Tag Archives: nuclear

San Onofre nuclear plant update – one unit to turn on, another to stay off permanently

Yesterday Southern California Edison submitted plans to restart one of its two nuclear generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The other generator is being shut down permanently. Both units showed radioactive damage and required repairs.

Unit 2, the generator that will be turned on, had six tubes showing extreme decay, and 1,600 overall with some decay. Unit 3, which will remain shut down, had 381 showing extreme decay, and 1,800 with some decay. Edison reports that a team of independent experts inspected these repairs and approved the plan to turn on Unit 2. These plans were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and are awaiting approval.

If accepted Unit 2 will run for five months at 70% power, and then turn off for “inspection of the steam generator tubes to ensure the continued structural integrity of the tubes, to measure tube wear and to confirm that the solutions are working.” At the same time, Edison plans to defuel Unit 3, which “refers to the carefully executed transfer of fuel from the reactor into the spent fuel pool in a strong, reinforced building where it is secure and constantly monitored.”

This is a “longer term outage mode” and there are no plans to bring it back online “in the near future”.

In a separate release from a review started two years ago, Edison plans to downsize the staff at SONGS by 730 employees, a 33% reduction. The press release said this was for achieving greater efficiencies like other nuclear plants. But there was also a mention of the financial losses at the plant due to the shutdown, and a reference to Unit 3 that “will not be operating for some time.”

There is a public meeting about this information scheduled for October 9 at 6pm in the St. Regis Hotel in Monarch Beach. There will also be a live stream of proceedings available at video.nrc.gov – starting one hour before the meeting. The official pdf notice of the meeting and a blog post with updates and comments.

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More information can be found at SongsCommunity.com and by following the SONGS twitter account.

 

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How old are U.S. power plants?

We have an aging fleet of power plants:
  • 51% of all generating capacity is 30+ years old.
  • 73% of all coal plants are 30+ years old
  • 24 out of 25 oldest plants (60+ years) are hydropower
  • Nearly all nuclear plants are 20+ years old

Here is a graphic from EIA with more detail. The pie chart shows how much generating capacity comes from each fuel type. The graph shows capacity by year the plant was built.

Notice that hydropower was the first energy source built, the creation of coal plants dominated from 1950 to the mid-80s, and it’s been all natural gas since then.

 

 

But, age may not matter when it comes to operating power plants, from Wiki Answers:
In a nutshell, it is not correct to assign human attributes (e.g., lifetimes) to inanimate objects. Consequently, the operating span of a coal fired power plant can be unlimited since any degraded or failed component can be replaced with a new one. The decision on whether to make a refurbishment, or to build a new plant, is merely a question of relative economics and investment risk. For example, the cost of a single replacement part is almost always less than the cost of replacing the plant. However, in an old plant, there is a risk that many additionally worn parts also will need replacement soon. Plant owners evaluate these tradeoffs each time a major component fails and make the decision whether or not to retire the plant.

Mars rover Curiosity test fires the laser – pulverizes a rock just for fun (and science)

Johnny Five, aka the Mars rover Curiosity, continues its scientific journey. The nuclear-powered laboratory in-a-box pulled out it’s laser to blast a rock that got in its way. From NASA:

The mission’s ChemCam instrument hit a fist-sized rock named “Coronation” with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.

The energy from the laser creates a puff of ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam catches the light with a telescope and analyzes it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the rock.

 

NASA said the main function of this was target practice to calibrate the ChemCam.

You gotta love the sense of play NASA is bringing to this mission. Not only are they releasing these stories about test-firing lasers, but they are all over social medial, including fan art on Facebook, a first-person Twitter account, sharing stories on Google Plus, and posting articles on their much more user-friendly website.

A great idea for the much beleaguered space agency, that I assume is a bid to get them back into America’s good graces…and taxpayer dollars.

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Future of clean energy in California – part renewable, part natural gas, and lots of changes

Living in California means power plants on the beach. It’s a fact of life driving up and down the coast. When you enter Los Angeles driving north there is a line of smokestacks so dense that some refer to it as “the apocalyptic city of the future.” Then as you enter San Diego driving south you pass along the “Betty Boop monument,” two giant domes with a small cap on top, which are the two nuclear generators of San Onofre.

They are all facing an uncertain future as California state law requires 33% renewable energy by 2020. Plus, an “upgrade law” which establishes higher standards for air pollution and environmental impact. That second law is the most far-reaching, and somewhat sneaky, because it directly attacks the existing power plants.

It forces all the existing plants to pay for expensive upgrades or be decommissioned, and many will be decommissioned.

As that happens you can see the future of energy in California start to take shape. 1 out of every 3 plants will be shut down and replaced by renewable energy. Another one-third will be upgraded, and the final third will be a mix. For Southern California that could mean nuclear energy, but it is more likely to be several lower-emission natural gas plants.

There is also a hope that renewable energy can take on up to half of the energy needs by 2020, but only time will tell.

To hit this point home, my local power plant, just a few miles away, is facing the decommission or upgrade dilemma. According to the owners, AES, the plant is a critical supplier in an ideal location so it won’t be shut down. The plant, a natural gas user, will be upgraded.

The plan they have put forward involves a much more modern set-up, including: replacing the industrial smokestack profile with an office building look, using air cooling instead of water (a big win for local ocean groups), much more efficient and powerful generators, quick start capabilities (from 12 hours to 10 minutes), and a reduced emission output.

For locals, like me, this is a partial win. We get rid of the ugly smokestacks and get cleaner energy, but still have a local plant giving off emissions and using fossil fuel.

The Orange County Register did a feature on what this change means for the community and the state – H.B. to lose landmark stacks for cleaner energy project

So, that image of driving along the California coast may soon change. Maybe those industrial smokestacks will turn into windmills, parks, or knowing how the state works, new million dollar homes.

 

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Wind is cheaper than coal? — Fact checking this statement

The other day I heard in passing, “wind is now cheaper than coal.” If true, this symbolizes the holy grail of renewable energy. It would mean that a turning point for not only cleaner energy, but global warming, climate change, pollution, foreign oil dependence, and more.

To fact check this, I pulled up the top 20 results from Google and narrowed them down to the below articles (most were duplicates pointing at these 5 stories).

Not at all definitive but it does give you an idea of the state of the industry. Just keep in mind that the prices may or may not include subsidies or tax breaks, which can drastically change the costs quoted below.

 

Jul 2012 - In India, wind is cheaper than coal in Indi (w/out subsidies) (Bloomberg Business)

The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India for the first time as improved turbine technology (from GE) and rising fossil-fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc (GKO) said.

 

Mar 2012 – In Michigan wind is cheaper than coal (American Wind Energy Assoc.)

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) recently issued a report that finds that electricity generated from renewable energy sources, at an average cost of $91 per megawatt-hour (9.1 cents/kilowatt-hour), is almost one-third cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant ($133 per MWh, or 13.3 cents/kWh).

Further, the report notes, “The actual cost of renewable energy contracts submitted to the Commission to date shows a downward pricing trend.

 

Feb 2012 – In California, prices doubled in the first decade of 21st century, since 2011 are dropping to parity with natural gas (SF Gate)

The price of renewable power contracts signed by California utilities more than doubled from 2003 through 2011 but has now started to plunge…

The cost of buying electricity from a new natural gas power plant…(in 2011) ranged from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract…The cost of renewable power from wind and solar facilities averaged between 8 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

 

Nov 2011 – Investigation of Bill Clinton’s claim that wind/solar are cheaper than nuclear (Politifact)

  • Conventional Coal – 94.8 (dollars/MWh)
  • Wind – Onshore – 97
  • Nuclear – 113.9
  • Solar – Photovoltaic – 210.7
  • Wind – Offshore – 243.2
  • Solar – Thermal – 311.8

Source: DOE’s Energy Information Administration

 

Nov 2011 – Google retires its initiative RE

It’s not clear here if Google feels this is already won and moving on, or if they have had enough and are quitting. One thing is certain, Google invested nearly a billion dollars ($850 million) in renewable energy last year.

This initiative was developed as an effort to drive down the cost of renewable energy, with an RE<C engineering team focused on researching improvements to solar power technology. At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts.

 

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Why do experts always lowball clean energy projections?

Last month, Michael Noble of Fresh Energy put up a fascinating list of projections made by energy experts around 2000 or so. Suffice to say, the projections did not fare well. They were badly wrong…

What should we take from this?

The projections weren’t just off, they were way off. You can find similarly poor projections from the ’70s that underestimate the spread of energy efficiency and other demand-side technology solutions (They thought they were going to need hundreds of nuclear plants). Similarly terrible projections were also common in the early years of cell phones.

What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.

 

Keep reading: Grist - Why do ‘experts’ always lowball clean-energy projections?

 

 

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Final report issued on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – Edison not to blame, it was a Mitsubishi computer glitch

The final review of the radiation leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) has been completed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Among its findings are that Southern California Edison (SCE) responded appropriately to the issue, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a company based in Japan, is to blame. They found that Mitsubishi’s “faulty computer modeling” resulted in mismatched components that, after only a year, had worn down significantly.

The good news is that we caught this issue before a catastrophic problem occurred, hinting that the safety protocols from SCE were adequate. The bad news is that we were one computer glitch away from a national disaster.

The outcome of all this is uncertain. You can bet that SCE would like to restart SONGS to start making money again, and they can do so by completing the checklist in the NRC report. They have said publicly this will not be until at least September, probably longer, meanwhile the public is digesting this news and preparing a public hearing from the NRC.

Many are speculating that since the plant was not needed during the heavy-use summer days, maybe it is not needed at all. But, that ignores the fact that other power plants were operating above capacity to compensate. Either way something will need to change, whether it’s an acceptance of the restart of SONGS, a new plan to make normal the over-operation of natural gas plants, or some blended model that takes into account the renewable energy sources coming online in the next few years.

 

More on this…

NRC:

 

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Update on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – backup emergency generators also flawed

NRC OVERSIGHT HAS FAILED AT SAN ONOFRE

This letter was sent to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, with a copy to The Orange County Register:

Dear Chairman,

We were stunned to learn recently that for nearly three decades, the San Onofre nuclear reactors have been operating with inherently flawed backup emergency diesel generators, flaws that could have caused these generators to shut down as a result of a major earthquake. According to documents submitted to the NRC on May 14 of this year by Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre plant, the effect of a major seismic event on the high-frequency sensors that would trigger the shutdown of the backup generators had not been analyzed. Upon discovering this issue, the sensors were immediately turned off, indicating significant safety concerns.

Allowing the San Onofre nuclear reactors, located directly next to major fault lines, to operate with such a fundamental safety issue unexamined for three decades is a dramatic failure on the part of the commission. The loss of both offsite and onsite power, or station blackout, is the very condition that led to the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan). As you are aware, the seismic vulnerability of nuclear reactors has become an even more urgent issue in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We are well aware of your particular concerns in this area. Tuesday’s news underscores the need for immediate and urgent action.

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Sneak peek – awesome size of Super Aircraft Carrier – Gerald R. Ford

 

This is something you can’t usually see: the bow of an American nuclear aircraft supercarrier, the new Gerald R. Ford—the lead ship of a new class that will start replacing the Nimitz-class in 2015.

It was just put in place at Huntington Ingalls’s Newport News shipyard, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, along the James River, Virginia.

American aircraft supercarriers are some of the biggest structures built by humankind. I remember the first time I saw one in person and it blew my mind.

via Gizmodo

 

 

Comprising six steel sections, the lower bow is more than 60 feet tall and is one of the heaviest superlifts to be placed on the ship. Construction of the lower bow superlift, the last major section of the ship below the waterline, began last year.

Gerald R. Ford represents the next-generation class of aircraft carriers. The first-in-class ship features a new nuclear power plant, a redesigned island, electromagnetic catapults, improved weapons movement, an enhanced flight deck capable of increased aircraft sortie rates, and growth margin for future technologies and reduced manning. The keel for Ford was laid in November 2009.  The ship is on track to meet its scheduled launch in 2013 and delivery to the U.S. Navy in 2015.

via Huntington Ingalls Industries

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Apple, Amazon, & Microsoft build data centers around dirty energy

The current explosion in cloud computing offered by major IT companies is driving significant new demand for dirty energy like coal and nuclear power, according to a new report from Greenpeace International.

The report, “How Clean is Your Cloud?” shows a growing split within the tech industry between companies that are taking steps to power their clouds with clean energy, like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft who lag behind by choosing to build their growing fleets of data centres to be powered by coal and nuclear energy.

“When people around the world share their music or photos on the cloud, they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe energy,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst. “Yet highly innovative and profitable companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are building data centres powered by coal and acting like their customers won’t know or won’t care.”

The report research found that if the cloud were a country its electricity demand would currently rank 5th in the world, and is expected to triple by 2020.

“While many IT companies have made great strides in efficiency, that’s only half the picture – they need to make sure their energy comes from clean sources,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst.

Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are beginning to lead the sector down a clean energy pathway through innovations in energy efficiency, prioritising renewable energy access when siting their data centres, and demanding better energy options from utilities and government decision-makers.

 

keep readingApple, Amazon, & Microsoft choose dirty energy