Saturday, February 1, 2014

Shiver Me Reactors

I know we are all cold and turning up the thermostats to keep warm. But I bet one thing that never crossed your minds during all of this frigid temps was your neighborhood nuclear reactors.

Yep, those babies need one critical thing to keep running smoothly and that is water.  Water is the wonder ingredient that helps to keep the reactor's core cool and prevents a meltdown. When it gets really cold like it has been recently, nuclear power facilities have to take extra measures to assure that water flowing into the reactors for cooling purposes does not freeze causing the ice to hinder operation.

Jack Frost plays havoc with U.S. nuclear power plants

Winter weather conditions in January 2014 pointed out how nuclear power plants are unreliable power generators just when communities dependent upon electricity need them the most.
Nuclear power plants completely rely upon the electric grid system to power all reactor safety systems during power operations. If the grid is unstable or interrupted, nuclear power plants shut down and are unavailable until stable grid conditions are restored. Take for example, January 21, 2014, both Units 1 and 2 at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear generating station in Lusby, Maryland automatically shut down when snow and ice caused an electrical short-circuit in a ventilation louver. The electrical power supply shorted out to reactor safety systems including motors needed to move both reactors’ control rods, a malfunction in Unit 1’s main turbine control system and the circulating-water pumps for Unit 2. Emergency diesel generators for both units started up to provide backup power and successfully shut down the reactors.  
Nuclear power plants also require tremendous amounts of water to keep the hot reactor cores from overheating during power operations and following shutdown. Ice flows getting sucked into the intake structures restricts vital cooling water to the reactor causing nukes to shut down like what happened to New Jersey’s Salem nuclear power plant in 2010.  Since the nukes have to be located on or near large water systems like rivers, lakes, reservoirs or the ocean, they also have to be protect the intake structures from ice. When these protective measures are reduced or lost, the reactors have to shut down.  This just happened on January 9, 2014 when the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station on the Missouri River had to manually shut down power production because sub-freezing weather caused an ice buildup on one of six flood protection gates preventing the gate from closing.  Fort Calhoun had just restarted after being closed for nearly three years after flood waters surrounded the nuclear power plant for weeks.
An investigation is still ongoing into whether cold weather was the cause of the 23 day shutdown of the Pennsylvania's Beaver Valley nuclear power station on January 6th when a ruptured fire suppression system sprayed Unit 1's electric transformer with water which immediately froze, failed and caused the unit to shutdown.

Here's a little bit more on the subject of water.

There was a discussion the other evening on the drought crisis facing California. The Governor, Jerry Brown, has issued a restriction on water usage in the state, but I doubt that includes the fracking** operations in his state that he endorses, but I digress. 

Southern California really is a desert environment and bringing water to the area has always been a problem and a concern, long before so very many people came to the area to live and the need for water increased even more.

The point of the discussion was that water is going to become more valuable than oil before long. And not just in desert environments like Southern California but in other previously water abundant areas.

So if you are an investor in commodities maybe water is the way to go. It is hard to imagine running out of water on a planet that has so many rivers, lakes, seas and ocean, but alas that is the case.

** Once again my friend Keith and I independently come up with similar topics.  Check him out:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link, Annie. You know, I was wondering about ice and how it might affect nuclear power plants. I remember seeing a story about it, clicking on the link...and never getting to the story. So thanks for filling in the blanks. As to water in general, it's obviously the new gold. This is why I can't understand politicians allowing fracking to continue. You would think even Republican wingnuts would understand that fracking poisons America's heritage. We're talking about America itself: the very ground we walk on and the water it provides to sustain us. How hard is it to understand that stopping all fracking within our borders must be an American imperative? Don't they like water? Oh, yeah, and we've only got 15 years to limit the damage that climate change will cause. Heard about that lately? I didn't think so.

    Everything is such a mess right now. People are fighting over their cartoon gods all over the world. Bigots are proud to be bigots. And no one rich ever goes to prison. I don't know how we fell so low, so fast. It's shocking.