Year in Review: Russian Strike on Solar vs Nuclear Plant – Compare and Contrast

December 29, 2022

CBS News:

The capture of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian forces in March immediately sparked fears that the world could face another nuclear disaster on the scale of the Chernobyl explosion almost 40 years ago. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was quick to call the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant a “war crime.”

“We survived a night that could have stopped the story, the history of Ukraine, the history of Europe,” said Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy. An explosion at Zaporizhzhia would have equaled “six Chernobyls,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian nuclear reactor meltdown of 1986 — widely seen as the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in history, with unparalleled health, economic, and environmental impacts. 

13 Responses to “Year in Review: Russian Strike on Solar vs Nuclear Plant – Compare and Contrast”

  1. Don Osborn Says:

    Two key take aways:
    1) Damage a solar plant and all you get is “spilled sunshine”, damaged nuclear plant would be a whole lot worse. Direct hit on PV plant, some lost power, direct hit on a nuclear plant — OH NO!
    2) Solar plant was back up and running in very short order, just had to bypass the damaged area.
    Direct hit on PV plant, some lost power, direct hit on a nuclear plant — OH NO!

  2. John Oneill Says:

    Solar cuts out all the time, without even being hit by a missile – especially in a Ukrainian winter, when you really need the power. Other hand, Zaporozhzhia power plant, which has six reactors, has been the recipient of numerous shells and the site of a tank battle, without causing any substantial damage to the nukes. The containment around them is heavily reinforced concrete over a meter thick. Even if the containment was severely breached, the four-inch thick forged steel reactor pressure vessel, which occupies a comparatively tiny volume inside the dome, would also have to be punctured. After that, if the reactor was running, and the backup cooling was disabled, you’d most likely have a meltdown, but nothing remotely on the scale of Chornobyl. There, the simultaneous presence of hundreds of tonnes of graphite moderator, plus water vapour replacing the cooling water, led to a massive runaway positive feedback reaction, and a steam explosion that blew the 1400 tonne cover off the plant, and spread volatile radioactive elements over half Europe. Energy ouput of the one gigawatt reactor may have instantaneously zoomed up to 100 GW.
    Positive feedback doesn’t happen with water-moderated, water-cooled reactors – which make up about 90% of those still operating. Take out the water, and the reaction stops immediately. Once all coolant’s gone, residual heat and decay heat from fission products would melt the fuel rods, but there’s no mechanism to spread them out. Taking out all of Zaporozhzhia’s reactors would need a concerted attack on the same scale as the 18 metre tsunami that destroyed Fukushima Daishi – but had no major effect on Fukushima Daini and Onagawa plants, which were hit by about the same magnitude wave.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      How long do we have to say this?



      • John Oneill Says:

        If they’re so clear on the repeated uselessness of said arrays and turbines, they sure don’t act or talk like it. All I hear about are $10,000 batteries that will fix it all by storing $2 worth of mains power, or some pumped hydro system that can keep its grid running for about long enough to brew a coffee. Actually, the guys building these systems know they’ll still get those tax breaks and guarranteed sales. Reliability is somebody else’s problem.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Fossil fuels have used storage forever, but all of a sudden it’s an impossible issue for wind and PV solar.

          Nuclear power plants running at 3am also produce energy independent of when it’s needed. There were engineering solutions for that, too, like commercial buildings HVAC systems that make ice overnight for use in daytime cooling. Those solutions had their own purchase, maintenance and thermodynamic costs but it was the economics of power production and consumption that made those design decisions viable.

          • John Oneill Says:

            It’s orders of magnitude difference in the scale of storage needed. Sure demand drops off at night (but not to zero). That’s why so many pumped hydro plants were built in the seventies and eighties, to complement nuclear baseload. The nukes would always be there next night to recharge them. Individual reactors sometimes go down, even for years, but the only reason for the whole nuclear fleet stopping is political – as in the shutdowns in Japan (temporary), Italy, and Germany.
            It’s true that greater demand in winter goes well beyond the normal diurnal minima/maxima spread. Using otherwise waste nuclear heat for district heating (as is being done now in China, with American-designed AP1000s) would help here. With solar and wind, however, being weather dependant, the ouput is often inversely related to need. Solar is claimed to be well matched to air conditioning, but it drops out before evening demand peaks. You could add capacity and ice-making equipment, but it’s also unreliable in monsoon weather in the tropics, and when fires smoke up the air. It’s certainly a poor match for winter heating. Wind is usually stronger in winter, but not during anticyclones, which can be continental scale, and may be getting slower moving with climate change.
            I’m all in favour of storage, when it’s cost-effective. New Zealand is currently making some of the cleanest power on the planet, with less than 1% from gas, with the rest from hydro, geothermal, and a little wind. Last winter, though, our lakes were low, and we had to burn enough Indonesian coal to push our emissions up to levels sometimes matching those of the UK. The government proposes a pumped storage scheme to prevent that, while also using more spring flood runoff and helping integrate more wind power. Capacity could be over 9,000 gigawatt-hours. That’s about 380x more than the Bath County pumped hydro plant in Virginia, the largest in the US. A country with only five million people, enough hydro for 60% of its power, steady geothermal equivalent to a medium sized nuke, and less need for either summer cooling or winter heating than almost any place in Europe or North America, needs that much storage. How much will far larger, more industrialised, and flatter regions need ?

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            I’m all in favour of storage, when it’s cost-effective.

            Likewise, I’m all in favour of NP, when it’s cost-effective. In modern capitalist economies, it apparently no longer is, while the much lower threshold for installing* arrays of pre-fab solar panels make them cost-effective for many grids worldwide. Wind turbine design is still evolving (like putting the blades on the downwind side of the pylon, or optimizing the layout of off-shore farms). There’s less opportunity for political or construction chicanery, too.

            And with storage, a little bit can go a long way to shift power supply (the few hours between solar peak and A/C load peak being a perfect example).
            *Showing the installers using hand bolt ratchets to connect the panels does make me wonder about repetitive strain injury.

  3. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Concern for safety based on entertainment industry horror movies. Silly nuke phobia, get some prospective! At least three dams were destroyed during WW2 killing tens of thousands. Hydro is the most dangerous traditional power source by orders of magnitude killing over a million. Nukes are way safer, both are needed. The situation is SERIOUS FFS1

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    As for the manager saying there are no “military objects” there, it’s yet another reminder that people don’t realize that infrastructure is a de facto target if it is valuable to the defense force. In any case, I really don’t get the surprise that people have that the same people who decided to roll tanks into a neighboring country would balk at making life miserable and/or deadly for the target population. For cryin’ out loud, they’re at war.

Leave a Reply to Don Osborn Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: