[ RadSafe ] [Nuclear News] Drought could shut down nuclear power plants

Sandy Perle sandyfl at cox.net
Wed Jan 23 16:24:53 CST 2008


Drought could shut down nuclear power plants
Nuclear giant bids to build SA's atomic reactors
Shaw Nuclear Unit Opens China Office
Bill would add nuclear power to climate study in Washington
Nuclear Revival Renews Waste Woes
Bill calls for study of nuclear power
Sacking of Canadian nuclear official prompts row

Drought could shut down nuclear power plants

LAKE NORMAN, N.C. (MSNBC) - Nuclear reactors across the Southeast 
could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this 
year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply 
power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to 

Utility officials say such shutdowns probably wouldn´t result in 
blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills 
for millions of Southerners, because the region´s utilities could be 
forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy 

Already, there has been one brief, drought-related shutdown, at a 
reactor in Alabama over the summer.
Story continues below Vadvertisement

"Water is the nuclear industry´s Achilles´ heel," said Jim Warren, 
executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an 
environmental group critical of nuclear power. "You need a lot of 
water to operate nuclear plants." He added: "This is becoming a 

An Associated Press analysis of the nation´s 104 nuclear reactors 
found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of 
drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and 
rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water 
for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the 
plants´ turbines.

Because of the yearlong dry spell gripping the region, the water 
levels on those lakes and rivers are getting close to the minimums 
set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Over the next several 
months, the water could drop below the intake pipes altogether. Or 
the shallow water could become too hot under the sun to use as 

"If water levels get to a certain point, we´ll have to power it down 
or go off line," said Robert Yanity, a spokesman for South Carolina 
Electric & Gas Co., which operates the Summer nuclear plant outside 
Columbia, S.C.

Limits on intake pipes
Extending or lowering the intake pipes is not as simple at it sounds 
and wouldn´t necessarily solve the problem. The pipes are usually 
made of concrete, can be up to 18 feet in diameter and can extend up 
to a mile. Modifications to the pipes and pump systems, and their 
required backups, can cost millions and take several months. If the 
changes are extensive, they require an NRC review that itself can 
take months or longer.

Even if a quick extension were possible, the pipes can only go so 
low. It they are put too close to the bottom of a drought-shrunken 
lake or river, they can suck up sediment, fish and other debris that 
could clog the system.

An estimated 3 million customers of the four commercial utilities 
with reactors in the drought zone get their power from nuclear 
energy. Also, the quasi-governmental Tennessee Valley Authority, 
which sells electricity to 8.7 million people in seven states through 
a network of distributors, generates 30 percent of its power at 
nuclear plants.

While rain and some snow fell recently, water levels across the 
region are still well below normal. Most of the severely affected 
area would need more than a foot of rain in the next three months - 
an unusually large amount - to ease the drought and relieve pressure 
on the nuclear plants. And the long-term forecast calls for more dry 

Lakes nearing their minimums
At Progress Energy Inc., which operates four reactors in the drought 
zone, officials warned in November that the drought could force it to 
shut down its Harris reactor near Raleigh, according to documents 
obtained by the AP. The water in Harris Lake stands at 218.5 feet - 
just 3½ feet above the limit set in the plant´s license.

Lake Norman near Charlotte is down to 93.7 feet - less than a foot 
above the minimum set in the license for Duke Energy Corp.´s McGuire 
nuclear plant. The lake was at 98.2 feet just a year ago.

"We don´t know what´s going to happen in the future. We know we 
haven´t gotten enough rain, so we can´t rule anything out," said Duke 
spokeswoman Rita Sipe. "But based on what we know now, we don´t 
believe we´ll have to shut down the plants."

During Europe´s brutal 2006 heat wave, French, Spanish and German 
utilities were forced to shut down some of their nuclear plants and 
reduce power at others because of low water levels - some for as much 
as a week.

If a prolonged shutdown like that were to happen in the Southeast, 
utilities in the region might have to buy electricity on the 
wholesale market, and the high costs could be passed on to customers.

"Currently, nuclear power costs between $5 to $7 to produce a 
megawatt hour," said Daniele Seitz, an energy analyst with New York-
based Dahlman Rose & Co. "It would cost 10 times that amount that if 
you had to buy replacement power - especially during the summer."

At a nuclear plant, water is also used to cool the reactor core and 
to create the steam that drives the electricity-generating turbines. 
But those are comparatively small amounts of water, circulating in 
what are known as closed systems - that is, the water is constantly 
reused. Water for those two purposes is not threatened by the 

Instead, the drought could choke off the billions of gallons of water 
that pass through the region´s reactors every day to cool used steam. 
Water sucked from lakes and rivers passes through pipes, which act as 
a condenser, turning the steam back into water. The outside water 
never comes into direct contact with the steam or any nuclear 

At some plants - those with tall, Three Mile Island-style cooling 
towers - a lot of the water travels up the tower and is lost to 
evaporation. At other plants, almost all of the water is returned to 
the lake or river, though significantly hotter because of the heat 
absorbed from the steam.
Story continues below Vadvertisement

Progress spokeswoman Julie Hahn said the Harris reactor, for example, 
sucks up 33 million gallons a day, with 17 million gallons lost to 
evaporation via its big cooling towers. Duke´s McGuire plant draws in 
more than 1 billion gallons a day, but most of it is pumped back to 
its source.

Nuclear plants are subject to restrictions on the temperature of the 
discharged coolant, because hot water can kill fish or plants or 
otherwise disrupt the environment. Those restrictions, coupled with 
the drought, led to the one-day shutdown Aug. 16 of a TVA reactor at 
Browns Ferry in Alabama.

The water was low on the Tennessee River and had become warmer than 
usual under the hot sun. By the time it had been pumped through the 
Browns Ferry plant, it had become hotter still - too hot to release 
back into the river, according to the TVA. So the utility shut down a 

David Lochbaum, nuclear project safety director for the Union of 
Concerned Scientists, warned that nuclear plants are not designed to 
take the wear and tear of repeatedly stopping and restarting.

"Nuclear plants are best when they flatline - when they stay up and 
running or shut down for long periods to refuel," Lochbaum said. "It 
wears out piping, valves, motors."

Both the industry and NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said plants can 
shut down and restart without problems.

Nuclear giant bids to build SA's atomic reactors

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, January 23 -- French nuclear giant Areva 
says it's preparing to bid for two third-generation atomic reactors 
to be built in South Africa.

The group formed a consortium with a communication conglomerate and 
electricity giant EDF.

The consortium proposed to team up with South African engineering 
firm Aveng. Areva's already building two second-generation nuclear 
reactors near the Koeberg power station outside Cape Town.

Meanwhile, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association says 
because of power cuts, tourism may take a huge financial knock this 

The association says more should be done to protect the thousands of 
smaller businesses. - sabc

Shaw Nuclear Unit Opens China Office

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Shaw Group Inc., an engineering and 
construction contractor, said Wednesday that the nuclear division of 
its Shaw Power Group has opened an office in Shanghai.

Shaw said the office will accommodate its project management team 
already working on four nuclear reactors at Chinese power plants.

Shaw, which also has an office in Beijing, said that having a 
significant presence in both cities will allow it to serve customers 
more efficiently, help execute its existing nuclear power projects in 
China and strengthen its position for future projects.

Bill would add nuclear power to climate study in Washington

Legislation has been introduced in Olympia that would require the 
state to include nuclear power in a study of energy sources to help 
curb global warming.

The bill would require an examination of nuclear technology, 
reprocessing spent fuel, cost and safety.

The legislation is sponsored by Jerome Delvin of Richland in the 
Senate and Glenn Anderson of Fall City in the House.

Most environmentalists oppose nuclear power. Danielle Dixon of the 
Northwest Energy Coalition says a study of nuclear power would not be 
a good use of lawmakers' time or taxpayer dollars.

Nuclear Revival Renews Waste Woes

(BEAUMONT-HAGUE, France) - Thousands of canisters of highly 
radioactive waste from the world's most nuclear-energized nation lie, 
silent and deadly, beneath this jutting tip of Normandy. Above 
ground, cows graze and Atlantic waves crash into heather-covered 
Related Articles
New Plants on the Horizon?

Protecting the nation´s nuclear power reactors from attack may be a 
daunting challenge. But within t...
You´re Putting What in There?

Scientists are grappling with what President Bush admitted last week 
were "mixed signals" from his A...
What Now For Our Feverish Planet?

Clarification Appended It was probably always too much to believe 
that human beings would be respo...
Planting Trouble in Your Garden

If you thought composting your organic waste and planting greenery in 
your garden were enough to ear...

The spent fuel, vitrified into blocks of black glass that will remain 
dangerous for thousands of years, is in "interim storage." Like 
nearly all the world's nuclear waste, it is still waiting for the 
long-term disposal solution that has eluded scientists and 
governments in the six decades since the atomic era began.

Industry officials hope renewed worldwide interest in nuclear energy 
will break a long, awkward silence surrounding nuclear waste. They 
want to revive momentum for scientific and political breakthroughs on 
waste that stalled after the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 
and Chernobyl in 1986, which raised worldwide fears about 
radioactivity's risks to human and planetary health.

So far, though, recent talk of a nuclear renaissance has focused on 
the "front end," or reactor construction. Engineers are designing the 
next generation of reactors to be safer than today's - and they're 
being billed as a solution to global warming. Nuclear reactors do not 
emit carbon dioxide, blamed for heating the planet.

Few people have been talking about the "back end," industry-speak for 
the hundreds of thousands of tons of waste that nuclear plants 
produce each year, and the lucrative, secretive business of storing 
it away.

Waste "is the main problem with this so-called nuclear rebirth," said 
Mycle Schneider, an independent expert who co-authored a recent study 
for the European Parliament casting doubt on a global nuclear 
resurgence. He says government efforts to revive nuclear energy will 
stall without a "miracle" solution to waste disposal.

Workers at this waste treatment and storage site on France's 
Cherbourg peninsula, run by industry giant Areva, don't see a 

Though much of the technology here dates from the 1970s and 1980s, 
they point to a strong safety record and the 26,000 environmental 
tests conducted every year as evidence that the public has nothing to 
fear from their activity.

The tests routinely find crabs, cows and humans living nearby to be 
healthy. One longtime plant employee gestured toward her pregnant 
abdomen, holding her third child, as proof that there's nothing to 
worry about. Plant officials say strict security measures, tightened 
since the Sept. 11 attacks, rule out terrorism risks.

Greenpeace questions state-run Areva's safety figures, and accuses 
the government of playing down accidents and soil and water 
contamination. A group called Meres en Colere, or Angry Mothers, was 
formed in the region after a 1997 study showed higher than usual 
local rates of child leukemia, a malady linked to radiation exposure.

Now the "pros" are on a new mission to dispel a generation of scares 
and suspicion, saying nuclear power is less dangerous to humans and 
the Earth than burning oil or coal. The "antis" say nuclear energy 
can never offer 100 percent protection from its radioactive 

The splitting of uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor creates the 
exceptional heat that drives turbines to provide electricity. The 
process also creates radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137 and 
strontium-90 that take about 30 years to lose half their 
radioactivity. Higher-level leftovers includes plutonium-239, with a 
half-life of 24,000 years.

Direct exposure to such highly radioactive material, even for a short 
period, can be fatal. Indirect exposure, through seepage into 
groundwater, can lead to life-threatening illness for those living 
nearby and environmental damage.

For now, the best scientific solution for getting rid of the most 
lethal waste is to shove it deep underground.

Yet no country has built a deep geological repository. Governments 
meet protests each time one is proposed. The Yucca Mountain waste 
site in Nevada was commissioned in 1982 and is still awaiting a 

Another option is recycling. Countries such as France, Russia and 
Japan reprocess much nuclear waste into new fuel. That dramatically 
reduces the volume: Forty years' worth of France's highly radioactive 
waste is stored under just three floor surfaces, each about the size 
of a basketball court, at Beaumont-Hague.

Recycling, though, produces plutonium that could be used in nuclear 
weapons - so the United States bans it, fearing proliferation.

And not all waste can be reprocessed. The deadliest bits - such as 
fuel rod casings and other reactor parts as well as concentrated fuel 
residue containing plutonium and highly enriched uranium - must be 
sealed and stored away.

That's what lurks 10 feet underground at this Normandy plant: More 
than 7,000 cylindrical steel canisters, each about the height of a 
parking meter, stacked and sealed upright in holes beneath the slick 
floor. Some contain compacted radioactive metal, the others hold 
spent fuel that has been vitrified into glass.

Among other ideas once floated for disposing of nuclear waste have 
been shooting it into space (deemed too risky because of the volatile 
rocket fuel) or injecting it in the ocean floor (stalled because 
testing its feasibility is too costly), or shipping all the world's 
waste to a collective nuclear dump.

The last idea proved too diplomatically delicate. But Greenpeace and 
Norwegian environmental group Bellona say European nations have for 
years been illegally shipping radioactive waste to Russia and leaving 
it there.

Current research in industry leader France - which relies on nuclear 
energy for more than 70 percent of its electricity, more than any 
other country - is focusing on new chemical processes that would 
shrink nuclear waste and cool it faster.

It will be at least 2040, though, before these might be put to use, 
scientists estimate. Schneider says scientists are "creating work for 
themselves" by researching methods that may never be commercially 
feasible or do much to solve the long-term waste quandary.

The World Nuclear Association, an industry group, disagrees, citing 
increasing interest in waste research by governments. The managers at 
the Normandy plant say long-held taboos about the industry are 

"We have the best scientific solution for treating waste," deputy 
director Eric Blanc said, referring to the plant's vitrification 
process and network of cooling pools. "Others are coming all the time 
to study it."

Visitors to the plant must wear special uniforms and trek through a 
maze of security and radioactivity checkpoints.

The plant used to have Webcams and "open house" days for people from 
nearby communities, but both practices were stopped after 9/11. Now 
the Defense Ministry regularly monitors the plant, and vets all 

Meanwhile, new reactor clients are lining up.

China signed a staggering $11.7 billion deal last month for two 
nuclear reactors from Areva. Areva later said the deal included a 
feasibility study for a waste treatment and recycling facility in 
China that would cost another $22 billion.

Areva already makes $2.2 billion in revenues a year on treating and 
recycling waste. The plant at Beaumont-Hague takes in 22,000 tons of 
spent nuclear fuel a year, from France, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, 
Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. The foreign fuel by 
law must be returned to its owners once it has been reprocessed into 
a more stable form that - through lack of alternatives - is buried or 
held in storage.

The French fuel stays in Normandy indefinitely, while bulkier, lower-
level nuclear waste is piling up in dumps worldwide.

Nuclear scientists' dream is a wasteless reactor, and some sketches 
for the next crop of reactors, the Generation IV, include those that 
recycle 100 percent of their refuse.

Both nuclear fans and foes agree, however, that it will take a few 
more human generations for that dream to come true.

Bill calls for study of nuclear power

A study bill before the Legislature would require a task force to 
consider the merits of adding new nuclear generation to the state's 
power mix to help to curb global warming.
Click here to find out more!

House Bill 2737 and Senate Bill 6568 also would require an 
examination of advanced nuclear technologies, the reprocessing of 
spent nuclear fuel and a review of cost and safety issues associated 
with building new nuclear stations.

A panel made up of legislators, representatives from the governor's 
office and officials from the nuclear industry would report back to 
the Legislature by Dec. 1.

The bills likely would draw opposition from environmentalists should 
they get so much as a hearing.

"We don't think it's a good use of legislators' time or taxpayer 
dollars," Danielle Dixon, a senior policy associate for the Northwest 
Energy Coalition, said after a quick read of the bill Tuesday. "We'd 
rather focus on clean energy solutions."

Even for a study?

"Even for a study," she said.

Supporters of nuclear energy are hoping global warming concerns fuel 
a resurgence within an industry that has been stagnant since the 
Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Nuclear plants, unlike 
conventional plants fueled by natural gas or coal, do not emit carbon 

The key hang-up remains how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

While environmentalists want new energy needs to be met through 
conservation plus wind, solar and other forms of environmentally 
friendly power sources others argue that won't be enough. New 
baseload resources still will be needed, they say.

"I'm just trying to have a discussion about nuclear energy without 
the hysterics of the anti-nukes," said Sen. Jerome Delvin, a Richland 
Republican pushing the bill in the upper chamber. "We're going to 
need baseload generation. Why shouldn't nuclear power be a part of 

The bills in Olympia have drawn the signatures of a two environmental 
champions. Sen. Craig Pridemore, a Vancouver Democrat, was named 
legislator of the year in 2006 by Washington Conservation Voters. And 
Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, had a 100 percent voting record 
with the environmental organization through 2006.

"If the objective of an environmentalist is to have a lesser reliance 
on hydroelectric power, where does that leave you?" Williams asked, 
noting that solar power hasn't yet matured and wind power has driven 
land-use disputes.

"I think we need to keep our options open."

"As an environmentalist, I recognize we have a future energy 
shortfall we will reach if we're not evaluating all the 
alternatives," Pridemore said.

"I'm not endorsing nuclear by any means but I definitely think we 
ought to be talking about it."

The House bill is being sponsored by Fall City Republican Glenn 
Anderson, who polled his constituents and found surprising interest 
in nuclear power.

He expects environmental opposition and memories of the former 
Washington Power Supply System's failed nuclear construction program 
in the 1970s and 1980s might keep the bill from getting a hearing.

"Washington had its problem with WPPSS," Anderson said. "To say 'No, 
we're not willing to take a look' is not very progressive. To take 
new information off the table because we had a bad experience just 
isn't realistic."

Sacking of Canadian nuclear official prompts row

HOW far can a nuclear watchdog's remit to protect human health 
extend? That's the question raised by the sacking last week of Linda 
Keen, head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

In November last year, Keen ordered the shutdown of a nuclear reactor 
at Chalk River, 200 kilometres from Ottawa, after maintenance checks 
uncovered a safety breach. The reactor is also the world's largest 
single supplier of medical isotopes, used in diagnostic tests for 
conditions such as cancer and heart disease, and the closure caused a 
worldwide shortage. On 11 December, the government overruled Keen's 

The exact grounds for Keen's removal are not clear, but Gary Lunn, 
Canada's natural resources minister, says she "was prepared to put 
people's lives at risk". The act governing the CNSC appears to cover 
only the prevention of radioactive exposure, but Lunn wants to add 
maintenance of the supply of isotopes.

Sander C. Perle
Mirion Technologies, Inc., Dosimetry Service Division
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614 

Tel: (949) 296-2306 / (888) 437-1714  Extension 2306
Fax:(949) 296-1144

E-Mail: sperle at dosimetry.com
E-Mail: sandyfl at cox.net 

Global Dosimetry: http://www.dosimetry.com/
Mirion Technologies: http://www.mirion.com/

More information about the RadSafe mailing list