Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter Fury, Meet Nuclear Reliability

Unless you live in Siberia, you probably don’t care much about when it snows there. But some meteorologists care, because it may act as a bellwether for how things will go in the rest of the northern hemisphere. And things are looking a little rough this season:

About 14.1 million square kilometers of snow blanketed Siberia at the end of October, the second most in records going back to 1967, according to Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab.

Global Snow Lab? And their logo isn’t a snow globe!? Anyway, what does the snow in Siberia mean for us?

Taken together they signal greater chances for frigid air to spill out of the Arctic into more temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather.

There’s been a tendency lately to pay more attention to the weather, likely because the polar vortex last year proved to be such a boon for the media. The weather is now click bait. Cohen’s ideas about Siberian snow and its impact are interesting – and maybe genuinely predictive – but a lot of people find themselves content with the Farmers Almanac (which isn’t too far off from Cohen, come to think of it).

What does this have to do with nuclear energy? Everything.

But peak electricity prices could exceed 100¢/kWh like they did last year during the polar vortex (Forbes).

Not sure why New Englanders are so surprised. It was their choice to throw all-in for natural gas and renewables in a land of harsh winters. But they’ve refused to build new gas pipelines. And they’re shutting a nuclear plant that has 20 years of cheap reliable cold-resistant energy left on it.

And natural gas froze in the pipes during the vortex last year, with nuclear energy picking up the slack. Uranium might or might not freeze if it were stacked in piles like coal, but it’s not in piles – it’s in the reactor, making heat.

This reliability was literally a life saver last year. And it still gets notices. From the New York Times, today:

To people in the American nuclear industry, reactors do not get the respect they deserve for being both virtually emissions-free and a source of around-the-clock electricity for the grid. Experts point to the spell of extreme cold weather across much of the country last January, when nuclear plants kept working while many gas and coal plants had to shut down as the cold affected equipment and fuel supplies.

NEI did a package on nuclear energy’s reliability a bit ago, but it’s worth taking another look at as we approach the upcoming, um, Siberian winter. We of course hope for sunshine and beach temperatures – as who doesn’t – but it’s nice to know that when the weather doesn’t cooperate, nuclear energy does.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Then there is Bilibino NPS in Russia, notable as the northern-most operating NPP in the world. Also notable for having a dry cooling system to condense the steam.