Perhaps it’s asking too much in today’s media climate (no pun intended), but it would’ve been nice if Ginger Zee refrained from making the flippant comment on America This Morning that cooling ponds near nuclear plants are “either getting too low or too warm for the plants to function safely.” Ginger’s wrong on a number of accounts.
Safety is paramount to the nuclear industry and all plants have contingency plans in place to adjust to extreme weather conditions and continue operating, albeit at a lower electrical power output. All nuclear power plants operate under their respective states’ water discharge permits and when the water’s ambient temperature reaches a certain level the plant’s power output must be lowered. Thus, they continue to “function safely.”
In the summers of 2010 and 2011 TVA had to reduce electrical power output at all three Browns Ferry units up to 50 percent (approximately 500 megawatts each) to maintain downstream river temperatures within the thermal compliance limits associated with its State of Alabama water discharge permit.
Browns Ferry draws water from the Tennessee River to cool plant equipment. In the process of cooling this equipment the water gets heated. This heated water is sent to a series of seven, very large cooling towers. The cooling towers use large fans to cool the water before returning it to the river.
When the river’s upstream ambient temperature rises to 90 degrees, TVA’s water permit does not allow any additional increase in water temperature. In order to comply with this regulation, at times Browns Ferry’s power output has to be lowered. By lowering power output we reduce the discharge temperature.During periods of extended high river temperatures and low rainfall, the company’s environmental compliance model requires the need to take prompt action to avoid exceeding any permit limits.
TVA returns Browns Ferry and other fossil-powered generating stations to full power when temperatures and river flow conditions are adequate for full power operation without challenging river temperature permit limits.TVA has been proactively working on a project to address the issue of summer river temperatures and the requirement to reduce Browns Ferry power output.
In the summer of 2012, TVA completed construction of a seventh cooling tower which provides additional river water cooling during the hot summer months. The seventh tower is twice the size of the existing cooling towers and uses state-of-the-art engineering and equipment to maximize cooling capability. With cooling tower #7 in operation the need to reduce Browns Ferry’s power output has been eliminated so far this summer.TVA returns Browns Ferry and other fossil-fueled plants to full power when temperatures and river flow conditions are adequate for full power operation without challenging river temperature permit limits.
The Brown's Ferry nuclear energy facility in Alabama. Pic courtesy of TVA.