Skip to main content

Good Nuclear News by the Numbers

beauty-shotSometimes, among the little controversies and tidbits of news, it’s nice to have a reminder now and then as to what we’re getting newsy about. Nuclear energy is a really strong provider of electricity – “really strong” because it delivers 24/7, often runs at or near 100 percent capacity (take that, renewable slackers) and is very inexpensive to operate.

And in a way, facilities can run higher than 100 percent capacity. Operators achieve uprates by swapping in new equipment or modifying existing equipment (along with maximizing efficiency) with the goal to increase capacity. The NRC determines if a potential uprate might compromised safety, but it’s generally a incidental function of how long lived a facility can be. Uprates are common enough.

I don’t have the number right in front of me, but I believe the capacity increase over the years due to uprates is about the equivalent of six new nuclear reactors. Pretty good for not having to break ground with spade.

Bloomberg spends a whole article talking about recent nuclear energy capacity, using the restart of Minnesota’s Prairie Island (down for refueling) as a jumping off point.

Generation nationwide advanced by 1.1 percent to 93,254 megawatts, or 91 percent of capacity, the most since Sept. 9, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data compiled by Bloomberg.

The number in 2011 was over 95 percent, but it’s still pretty good given the plants down for refueling or for other reasons. Bloomberg notes that Michigan’s Fermi 2 and Mississippi’s Grand Gulf 1 ramped up output (neither to full capacity) and Watts Bar 1 in Tennessee went to 100 percent capacity.

A little more:

The Northeast increased 0.6 percent to 24,899 megawatts, or 100 percent of capacity, while production in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast states advanced 0.5 percent to 28,891, or 91 percent of capacity. Western U.S. generation increased 0.9 percent to 19,126 megawatts, or 80 percent of capacity.

The western droop likely has to do with San Onofre’s extended outage in California, though the story does not say.

Nuclear energy is very good at maintaining capacity and allows for surer planning. I’ve read some pieces complaining that nuclear energy does not ramp down fast enough to accommodate the intermittent nature of wind and solar power, to which one can only say, Boo-hoo, may all your problems involve abundance.

Seriously, this is something a smart grid could more easily accommodate and, if the will (and money) materialize to build out a smart grid, the issue of renewable intermittence and nuclear energy’s usefulness as a full throttle energy source will reconcile. The Department of Energy has a good introductory paper on the subject – take a look at the environmental improvement section starting on page 14 for more information about renewable energy sources and the smart grid.

But that’s down the road a piece. On our section of highway, the news is generally good. I thought the capacity would go down a bit due to the wild weather and some extended outages, but this is much better than expected.

Comments

Russ said…
Nice post.

A little off topic, but I recently visited Wikipedia for some information and realized that the article was intensely biased against nuclear.

Why isn't there a paid writer/engineer funded by some pro-nuclear organization to ride herd on Wikipedia articles to keep them more balanced?

Most lay people turn to Wikipedia for info and it seems that one badly biased Wiki page may nullify ten times over, efforts to educate with your excellent blog posts.

Just a thought.
jimwg said…
I'd long been concerned about this myself, but was told on Wiki and Google that only people with "field credentials" can be considered authorities enough to perm post on the subject. Kind of strikes me out, regrettably.

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
Actually, it's not all that tough to get hard numbers on uprates:

http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/status-power-apps/approved-applications.html

The total approaches 7 new plants (1 GW equiv.), it seems.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…