Nuclear, coal power face climate change risk-study

Mon Jun 4, 2012 12:50am EDT

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By David Fogarty

SINGAPORE, June 4 (Reuters) - Warmer water and reduced river flows will cause more power disruptions for nuclear and coal-fired power plants in the United States and Europe in future, scientists say, and lead to a rethink on how best to cool power stations in a hotter world.

In a study published on Monday, a team of European and U.S. scientists focused on projections of rising temperatures and lower river levels in summer and how these impacts would affect power plants dependent on river water for cooling.

The authors predict that coal and nuclear power generating capacity between 2031 and 2060 will decrease by between 4 and 16 percent in the United States and a 6 to 19 percent decline in Europe due to lack of cooling water.

The likelihood of extreme drops in power generation, either complete or almost-total shutdowns, was projected to almost triple.

"This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something that we're going to have to revisit," co-author Dennis Lettenmaier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a statement.

Thermoelectric power plants supply more than 90 percent of electricity in the United States and account for 40 percent of the nation's freshwater usage, says the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In Europe, such plants supply three-quarters of the electricity and account for about half of the freshwater use.

Coal, nuclear and gas plants turn large amounts of water into steam to spin a turbine. They also rely on water at consistent temperatures to cool the turbines and any spike in river water temperatures can affect a plant's operation.

Disruptions to power supplies were already occurring, the authors noted.

During warm, dry summers in 2003, 2006 and 2009 several power plants in Europe cut production because of restricted availability of cooling water, driving up power prices.

A similar event in 2007-2008 in the United States caused several power plants to reduce production, or shut down for several days because of a lack of water for cooling and environmental restrictions on warm water discharges back into rivers, the study said.

In the past few months, large parts of the United States have suffered record heat, with March being the warmest on record for the contiguous 48 states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study projects the most significant U.S. impacts at power plants inland along major rivers in the Southeast.

"Considering the increase in future electricity demand, there is a strong need for improved climate adaptation strategies in the thermoelectric power sector to assure future energy security," the authors say in the study.

They also point to U.S and European laws enshrining strict environmental standards for the volume of water withdrawn by plants and the temperature of the water discharged.

Adaptation strategies include placing new plants near the sea or building more gas-fired power plants, which are more efficient and use less water.

(Editing by Ed Davies)

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Comments (2)
D.Baker wrote:
The primary source of GHG is fossil fuel burning electrical generating facilities.
7 Billion humans generate vast quantities of excrement. I believe this excrement is capable of providing all human electrical demands.
Right now hydrogen is perceived as a negative by product, of Nuclear Energy, when it should be the product, as the Pentagon has considered. reference info Request for Information (RFI) on Deployable Reactor Technologies ……
Large scale conversions sites are intended to replace fossil fuel powered electrical facilities the Primary Source of Carbon Emissions.
In what officials now say was a mistaken strategy to reduce the waste’s volume, organic chemicals were added years ago which were being bombarded by radiation fields, resulting in unwanted hydrogen. The hydrogen was then emitted in huge releases that official studies call burps, causing “waste-bergs,” chunks of waste floating on the surface, to roll over.

Dennis Baker
106-998 Creston Avenue
Penticton BC V2A1P9
cell phone 250-462-3796
Phone / Fax 778-476-2633

Jun 04, 2012 1:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tarcisio wrote:
First I would like to say that I’m not an expert on the subject but I’m working for 3 years building power plants and I have a chance to work with people that do that for almost 30 years and I have learned quite a lot.

So my point is:

We know that to cool the systems we just need water with a lower temperature them the oil or steam on the system.

For example yesterday we run one fan during some commissioning tests and the ambient temperature of the water was 40 C. and the oil on the bearings ware at 38 C. Ok the cooling water is hotter than the oil but that oil will only trip the fan when it reaches 110C.

So. Even if the cooling water was at 60C. in an ambient temperature it will still cool an oil that is at 90 – 100C. and the fan still work.

So. When exactly we are going to have rivers and oceans with water on more that 100C. (witch I believe will be water vapor) in ambient temperature that will not cool a power plant? Won’t we be extincted long ago when the planet get to this point?

Again I have been working with this only for 3 years and probably my understanding of a cooling tower is wrong and that’s why I couldn’t understand the point on the article.
If that’s the case I would like very much to have your comment to show me exactly what I missed.

Jun 06, 2012 7:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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