Whether climate change is a good
or bad thing is open to debate, but change indeed appears to be happening
in the Southeast U.S., which is being hit
with record droughts. These droughts turned neighbors Florida and
Georgia against each other in Federal courts over water rights for the water
flowing into the Everglades. It also is having some startling
consequences on one major U.S. alternative energy source.
Nuclear power is only recently gaining
newfound respect in the U.S. and abroad, with the first
application for a new nuclear plant in 30 years filed late last year and Canada
pushing ahead to restart one of its major research reactors after criticism
on government inactivity. Despite these modest gains nuclear remains much
maligned among the U.S. public and still has yet to win broad support.
Residents in the Southeast may soon be learning, though, that they didn't know
what they had till it was gone, as the drought
threatens to cripple the southeast nuclear industry and send energy costs in
some areas skyrocketing.
Water is a key part of the process of generating nuclear energy. It is
used to cool the reactor core and to create the steam which is used to drive
turbines to convert the heat energy from the reactions into mechanical and finally
Plants tend to fall into two categories. The first have tall cooling
towers that discharge most of the water as steam, which is lost into the
atmosphere. Others lack the tall cooling towers and exhaust hot water
into reservoirs; however they are limited by environmental regulations as to
how much hot water they can purge. These restrictions are due to the fact
that the water is so hot it can easily kill fish and local plants.
Exhausting heated water does recycle a small portion of the used water back
into reservoirs, but much of the water still evaporates as it exits steaming
Spokeswoman Julie Hahn for Progress Energy Inc., which operates four reactors
in the drought zone, explains the massive water needs of the energy producing
giants. She says one Progress reactor, the Harris reactor, intakes 33
million gallons a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation within its
megatonic cooling towers. Duke Energy Corp.'s McGuire nuclear plant
consumes more than 1 billion gallons a day, though a lesser percentage is lost
to evaporation than with the Harris reactor.
The situation has gotten extreme, and numerous plants have been shut down, are
preparing to temporarily shut down, or are throttling back
production. Nearly a fourth of the nuclear
reactors in the U.S., 24 out of 104, are in drought afflicted
regions. Nearly all, 22 of these 24, rely on lakes and rivers for their
water needs. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. government
body which regulates the nuclear power industry, has set minimum allowable
water levels for these water sources. Most of the water sources are
approaching these minimum levels. Falling below means a government
mandated plant closure.
Even if the government relaxes its restrictions, the water levels are
forecasted to drop below the level of the intake pipes for many of these
plants. At other plants, the water is becoming too hot under the sun and
from stored up heat to be used for cooling purposes.
Robert Yanity, a spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. states
grimly, "If water levels get to a certain point, we'll have to power it
down or go off line."
There is no easy answer. The intake pipes are large and often up to a
mile long and concrete and extending them would require months of effort and an
overhaul of the plants pumping systems and an unpleasant price tag of millions
of dollars. And the pipes could only dip so deep before they started
sucking up sediment and organic materials, leading to blockages.
The shortage affects about 3 million customers in parts of the Southeast who
get their power solely from nuclear energy. Even more people will likely
be affected as the quasi-governmental Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) relies
on 30 percent nuclear power to fuel the energy needs of its 8.7 million
The plants need over a foot in rainfall over the next month to stay in
business, but there is no relief forecasted in site. Donna Lisenby,
executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper environmental group that tracks
conditions Lake Norman and other lakes along the 225-mile Catawba River system,
bemoans, "If we don't get at least 10 to 15 inches of rainfall in January,
February and March, lake levels could be lower in the fall of 2008 than they
were in 2007 -- and that could be a disaster."
The Progress Energy Harris plant is currently at 218.5 feet, 3.5 feet above the
legal limit. Progress officials say if the water dips below the limit,
they will be forced to close and buy power from other sources. Duke's
McGuire nuclear plant's lake dropped 4.5 feet since last year and only needs to
drop one more foot to be below the legal limit, mandating closure.
The TVA reactor at Browns Ferry in Alabama already shut down once in August 16,
2007 due to the discharged coolant being too hot. As reservoir
temperatures rise, this is expected to become a much more regular occurrence.
An additional call for concern was raised by David Lochbaum, nuclear project
safety director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who argues that most of
the plants can't take the wear and tear of repeated shut-downs and start-ups.
So aside from forcing many Americans to adopt less clean source of energy, what
exactly will these possible shutdown potentially cost them? Daniele
Seitz, an energy analyst with New York-based Dahlman Rose & Co states,
"Currently, nuclear power costs between $5 to $7 to produce a megawatt
hour. It would cost 10 times that amount that if you had to buy
replacement power -- especially during the summer."
Nuclear power, while unappreciated, provides cheap alternative energy
power. With climate change threatening to shut down many of the reactors
in the Southeast, many people may start to realize how great nuclear power
really was when faced with the harsh reality of when it’s gone.
quote: the nations that top the list contain names like "Sweden, Canda and Luxembourg" - countries which are widely hailed for their attentiveness to environmental issues.
quote: And, of course, nuclear power alone can easily power our needs for thousands of years, even should demand increase tenfold.
quote: The elements we DO mine are mine-able because they are centrally located in a single location in mass quantities. If just toss aluminum cans and such into or trash with everything else, now that aluminum can is 1 part in a billion tons of soil versus easily extractable (and in a cost effective manner mind you) from a large repository.
quote: [Conservation] is akin to, in the internet world, "turn off pictures" to increase bandwidth. It does nothing to increase bandwidth.
quote: Conservation is great, and very important, I agree. However, the biggest issues, as you point out - have to do with technological inefficiency, not waste
quote: You don't consume water. Whether you drink it, wash with it, or evaporate it in a cooling tower, it still exists. No matter how much we use or conserve, the earth will still have an identical amount of water in a thousand years as it does now. The same is true for steel, aluminum, and most other elements we mine
quote: its a resource we've only just begun to exploit.
quote: I'm sure you're aware that no such thing happens when we use water to drink, flush our toilets, or water our lawns and gardens with it.
quote: Total economically viable electric power potential is now estimated at 50,000 GWh/year. About 8,490 GWh/year of this power had been harnessed in 2003.
quote: I still do not understand why people still think our nuclear facilities can be blown down like a twig.
quote: After Chernobyl, safety regulations and precautions around the world have skyrocketed.
quote: Chernobyl is a bad example.
quote: Of course the media made it sound like we dropped a nuke in our own back yard iradiating thousands.
quote: I'm sure a plant could be built to withstand the issue of salt water though.
quote: A January 17, 2008 article in the Wall St. Journal states, "World-wide, 13,080 desalination plants produce more than 12 billion gallons of water a day, according to the International Desalination Association."
quote: According to the research study identified here, most (not all) nations are likely to benefit from anticipated climate change.http://www.dailytech.com/Climate+Change+A+Little+W...As for sea-level rise, the oceans are rising some 2-3 mm/year...the same as they've been doing since the end of the last ice age.
quote: The Stern Review’s conclusions have not stood up to professional scrutiny. Professor Richard S. J. Tol’s review of 102 econometric studies of the costs of global warming published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that the negative externalities, that is the costs, of global warming would be equivalent to a tax of no more than $12 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. That would depress demand for coal somewhat, but would do little to reduce auto emissions, since it would only raise the price of gasoline by 12 cents per gallon. Setting a realistic price on emissions would, Tol concluded, thus do little to reduce emissions.Similarly, Yale University’s Professor William Nordhaus, one of the world’s leading economists, recently published a study that estimates that the damages to 2100 caused by a global warming of 3 degrees C will be $22 trillion. Achieving the Stern Review’s emissions targets by 2050 would reduce the damages to $9 trillion, but the measures necessary would cost $27 trillion .
quote: Economists have a far better record at predicting future economic trends than global climate models have at predicting warming.
quote: Your argument is self-defeating.
quote: The Institute is entirely supported by donations and grants from private individuals and foundations and by the independent earnings and resources of its faculty and volunteers.
quote: This sort of nonsense is typical of the environmental lobby....which, by the way, awards over 1000X as much in research grants to like-minded scientists as the oil and gas industry does.
quote: > "The oil industry has is a multi trillion dollar industry"
quote: But they spend only a tiny fraction of that on funding research, as your own figures prove.
quote: what do we do when night comes?
quote: But $420 billion in subsidies are required
quote: I honestly still think America should build a massive Solar Panel array in the middle of the Mojave dessert...
quote: Plus, my stock investments in solar companies would sky-rocket. =)
quote: Obviously, this Nuclear reactor has bigger problems if it needs to be shut down every time the water is low
quote: Go support your stock options elsewhere.
quote: These droughts turned neighbors Florida and Georgia against each other in Federal courts over water rights for the water flowing into the Everglades.