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…In three days the nuclear plant was back operating at full power.
“'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."
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…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.
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.
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