them.” 


15 Responses to “All. Power. Plants. Need. Backup.”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The shutdown was triggered by a reactor coolant pump motor, the company said.

    Yes, but it’s important to know that the energy in the fuel rods at that reactor remained very, very dense!

    • … And that energy stays in those fuel rods until the reactor is running again. It can’t blow up like an atomic bomb. Meltdown risk is from radioactive decay — not fission chain reaction.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        It can’t blow up like an atomic bomb.

        I can’t remember the last time I encountered somebody who actually thought a nuclear reactor would produce a mushroom cloud. Even the anti-nuke people I know limit it to lasting poison (like the area around Chernobyl site), lasting active problems (like Fukushima), and dirty bomb scenarios (whether via terrorists stealing material or Russian armaments breaching Zaporizhzhia).

        As far as I can tell, from a practical standpoint, the most plausible cost-effective nuclear power plant solution would have to be via a fiat government like China that can avoid the jurisdictional and financial complexity and produce nukes with more standardized design and funding. Even then they would have to be waterless (contained-coolant) designs to withstand droughts and heat waves.

        Rather than dismissing all anti-nuclear power plant arguments as coming from tech-naive idiots, come up with examples of these capital-intensive nuclear power projects with even semi-reliable and realistic budgets and schedules that don’t depend on 1970s climate conditions.

        The high-unit-volume argument as a way to reduce costs of new plants is eroded by needs for special case designs and competition with the simpler, lower-capital tech of PV/wind/battery and the development of season-timescale storage (e.g., something gravity-based like pumped hydro).

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Excellent backups are batteries, Lithium or otherwise. Also remove the expensive and polluting backup ‘spin’ required by power plants. Meanwhile a (loverly) renewable like solar does not go offline everyday, just everyday it actually starts. Here we have had around 3 months of very unusual cloudy weather. My electrical bills are up.

  3. The best backup for 24/7 nuclear plants is more 24/7 nuclear plants.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Great, make your checks out for $10billion at a time and we’ll get right on it!

      • John Oneill Says:

        The UK govt is committing to 150 billion pound to prop up energy users just this year. Sizewell C will cost a fraction of that to make 7% of the country’s power for 60 years, with no vulnerability to gas supply or winter doldrums. Damages from the Texas power failures last year were estimated as at least 195 billion dollars. The Koreans are building 5.6 GW of reactors in the United Arab Emirates for 25 billion dollars. At that rate, Texas could have built 43 GW of nuclear, more than the peak gas turbine production immediately before the blackouts, and enough to give it the cleanest grid in North America.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          The UK govt is committing to 150 billion pound to prop up energy users just this year. Sizewell C will cost a fraction of that to make 7% of the country’s power for 60 years, with no vulnerability to gas supply or winter doldrums.

          I looked up Sizewell C:

          WHAT 3.2 GW plant will be capable of generating electricity for 6m homes for up to 60 years. (Most UK plants will be shut by 2030. Sizewell B is due to close in 2035, although its lifetime may be extended.)

          FUNDING EDF has 80% stake and China’s CGN (which has a stake in the late and costly Hinkley Point C) has 20%.

          The UK government and EDF are expected to each take a 20% stake, while bankers at Barclays have been tasked by officials with finding investors for the remainder. Pension and infrastructure specialist funds are seen as the most probable candidates to invest.

          COSTThis is a magical part:

          Estimates have crept up from £20bn to a current range of £20bn to £30bn. The government will make a final decision on how much taxpayer funds will be put in – thought to be around £6bn – next year. Ministers have already committed £100m to the project and plan to use a so-called “regulated asset base” funding model.

          RAB funding gives investors a set return during the construction phase of a project, reducing their risk to encourage their involvement in vital infrastructure deals. However, it shifts the risk of delays and extra costs on to taxpayers.

          (“Go ahead and invest in this NPP; the taxpayers will carry the risk.”)

          WHENHow long before it can put any dent in the Keeling Curve?

          The University of Greenwich forecasts predict it will take 15 years to build Sizewell C, or 17 years under its gloomiest forecast, and cost £43.8bn.

          NPPs may contribute in future decades, but don’t highlight them as an alternative to solar/PV/battery being constructed today.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      the flaw with that is, you can’t just go to the Nuclear Plant Store and get a Nuclear plant.
      Nobody is willing to fund old style giant ones, like Cook, and the Small Modulars are not yet proven, and won’t be before, optimistically, 2030.
      Meanwhile, coal plants that are on the average 45 years old (some more like 60) are being closed down because they are expensive to keep running, and they’re killing people.
      What we have now is solar and wind, some still argue for gas even tho the price for that has gone 3x in the US and something like 30x in Europe.

      • John Oneill Says:

        ‘..coal plants .. are being closed down because they are expensive to keep running, and they’re killing people.’ No, they’re being reopened – in the UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy – because blackouts are not a politically acceptable alternative.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Yes, coal plants are being restarted temporarily until Europe gets past its Gazprom extortion problem, and most of the many offline nuclear power plants in France are being put back online (despite corrosion and water-heating problems) for the same reason.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Just a few simple points.
      What price saving the world?
      Watched a hexpert explaining how PV was so ridiculously expensive it would never be wide spread. Was not that long ago! Things can be changed.
      Net increase in cost needs to be compared between systems. Also absolute final costs to the planet. A trifle tricky!
      Is there a choice, except whether to fry or not to fry?
      Solutions are not simple.

      • We have the empirical example of France. These cheap solar panels, which are made using coal as an energy source and an ingredient have never accomplished anything like this.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          “These cheap solar panels, which are made using coal as an energy source…”And what energy source was used to construct all of those steel-and-concrete NPPs, mine the uranium, and refine it, unicorn farts?

          “…and an ingredient…”
          ?? Why would coal as an ingredient matter if you’re not combusting it? There’s a whole lot of plumbing in steam turbine electricity plants made from steel (iron and coal). Coal mined for its mineral properties (rather than fuel) is just like mining of other lasting and/or reusable substances (nickel, iron, etc.).

          “…have never accomplished anything like this.”

          (1) That chart applies to nuclear’s best case scenario, France, which started its nuclear program in 1963
          (2) I see that chart ends 10 years ago, just as the trend lines start to shift a lot
          (3) Since 2012, as climate change has really started to kick in, reactors have had to shut down during heat waves because they use the old cheaper water cooled systems
          (4) EDF discovered a corrosion problem in their nukes this year which shut down a lot of NPPs for evaluation, and four of them are staying shut down because the evaluation found trouble.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    (1) France really committed to nuclear in 1973 – under duress from political restriction on hydrocarbon supplies, as is the case now. Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland also had a swift increase in nuclear power, and corresponding decrease in the need for imported fuel (at that time, oil.)
    (2) Despite efforts to promote wind and solar, and restrict nuclear, the latter is still by far the largest contributer. The French law mandating that the nuclear share be reduced from three quarters to half required that the difference be made up by ‘energies renouvelables’, but in fact, instead of France exporting multiple gigawatts of clean power to all its neighbours, the flow has reversed. That means French emissions of CO2 per KWh have been averaging over 100g for the first time in decades, and surrounding countries’ figures are also higher.
    (3) The earlier reactors were designed using cooling from the rivers as they were then. The latest inland reactor has cooling towers to minimise its water use, and smaller cooling towers to cut the heat of water from those even further, when needed. As in the UK, future plants will most likely be on the coast.
    (4) The stress corrosion has only been found on the latest generation, after a change in the piping geometry led to greater temperature differences between top and bottom of a junction. It’s not a herald of imminent collapse.
    Nuclear has been held to much stricter standards than other industries. As it becomes normalised, more pragmatism will prevail, from both better knowledge, and better practices. Power plants are routinely scrammed, even when their power is desperately needed, because of minor glitches such as a single source of outside electricity. Belgium shut down most of its reactors over microscopic pressure vessel cracks that had been there unchanged since they left the foundry. At the moment, there’s much handwringing over Zaporizhzhia, in case of some demonstrably inconsequential possible radiation leak, while people are being blown to bits all around it. Fukushima showed that a triple meltdown did not cause measurable radiation harm to anyone. Advances such as accident tolerant fuels and back-up power supplies should make a repetition much less likely.

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