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Stat Pack: The Truth About Vermont Yankee

Check out the latest article from the Burlington Free Press pushing to close Vermont Yankee. It's by James Moore of the rabid anti-nuke organization, VPIRG:
When Vermont Yankee went off line July 22 due to a "catastrophic failure" in its electrical switchyard we learned the real story behind Entergy's claims that the plant is reliable.
“Catastrophic failure”? At NEI we track our nuclear plants religiously, and it's important to understand exactly what “catastrophic” means in terms of this incident. On July 25th (not the 22nd) here’s what happened:
Around 3:30 p.m., Monday, an 8-foot-tall electrical insulator broke, sending a signal through the plant that shut down its generator, turbines and reactor…

“'Catastrophic' is a term used fairly frequently. It really just means there was a sudden failure of a piece of equipment. The safety significance was blown out of proportion," Sheehan said. "'Catastrophic failure' conveys something much more significant than it should."
In three days the nuclear plant was back operating at full power.
Vermont Yankee's most recent failure highlights the risk that the nuclear power plant represents. It is an aging facility that has seen a score of problems in the last few years.
Since the beginning of 2004, Vermont Yankee has been shut down 3 times; one was for refueling and the other two were due to problems with the switchyard (a problem any electric generating plant could have). But a “score of problems” -- after all, a score is a set of 20 items -- is an exaggeration.

Vermont Yankee is one of the nation's older nuclear plants. But at 33 years old, Vermont Yankee is considerably younger than the state's average hydro plant (58). One hydro plant, Essex Junction 19, began commercial operations in 1917 and is still running.

Here’s a link to the data on how each state generates its electricity. 74% of the electricity generated in Vermont is from Vermont Yankee, one of the smallest plants in the nuclear fleet! We are proud of that stat.

Later in the article, Moore details exactly what the costs were when Vermont Yankee wasn't generating electricity:
Vermont utilities paid out approximately $1 million extra for that electricity, an expense that is likely to be passed on to Vermont ratepayers. We also relied on coal from deep mines and mountain top removal operations, and burned oil and natural gas from troubled and environmentally sensitive regions around the world.
That last sentence makes nuclear sound even better. Is the writer trying to make a case for or against nuclear energy?
It is important to understand where our electricity comes from and what environmental impacts we are contributing to when we turn on the lights. However, it is equally important to recognize that Vermont has more options than unreliable electricity from an aging nuclear power plant backed up by dirty and expensive power from the New England electricity grid.
Capacity factor is a measure of efficiency and reliability. In 2004, Vermont Yankee had a capacity factor of 86.1%. Hydro plants and wind farms in Vermont had a capacity factor of 57% and 22%. If Vermont Yankee is ‘unreliable’, I would hate to hear what hydro and wind are called.
Eight wind farms like the proposed Searsburg expansion supplying an estimated 130,000 megawatt hours each, combined with three renewable biomass facilities the size of Burlington's McNeil power plant providing 400,000 megawatt hours each would provide clean, affordable electricity generated here in Vermont equal to what Vermont Yankee supplies us when it is on line.
8 wind farms + 3 biomass facilities = 1 nuclear plant. But it doesn't add up. 8 wind farms times 130,000 MWh plus 3 biomass facilities times 400,000 MWh = 2.24 million MWh. Vermont Yankee generated 3.9 million MWh of electricity in 2004. You're missing 1.66 million MWh.


120 square miles of wind farms would be needed to replace Vermont Yankee. It would take 625 square miles for biomass facilities. Vermont Yankee only occupies 1/5 of a mile.
In Vermont we have to be doing everything that we can to reduce our global warming pollution now…

We have a choice as to what kind of energy we want here in Vermont. When taking in all of the impacts from fossil fuels and nuclear power, that choice is clear.
What is a reliable and efficient source of power? Nuclear. What keeps electricity costs low and stable? Nuclear. What avoids greenhouse gas emissions? Nuclear. The ‘choice’ is clear to me.

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Bill Wilson said…
There's something seriously wrong with those numbers... 130,000 MWh wind farms and 400,000 MWh biomass facilities? They don't specify a timeframe for that energy production, but using one year (as is typical) yields capacity numbers of 14.8 MW and 45.7 MW, respectively, which seems pretty reasonable for those types of facilities.

So, doing the math for eight such windfarms and 3 biomass facilities (8*14.8 + 3*45.7) gives you 256 MW total. How is that supposed to equal the capacity of Vermont Yankee, which has a *net* capacity of 506 MW (according to the EIA). Even if you assumed 100% capacity factor for every single pinwheel or burning clod, it only covers *half* of what VY puts out!

Keep in mind that "renewable energy" proponents hardly ever include capacity factor in their numbers. Account for reasonable capacity factors (23% for wind, 88% for biomass, 88% for nuclear), and the picture becomes even more lopsided: 150 MW for the "green" sources vs. 445 MW for VY. Hmmm. It looks to me like you'd need to triple their estimates -- to *24* windfarms and *9* biomass plants -- to reliably make up for a shutdown of Vermont Yankee.
Anonymous said…
Excellent posting, but you're preaching to the choir. The people of Vermont need to see what nonsense they are being presented.
Anonymous said…
yes, i suppose all the deaths from exposure to the uranium mined to keep vy running are worth it for us to have cheap electricity. it's very luxurious living in the u.s. it comes at a price, but what do we care? we're not dying. yet.
do you live within a 90 mile radius of vy? if you do, or if any of your friends or family do, you can kiss them goodbye, should there be a nuclear meltdown. just because that hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't. why not prepare ahead of time, and seek SAFER alternatives?
my name is beth. i live in hardwick. i have friends and family who live within that 90 mile radius. i'll give up my lights and television before i give up the people i love. but i won't have to, because there are alternatives.
so, maybe they're not as effecient at this point in time. that doesn't mean they won't be in the future. should we let that stop us from moving forward? is it because there's not as much money in renewable energy? how many people will you kill to light your house at night? is that worth it?
for me, that's the biggest concern behind nuclear power. it is unsafe. it is unhealthy. i won't pretend to have all the answers, but there has to be a better way.
be well.
Anonymous said…
For years, America's commercial nuclear energy industry has ranked among the safest places to work in the United States. In 2006, nuclear's industrial safety accident rate--which tracks the number of accidents that result in lost work time, restricted work or fatalities--was 0.22 per 200,000 worker-hours. U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show that it is safer to work at a nuclear power plant than in the manufacturing sector and even in the real estate and finance industries.

Even if you lived right next door to a nuclear power plant, you would still receive less radiation each year than you would receive in just one round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles.

You would have to live near a
nuclear power plant for over 2,000 years to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from a single diagnostic medical x-ray.(NEI-Nuclear Facts)
Rolf said…
400 MW Utility Scale Thermal Solar is about to become a reality.

Fission's one advantage over Utility Scale Thermal is that it provides jobs and profits for many centuries for those charged with safeguarding nuclear waste.
Anonymous said…
Bill Wilson calculated 256 MW from the VPIRG replacement scenario. Vermont Yankee provides between 250 mw and 280 mw of power to customers in Vermont. The rest of the capacity is sold out of state. So to replace VY capacity in Vermont the VPIRG scenario would work.
Anonymous said…
Obviously Chernobyl cannot happen here : There were 2.5 million Curies of Radioactivity at the Chernobyl plant and Vermont Yankee has about 40 million Curies. So...
in the event of a meltdown V.Y.
would make Chernobyl look like a walk in the park !!!
In 1976 3 nuclear engineers quit
their jobs at General Electric Nuclear to give testimony before
a Joint Committee on Atomic Energy
and voice their concerns about inherent design problems with the Mark I BWR.
2 of their predictions have so far come true : Problems with the Torus
and Cracks in the Steam Dryer.
Do we have to wait for a meltdown!?

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