Monday, December 28, 2009

Shutting Off the Power at Ignalina

IgnalinaNPP Some bits and bytes from the radiant world around us:

Hoh Kui-seek provides an almost poetic overview of the nuclear half-century before settling on his point: the rise of his native South Korea as a supplier of nuclear technology:

This is the valuable fruit of Korea’s 50-year effort to develop nuclear energy technology, including the sacrifices of the local residents who spent their careers working in nuclear power plants, the sweat of scientists and the dream of former presidents. I send a big round of applause to the people who worked hard to nurture Korea’s nuclear energy development.

We do, too. (He’s talking about the sale of a plant to UAE.) Not a substantial piece, but it has an individual quality we really liked.

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At Good.is, Cyrus Wadia wonders where the heck solar energy is and comes up with free reasons for its lag:

(1) the cost is still too high for most geographic regions
(2) issues of scale
(3) the sun sets every day

These are all legitimate concerns, but Wadia remains optimistic:

I am extremely encouraged by the technology and manufacturing progress we've seen over the last 10 years, and I fully expect that we will get there in the foreseeable future.

A man after our own heart. After all, solar has moved a fairly far distance on scraps of funding – now that it’s more in the energy spotlight, miles may turn into yards into feet. (For some reason, we’re reminded of the well wisher who advises The Graduate - in the 1967 movie - to go into plastics. These days, that might better be batteries.)

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It starts off badly:

Lithuania will wake up Jan. 1 with 40 percent less generating capacity….

And then it gets worse:

On top of that, Lithuanians will pay more for electricity at a time when their economy is in a deep recession.

“We’ll have to pay two or three times more for energy, and our competitiveness in European markets will be damaged,” said Bronislovas Lubys, CEO of the Achema Group, a chemical consortium.

And why should all this be?

To Lithuanians, however, the twin concrete reactor blocks of the Ignalina [nuclear] plant, rising amid lakes and oak forests near the country’s eastern border, have been a symbol of energy independence since the small Baltic country regained its freedom after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Not unreasonably, the European Union would like not to have a plant much like Chernobyl operating within its sphere. But the Chernobyl accident happened 24 years ago and Ignalina has operated safely for an equal number of years. (Well, unit #2 has – unit #1 opened in 1983 and closed in 2004, also without incident.) But as we said, not unreasonable.

However, where does it leave not just Lithuania, but its Baltic neighbors, too. The words “energy independence” above tell the tale:

They now face the prospect of importing energy from Russia, considered an unreliable energy partner by many after its state-owned gas company shut off supplies through Ukraine last year and in 2006 over price disputes.

So there you go. There’s more to the story, reported by the AP’s Gary Peach in the St. Petersburg (Russia) Times – surprisingly, the distaste for importing energy from Russia is not softpedaled in this acccount – and it’s a good read – a spiraling series of ironies that leaves Lithuania worse off than before.

And all because a nuclear energy plant leaves the grid – for not unreasonable – but not therefore good reasons.

The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.

9 comments:

Phil said...

Shame about those RBMK plants. It's a neat design in some aspects, but the lack of containment coupled with the dreadful history doomed the technology.

Anonymous said...

Lithuania does not receive enough sunshine to even remotely enable it to go solar. Capacity factors for solar plants in Lithuania a would be less than 10%, and is only 20 to 23 % in sunny desert areas such as Barstow, California, or Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lithuanians better get another nuke plant -- Pronto, lest they freeze in the dark.


They should also tell the greens where to go with thier solar panbels, wind mills and poultry wastes as substitutes for the vialbe supplies of energy

Moses Olitzki, former Lithuanian, and Jewish electrical engineer

Pedro said...

The close of Igralina is one of the reasons why the Russians are so interested in building two reactors at Kaliningrad. They have even chosen a site in the border with Lithuania and invited the lithuanians to take a share in the plant.

Rod Adams said...

I disagree with your assertion that it is "not unreasonable" to condemn the Ignalina plant merely because it has some design features in common with a plant that had a major accident.

By that logic it would be "not unreasonable" to ground all Airbus A330s because of the following information: (From Wikipedia entry on Airbus A330)

"On 1 June 2009, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-203 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people onboard, was reported lost over the Atlantic Ocean.[30] The aircraft crashed in the Atlantic Ocean 400–500 miles northeast of the islands of Fernando de Noronha. All 228 passengers and crew were presumed killed. Malfunctioning pitot tubes have provided an early focus for the investigation.[31]"

There are some very key differences between the Ignalina plant and its operators and the infamous Chernobyl plant that was destroyed by operational error in 1986.

I fully realize that the marketing efforts by companies like GE, Westinghouse, CE, Siemens, and Areva attempted to put a lot of distance between their contained designs and the RBMK design in the minds of the world population. However, think about this hard for a moment - how many of the containment buildings have ever been put to the test and prevented any human health effects?

What is the return on investment so far in health effect prevention from the MASSIVE investment in those facilities, the testing that they require, the time that they take to construct and the difficulty that they add to the process of maintaining and repairing the plants?

Are they really so darned important that it is "not unreasonable" to force a poor country in Northern Europe to shut down a plant that has been operating safely for 24 years in the middle of the winter when their energy alternative is buying fuel from the very same Russia that is AGAIN threatening Eastern Europe with a cut off of its oil supplies due to another pipeline transit dispute?

http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/dec2009/gb20091228_344425.htm

Mark Flanagan said...

To Rod -

You're overreacting a little. People do all kinds of things for "reasonable" reasons - my point is that in this case, it creates a cascade of misery for Lithuania, which I'd hope would throw the reasonableness into considerable doubt. The post intends to be ironic, however badly I do irony.

Mark

Rod Adams said...

Mark:

Sorry. I took the statement at face value without seeing the irony. My excuse is that I think there is a good chance in this case for misery to turn into something far more serious for the most vulnerable segments of the society.

Anonymous said...

Adding to what Rod said (about containments) another area where our industry has been required to spend a huge amount of money, for little public health and safety benefit, is compliance with absurdly onerous QA standards.

As Rod has pointed out on his blog, an identical part costs several times as much if it is for a nuclear plant versus a fossil plant, due to QA requirements (i.e., paperwork). Benefits, if any, are questionable.

Even more so than features like containments (which are at least real and tangible), nuclear QA is a colossal waste of our public health and safety dollar. Nuclear plants should be built to the same QA standards as fossil plants. Plant safety primarily flows from fundamental design features such as negative temperature/void coefficients, non-flammible core materials, and the presence of containment, not the QA.

If anything, nuclear's unduly stringent QA requirements have actually lead to a reduction in public health and safety, in that they made nuclear more expensive than fossil fuel plants, thus increasing fossil fuel use, resulting in large numbers of air pollution related deaths, as well as global warming.

The double standard has to go. Until and unless fossil plants are required to completely contain all their emissions/pollutants (over the long term) nuclear should be relieved of excessive QA requirements (not to mention building contaimnents, not that that would be politically possible).

Jim Hopf

perdajz said...

Jim Hopf's commments are on the mark. It's not a double standard: it's absolute insanity.

A coal burning plant will pollute with probability 1.0, and annually send dozens or hundreds to their graves a bit earlier than need be. A comparable number for a nuclear plant would be 0.0001 or less, even if the plant operates with containment hatch left open, in the case of a large, dry PWR.

Yet the regulatory burdens on the coal burning industry are practically non-existent by comparison. Just crazy.

gmax137 said...

I agree that the dirt-burners should be subject to more stringent regulations on their emissions. I disagree completely with the notion that containments are a waste & QA standards should be relaxed.

Containment - there are two fundamental differences between fossil power plants and nukes:
(1) you can't 'turn off' the nuclear heat generation - once scrammed, the core continues to generate decay heat, and this heat must be carried away to prevent the fuel from heating up and melting.
(2) the radioactive inventory in the nuclear unit is dangerous and has the potential to spread following an accident.
Compare an accident at a coal plant to one at a nuclear plant. The worst case in the fossil unit - a boiler explosion that kills the operators. Worst case for the nuclear unit - core source term dispersed to the atmosphere leads to widespread panic and possibly increased cancer rates. If TMI had not had a containment building the nuclear power industry would have been finished in 1979. We wouldn't be having this conversation, this website would exist.

QA - the QA requirements are essential to support the regulatory approach to the design basis, in particular the single failure criterion. Commercial grade QA would allow all kinds of crap, masquerading as 'meeting the spec' to be installed. Even with the current requirements, unscrupulous vendors try (and succeed) in providing inferior products (pipe & fittings, valves, etc etc). Imagine what junk we'd get if the vendors knew nobody was checking on them?