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Closing Nuclear Reactors in Ohio and Pennsylvania Will Thwart Climate Goals

  • Nuclear plant closures in Ohio and Pennsylvania will have significant negative impacts on the environment and the regional economy.
  • Closure of the plants would reverse emissions benefits gained over the last 25 years from all renewable generation in the region; total zero-emission generation in region might not return to current levels until 2032.
  • A new report highlights potential for higher electricity costs for local residents, lower GDP, and fewer jobs in the region.
  • Some advocates for closing nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania claim that renewables can make up the difference.  This is incorrect as both solar and wind power are highly variable. The majority of lost power generation capability would be made up, if needed, by natural gas plants.

The announced closure of four nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania will have severe environmental and economic impacts, according to a new report released on 4/16/18 by The Brattle Group.

Specifically, these closures would likely result in an increase of over twenty million metric tons of CO2 emissions, tens of thousands of tons of incremental air pollutants, and significantly higher electricity costs to consumers. It would also put hundreds of millions in GDP and thousands of jobs at risk for residents across Ohio, Pennsylvania and the broader region.

Nuclear Plants in OH and PA Identified for Closure

The report, based on prior studies of the impacts of nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, estimates that the combined impact of closing the Beaver Valley Power Station (PA), Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station (OH), Perry Nuclear Generating Station (OH) and Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station (PA) will:

  • Increase annual CO2 emissions by over 20 million metric tons, equivalent to 4.5 million cars on the roads and potential social costs of over $900 million per year;
  • Increase annual emissions of harmful air pollutants such as SO2, NOX and particulate matter by tens of thousands of tons, with potential social costs of $170 million per year;
    Increase annual electricity costs by as much as $400 million annually for Ohio residents and $285 million for Pennsylvanians;
  • Put more than 3,000 direct jobs at risk, as well as thousands of additional secondary jobs;
  • Eliminate tens of millions of dollars in local tax revenues.

The increase in CO2 and several harmful air pollutants due to these closures will be a major setback to the region’s efforts to reduce emissions. In 2017, these four nuclear plants provided one and a half times as much zero-emission energy as the wind and solar resources across the entire PJM region. (See chart below.)

natural gas plant

Photo of the Lakeside Power Plant natural gas plant in Lindon, Utah:  Photo Credit: Mike Scalora / Wikimedia Commons

Some advocates for closing nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania claim that renewables can make up the difference.  This is incorrect as both solar and wind power are highly variable. The majority of lost power generation capability would be made up, if needed, by natural gas plants.

renewables PJM

As western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio are centers of natural gas production, due to the use of fracking drilling methods, the construction of these plants near these resources would inevitably be attractive to investors.

Potential use of load following to support renewables

There is an element of the nuclear industry, especially among developers of small modular reactors and advanced designs, that are building in “load following” for the plants. Most large nuclear plants, especially those built in the 70s 80s, run at 100% capacity all the time.

Full size nuclear power plants can do load-following over a 24 hour period. Nuclear power plants operating in the load-following mode follow a variable load program with one or two power changes every 24 hours. The load pattern is determined by the grid operator and the utilities, depending on the power demand and the maneuvering capabilities of the plant.

Load following would allow these reactors to generate electricity at lower levels of utilization during the day, if wind and solar are putting electricity into the grid, and at higher rates at night, or when weather is a factor, etc.  In either case, the nuclear plants can have the key role of keeping the grid stable to address the variable nature of renewables.

Role of the PJM Interconnect

The PJM is the largest electricity market in North America, covering all or part of 13 states including Ohio and Pennsylvania, and spanning from Illinois to New Jersey and Virginia.

externalities1

The loss of these plants would quickly reverse the environmental benefits of all the PJM wind and solar resources developed in the region over the past 25 years – benefits which were supported with billions of dollars of customer and taxpayer investment through renewable energy credits and federal tax credits.

“As this report makes clear, policymakers should take note of the critical environmental and economic contributions of our nation’s nuclear plants, especially where their continued operation is threatened,” noted Brattle Principals and study authors Drs. Dean Murphy and Mark Berkman.

“Any discussion of Pennsylvania’s and Ohio’s energy futures must recognize the significant environmental and economic risks associated with allowing these four plants to close. The impending closures indicate a significant concession in their clean energy commitments.”

Additional findings regarding the impact of these closures from the Brattle report include:

  • An electricity price increase of up to $2.43/MWh and $1.77/MWh for Ohio and Pennsylvania residents, respectively (not accounting for any financial support the plants might need to continue operating);
  • Another 15 years, at the current renewable growth rate, for the region to return to the level of zero-emissions generation in 2017.

“Thousands of lost jobs, major hits to local tax revenues, higher electricity costs for consumers, and more harmful pollutants – any lawmaker should take steps to avoid such a situation,” said Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council Member and former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH).

“It is imperative that we act to prevent the closures of these four nuclear plants which contribute needed diversity to Ohio and Pennsylvania’s overall energy supply and provide residents a dependable power source in extreme weather situations.

Following Vermont Yankee’s shuttering in New England, we saw devastating effects. The loss of tax revenues forced local officials to make major budget concessions to the detriment of their residents, including cutting their municipal budget by 20 percent, drastically reducing police services and raising their property taxes by 20 percent.

Furthermore, in the year following the closure, carbon emissions increased by 2.5 percent due to nuclear energy being replaced by emission producing sources. It would be nothing short of irresponsible to allow the people of Ohio and Pennsylvania to share a similar fate.”

“If these plants close, the livelihoods of thousands of Ohio and Pennsylvania residents will disappear. The over 3,000 highly skilled individuals directly employed by these sites will leave to seek employment at other facilities still operating around the country,” said Lonnie Stephenson, President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“In total, thousands of jobs that directly or indirectly rely on the nuclear industry in this region will be lost. Positions at nuclear plants are good, well-paying jobs for hardworking residents, and without them the fabric of these communities will be torn apart.”

About the Report

“Impact of Announced Nuclear Closures in Ohio and Pennsylvania” was prepared for Nuclear Matters by Dr. Dean Murphy and Dr. Mark Berkman of The Brattle Group.

This report follows the recently announced planned closures of Exelon’s Three Mile Island and FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse, Perry and Beaver Valley plants, a decision the companies attribute to low power prices in wholesale markets and the lack of state and federal relief.

To develop the collective estimates outlined in the report, The Brattle Group drew from previous work estimating the impacts that the loss of the Ohio and Pennsylvania nuclear plants would have on electricity prices and emissions:

“Ohio Nuclear Power Plants’ Contribution to the State Economy” (April 2017) and “Pennsylvania Nuclear Power Plants’ Contribution to the State Economy” (December 2016).

This latest report compares the results of these most recent previous studies with sensitivity cases in order to outline various approximations.

About Nuclear Matters

The group Nuclear Matters® is a national coalition that works to inform the public and policymakers about the clear benefits of nuclear energy. The coalition supports solutions that properly value nuclear energy as a reliable, affordable, safe and carbon-free electricity resource that is essential to America’s energy future.

Nuclear Matters engages stakeholders and energy consumers around the country to educate and activate them in support of current and future nuclear energy use and to promote solutions that will help to preserve this essential energy resource.

About The Brattle Group

The Brattle Group analyzes complex economic, finance, and regulatory questions for corporations, law firms, and governments around the world. We are distinguished by the clarity of our insights and the credibility of our experts, which include leading international academics and industry specialists.

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Discussions

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on April 17, 2018

First Energy is partially going bankrupt, and are asking for federal help to keep their remaining coal and nuclear fleet in operation. which is probably the 8Billion Trump is requesting on their behalf, and the second time they have asked.

PJM has stated it isn’t needed at all. PJM is actually trying to adjust it’s grid to be more like CAISO with a real time market and battery storage requirements.

The plants will close by 2021, which throws off half the Brattle Groups projections because wind and solar are increasing at a faster rate then the 5 year install avg they used in their report, and will have closed more of the gap in the PJM service area then is currently shown in projections.

Last, nuclear and coal tend to hinder development of renewable energy resources, so the ability to add new resources will increase at an even faster rate.

wind smith's picture
wind smith on April 17, 2018

I mite accept an existing nuclear subsidy if coal was not part of the deal and did not interfere with the buildout of wind,solar,storage,DR,transmission,etc. If they can be subsidized to follow load and ramped down over a 10 year period, then maybe.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 17, 2018

Sean, nuclear tends to hinder development of renewable energy resources for several good reasons:

1) Over plant lifetime, it’s cheaper
2) It’s dispatchable – available at nighttime, or during cloudy or windless weather
3) Same output regardless of latitude
4) Unlike solar and wind, it doesn’t require fossil fuel backup – generation is 100% carbon-free

But most importantly, according to Dr. James Hansen, Director of Columbia University’s Program for Climate Awareness and Solutions; to Dr. Ken Caldeira, Atmospheric Scientist, Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology; to Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Atmospheric Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; to Dr. Tom Wigley, Climate Scientist, University of Adelaide; and to countless other leading climatologists and atmospheric scientists,

Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change.

We really should be listening to the experts, shouldn’t we?

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on April 17, 2018

I doubt those plants are built to load follow. The article went off on how they have plants designed that can load follow, but it is a new design.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on April 17, 2018

You are expecting me to listen to climate scientists on grid design matters? *boggles* that is like asking my chiropractor to perform heart surgery.

Nuclear the way most if not all our nuclear arsenal is designed, doesn’t load follow. It is a more or less constant output.

The reason why they picked THESE plants is because they are NOT profitable which means they are getting priced out of the market so there is no economic argument to be had.

the US also covers the liability insurance for nuclear power which is trillions of dollars in liability.

I would rather see them close coal plants. But coal plants are cheaper to keep around just in case of an emergency or peak times or seasons, which is kind of where they go before they fall off the list. It is harder to do with nuclear. the other reason would be in case of a temporary spike in NG prices.

I am not against nukes, but it really is First Energy’s business decision. Who also happens to be lobbying for 8 Billion in relief money.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 17, 2018

1) If nuclear would be cheaper, than those nuclear plants wouldn’t been in trouble.
It’s not strange those nuclear plants are in trouble. Our only nuclear power plant in NL is also in deep trouble. It’s cost price is ~4.3cent/KWh while the av. whole sale price is ~3.1cnt/kWh*)…

2) Of course when the NPP runs, its production is dispatchable. Similar with wind & sun.
3) Don’t see the relevance of latitude for this case.

4) Sometimes nuclear plants do stop totally within a few seconds. So they need a full back-up in the form of a spinning reserve.
The production fluctuations of wind & solar are accurately predicted hence those don’t need such expensive spinning reserve.
All in all it depend on the local situation which backup situation is more expensive.

Your “experts” are blind pro-nuclear dreamers as shown by what they promote in the article you link:
“particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle”
While there are publications about the closed fuel cycle since half a century, that next-generation still has to be designed…
________
*) As the plant started in 1973 its capital costs are near zero. Though it still has to contribute to its decommission fund as that contains only ~€200million while ~€1billion is needed.
Furthermore it still doesn’t meet the post-Fukushima safety standards. It got ~8 directions by the EU stress test, a very high number compared to the 1 direction Switzerland got with 4 reactors, etc.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on April 17, 2018

Devotion to the “renewable” narrative to the exclusion of facts is breathtaking.

wind and solar are increasing at a faster rate then the 5 year install avg they used in their report

You’d expect a rush to claim the tax credits before they expire in 2021, and good riddance.

nuclear and coal tend to hinder development of renewable energy resources

Sean, nuclear is 100% carbon-free.  If you replace it with wind and natural gas, what you wind up with is maybe 35% carbon-free.  Why are you so enthused about a change that is objectively very, very bad for the planet?  If more renewable means more emissions, why is that a good thing in your book?

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on April 18, 2018

Last, nuclear and coal tend to hinder development of renewable energy resources, so the ability to add new resources will increase at an even faster ratein the discussion

The question to ask is why build renewables? To cut emissions or to get rid of nuclear?

If the answer is to cut emissions, then nuclear fleet should be preserved. Just look at Germany and their saga of failed emission cut promises.Renewables require fossil fuel backup, nuclear does not.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on April 18, 2018

@ bas

It is quite rich for you to be criticizing other posters when clearly you are advocating for a pro coal agenda here, just as you do on German articles.

4) Sometimes nuclear plants do stop totally within a few seconds. So they need a full back-up in the form of a spinning reserve.
The production fluctuations of wind & solar are accurately predicted hence those don’t need such expensive spinning reserve.

So lets get this right. You say that something that falls over say once every 5-10 years needs full backup but something that falls over daily does not need full backup?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 18, 2018

There is a huge cost difference with a 1GW back-up needed within a few seconds (when the prime 1GW power plant fails) and a 1GW back-up which knows 48-24hours in advance when needed and how much.

The first requires 1GW capacity / power plant that is already running at 3000 revolutions per minute.
The second requires only 1GW flexible power plant capacity available….

The issue is that wind & solar use thousands of small generators to supply 1GW. Hence sudden failure of a few makes hardly any difference.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 18, 2018

… why build renewables?

Three reasons:

1. to get rid of nuclear as it:
damages the genes of next generations up to 40km away;
– socializes the high costs and effects on the genes of created nuclear waste to others and next generations;
– comes with a substantial risk on a disaster which damage health and genes of newborn in an huge area and create major exclusion zones. History shows that a nuclear power reactor has a near 1% chance to end its life in such disaster.

2. help the climate. Wind & solar emit less than nuclear and don’t inject new heat into the atmosphere;

3. much cheaper. Already at least a factor two. And the cost difference is increasing with the fast decreasing costs of wind, solar and storage.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on April 18, 2018

You’d expect a rush to claim the tax credits before they expire in 2021, and good riddance.

hopefully and at 33% CP for wind, you are only needing about 15Gw of installations to replace the nuclear capacity retirements in the PJM system. NJ is targeting 3.5gw and NY is targeting 2.4gw of offshore wind by 2030.

Sean, nuclear is 100% carbon-free. If you replace it with wind and natural gas, what you wind up with is maybe 35% carbon-free. Why are you so enthused about a change that is objectively very, very bad for the planet? If more renewable means more emissions, why is that a good thing in your book?

It sounds backwards, I know, but you have to look at the bigger system. You have 3gw of nuclear and 3 gw of coal you want to take offline and replace with wind. Which do you take offline first?

You take the nuclear offline first, because you can’t adjust the output of the nuclear plant as much nor as quickly as you can the coal plant. As new wind or solar comes online you just slowly back off coal output.

The only way to keep nuclear online during the transition, is really by adding batteries which is cost prohibitive. You know PJM is looking at the 8B proposed subsidy, going well if we had 8B in batteries, we eliminate a LOT of overhead costs and improve reliability more with 16gwh of batteries then is possible by bailing out coal and nuclear.

I really haven’t looked at the plant closures close enough to see if there are -other- problems with the plants themselves like there are with the other nuclear plant closings. The move also allows First Energy to get the decommissioning costs off their books sooner, as decommissioning prices keep increasing and they have other plants they will have to decommission in the future.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 18, 2018

At present share of liad, there is no need for US nuclear plants to load follow.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 18, 2018

hopefully and at 33% CP for wind, you are only needing about 15Gw of installations to replace the nuclear capacity retirements in the PJM system…

A calculation of equivalent energy over time does not mean wind can replace a baseload nuclear plant, not with ten times the wind power you calculate for the PJM case. What happens instead is all US cases of modern nuclear closure is more fossile fuel power capacity. See for example California, with 40 GW of natural gas plants a dozen years ago, and 43 GW today.

As for offshore wind plans, note the Cape Wind offshore wind project planned for Massachusets began in 2001 and continuing in planning for a dozen years before collapsing. Offshore wind has its advantages, and problems. On the US east coast the weeks around late August turn the coastal waters into hot flat pond, aside from the passing Atlantic hurricane, which is the other unacknowledged problem.

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on April 18, 2018

What happens instead is all US cases of modern nuclear closure is more fossile fuel power capacity.

I don’t necessarily disagree, but there is a breaking point.

According to FERC energy infrastructure update there is apparently around 131gw of planned new utility scale capacity for wind(2/3) and solar(1/3) to be online by 2021 in the US. I am not even under the impression all of them will come to fruition but it is still a hunk.

The additions for FFs are 96gw of NG, 2gw of coal, and 6.3gw of nuclear. Retirements planned were like 16gw for coal, 13gw NG, and 4.7gw for nuclear over the same period.

I personally am okay with running FFs seasonally as a plan until we iron out the problems. running FFs for 4 months out of the year is still only 33% of the yearly mix, which is 50% less then we currently use.

Keeping a nuclear plant to run a seasonal load is far more expensive then NG, and while the environment is important, we still have to have cost effective solutions.

We also have to manage to get out from under the long term contracts which are especially prevalent in the coal industry.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on April 18, 2018

We should be creating productive loads which follow production, so that no carbon-free generation ever needs to follow load.  There are plenty of candidates, but getting the systems proven and cost down to get them up to industrial scale is always going to be a challenge.

A conventional nuclear reactor doesn’t care how much electricity it makes, it just likes to stay at constant heat production.  That heat could just as easily do something else, like breaking down lignocellulose with hot water and dehydrating ethanol after fermenting it.  You could store heat in off-peak hours to provide peaking power, but the available heat-storage media leave something to be desired in the temperature range of PWRs.

If a nuclear plant fed heat directly into a storage system and had at least an hour to shut down in case of loss of load, would we ever have a SCRAM again?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 18, 2018

Sean, I am expecting you to listen to those who understand how serious the problem is, and how 30% renewable market penetration in California by 2030, and 50% penetration by 2050 (if it’s possible) will have a pitifully-insignificant effect on slowing the global atmospheric climate-escalator.

I am expecting you to listen to those who understand climate tipping points, and that if rosy renewable projections don’t pan out (like they always have in the past) it will be too late to avoid changes to climate which will last at least 100,000 years.

Renewables are toys, Sean. Playthings. After $trillions in investment, the scalable ones – solar and wind – make up less than 2% of global electricity, and have yet to close a coal or gas plant because they routinely fail to provide electricity when it’s needed. Time to get real.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 18, 2018

Don’t see the relevance of latitude for this case.

Solar’s capacity factor is highly dependent upon latitude. Nuclear’s capacity factor is independent of latitude.

Sometimes nuclear plants do stop totally within a few seconds. So they need a full back-up in the form of a spinning reserve.

“Sometimes” nuclear plants do stop totally in a few seconds, Bas. For a reactor in the U.S. it happens, on average, once every 15 years. Spinning reserve, beyond unnecessary, would be wasteful.

Between 1993-2003 all U.S. power reactors combined experienced 69 SCRAMS, and more than half were the result of an external grid disturbance – a tree falling into a power line, etc.

Because solar farms need full backup every night, they’re at least 5,475 times less reliable than nuclear reactors. Spinning reserve required.

Your “experts” are blind pro-nuclear dreamers…

Ad hominem attacks: the last refuge of a bankrupt argument.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 19, 2018

The cost of the heavy VRE system you describe is actually the cost of the VRE *plus* the cost of a full load capable FF fleet to run off season. Also, if the FF fleet must be maintained for backup as you propose, then the capital cost is sunk and the economic decision is between building marginal new VRE or flipping a switch and burning some fossiles for another couple cnts/kWh. New VRE quickly loses that contest as penetration rises, locking in the FF.

Nuclear closes FF plants; it does not keep them around for the off season.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 19, 2018

If Gen4 nuclear breaks into the open and starts running, I think it would be far cheaper to ramp 10 or 20% of an all nuclear fleet than to try and force demand shifts.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 19, 2018

Sean, despite myths advanced by anti-nuclear activists, nuclear plants have been able to follow demand for decades.

Modern nuclear plans with light water reactors have strong manoeuvring capabilities. Nuclear power plants in France and in Germany operate in load-following mode, i.e. participate in the primary and secondary frequency control, and some units follow a variable load programme with one or two large power changes per day. In France, load-following is needed to balance daily and weekly power variations of the electricity supply and demand, since nuclear power plants have a large share in the national mix. In Germany, load-following became important in recent years when a large share of intermittent sources of electricity generation (e.g. wind) was introduced to the national mix.

The minimum requirements for the manoeuvrability capabilities of the modern reactors are defined by the utilities requirements that are based on the requirements of the grid operators. For example, according to the current version of the European Utilities Requirements (EUR) the NPP must at least be capable of daily load cycling operation between 50% and 100% of its rated power Pr, with a rate of change of electric output of 3-5% of Pr per minute.

Most of the modern designs implement even higher manoeuvrability capabilities, with the possibility of planned and unplanned load-following in the wide power range and with ramps of 5%Pr per minute. Some designs are capable of extremely fast power modulations in the frequency regulation mode with ramps of several percent of the rated power per second, in the narrow band around the power level.

https://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2011/load-following-npp.pdf
(from Conclusion, pg. 51)

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 19, 2018

The issue is that wind & solar use thousands of small generators to supply 1GW. Hence sudden failure of a few makes hardly any difference.

Bas, by that logic we should swap solar panels for hamster wheels, which use millions of small, furry generators to supply 1GW. The sudden failure (or exhaustion) of a few would make even less difference.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on April 19, 2018

No demand shifts would have to be forced.  We are in a new regime where power prices can go to or even below zero†.  This is an opportunity for a new class of loads which can follow generation while turning very cheap electricity into more valuable products.

The form of that extra value might be anything, but one big one is simply being storable.  The ammonia-fuel camp has been working for some time to make ammonia directly from water, nitrogen and power.  This is just one of many possibilities.  Mostly, the system has to be (a) tolerant of highly variable power rates and (b) low in capital cost so it can sit idle much of the time.

† I’m surprised nobody has taken advantage of the negative power prices coming out of California and started a business operating a resistor bank on the Arizona side of the border.  Getting paid to waste electricity looks like a pretty sweet deal.  If you could turn some of that heat into products, such as fired pottery, you could have two revenue streams from it.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 19, 2018

History shows that nuclear can deliver only base load. Hence it needs fossil plants to deliver the variable part of demand.

The integration costs of VRE is a complex issue about which a lot of nonsense is written. Agora think tank produced a report which delivers good insight in all aspects of the problem as well as costs estimations.
Note that Lion Hirth, whose simulation studies suggested that those integration costs would become high when wind & solar penetration surpass their capacity factor, was involved too.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 19, 2018

History shows that nuclear can deliver only base load.

That’s a lie, Bas, and you know it is. Below, a graph showing German nuclear plants following consumer load, and doing it All. Day. Long. Why? Because German renewables can’t.

http://thorium-now.org/images/german_loadfollow.jpg

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on April 19, 2018

History shows that nuclear can deliver only base load. Hence it needs fossil plants to deliver the variable part of demand.

Not true. Most obviously because history is not physics; it doesn’t address what can and can’t be done; only what has been done.

What has been done is to use nuclear for baseload supply and not load following. But the reasons are more economic than technical. NPPs — like renewables — have high fixed costs and low variable costs. The grid has other dispatchable resources whose fixed costs are lower and whose variable costs — primarily fuel — are higher. So it just makes sense to leave the NPPs running at rated power and use those other resources for load following.

You could counter by observing that there are technical reasons that make present NPPs less than ideal for load following. Not that their output can’t be ramped, but it’s tricky and arguably dangerous to do so quickly. That much is true. It’s the “xenon poisoning” problem. I won’t try to explain it here, but you can google it.

The xenon poisoning problem is a complication for current reactors with encapsulated uranium oxide fuel elements when they ramp. But it’s a manageable complication. Current generation reactors can still be operated at varying output levels, and it’s routine to do so in some contexts. (Think submarines.) More importantly, the problem doesn’t exist at all in molten salt reactors, nor in most designs for small modular reactors. The economic reasons for using those reactors preferentially for base load would still apply if there are other dispatchable resources available. But there would be no technical problem to using them in load-following mode if they were the only resources on the grid.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on April 19, 2018

History shows that nuclear can deliver only base load. Hence it needs fossil plants to deliver the variable part of demand.

Wind and solar output is not baseload but tatally variable as generation can drop to zero due weather. Hence e.g. Germany has 100% backup by fossil fuels

The integration costs of VRE is a complex issue about which a lot of nonsense is written.

Integration of nuclear is not complex at all. France generated 75% of its electricity with nuclear. Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine over 50%. Sweden, Finland, Korea, Slovenia between 30 and 40%.

Lionel Hirth reviewed 100 + studies and came up with this:

Quantitative estimates of these components
are extracted from a review of 100+ published studies. At high penetration rates, say a wind market share
of 30-40%, integration costs are found to be 25-35 €/MWh, i.e. up to 50% of generation costs.

https://www.mcc-berlin.net/fileadmin/data/pdf/Lion-Hirth-2015-Integratio...

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 20, 2018

Fraunhofer institute gathered real data on the subject. In their graph (showed below) you can see that NPP’s didn’t go below 60% of their max. Even when power prices were 10cnt/KWh negative! Not good enough to qualify for load following.

Apparently the owners considered decreasing power further too risky. Now, since the NPP’s end their life anyway in a few years, the owners seem to be prepared to take more risks on thermal cracks, etc. and go down to 50%. Still not enough for real load following,

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on April 20, 2018

“History shows that nuclear can deliver only base load. Hence it needs fossil plants to deliver the variable part of demand.”

France called for you Bas, asking if it was okay to close its last remaining coal plant.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 20, 2018

What has been shown is that nuclear power plants that do more load following run into a variety of problems. French, German, etc. NPP’s suffered from thermal cracks, etc.

… it just makes sense to leave the NPPs running at rated power and use those other resources for load following.

Yes, that makes sense in a regulated environment. But not in the competitive open power market we have in NW EU. As you can see in the graph in my response to Bob above, NPP’s continue to operate at >60% even while day ahead prices are minus 10cnt/KWh….

With day ahead prices known they had >20hrs to decrease output. Seems enough time, but apparently the costs to decrease output are still too high.

It also doesn’t make sense in the near future where cheap wind+solar will deliver substantial part in near all grids around the world. Then other generators often have to decrease output to 100% of consumption while wind+solar produce on av. only 25%…

Molten Salt Reactor
Considering:
– that the major Chinese MSR project apparently stalled despite having all know how from ORNL;
– the unsolved issues such as a.o.:
The fast wear of the special steel due to the extreme high temperatures (700°C) in combination with the fluoride salt / uranium mixture;
The cleaning of the mixture from actinides;
etc.
I think that MSR’s will produce against a significant higher price per KWh than present LWR/PWR’s (if MSR’s ever become reality).

Small Modular Reactors
The power of nuclear reactors was increased from ~200MW towards 1.5GW for clear economic reasons (less steel per MW, etc). Though series produced SMR’s may become cheaper than PWR/LWR:
– I don’t see the price reduced from current 15cnt/KWh towards below 3cnt/KWh (=expected av. market price).
– I don’t see the necessary market, even not for only a thousand SMR’s.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 20, 2018

Yes, wind and solar output is not baseload at all.
There low marginal costs imply that base load generators won’t fit in the future grid.
While wind+solar produce ~25% on av. in the German grid, they had already moments in which renewable produced >100% of consumption.

Lion Hirth was involved in the Agora report regarding the integration costs, which I also linked above.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 20, 2018

Roger, yours a more complete and patient response than mine.

In the past I’ve been discouraged from mentioning nuclear submarines in advocacy because it tends to arouse associations with weapons. But I have to wonder: do those fearful of nuclear energy understand 134 sailors rountinely go to sea, eating, sleeping, and working within yards of a nuclear reactor, not only co-existing with it but depending on it for their survival for months at a time?

Important to make the distinction between load-following (matching demand with supply) and supply-balancing (balancing variable supply to ensure grid reliability). Though nuclear reactors suck at filling in the holes of variable renewable generation, ending solar and wind subsidies would make the problem go away.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 20, 2018

Bas, nuclear plants in Germany didn’t go below 60% of their max because they didn’t need to. Today on California’s grid, demand will range between 20GW 26.4GW – 23%.

Viva baseload!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on April 20, 2018

So those NPP’s are happy to pay ~€60,000/hour*) each in order to get rid of their production…
________
*) 1.3GW * 0.7 * -6.5cnt/KWh

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 20, 2018

Of course, Bas. Look at all the pretty red dots on the right side of your graph, where NPPs powered by uranium are making lots of money. There are many more on the right than there are on the left, aren’t there?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on April 20, 2018

Ontario already closed its last coal plant.

David Hervol's picture
David Hervol on April 24, 2018

Disclaimer: I live in Ohio downwind of Davis Besse and grew up with family members working in the nuclear sector (B&W Barberton). As a kid, I believed the environmental lobby’s misleading literature about why nuclear was so bad because of my lack of skeptical training. But then, I received a technical education and at one point in my career had to learn the actual quantitative dangers of radiation. It’s abundantly clear that even using the LNT as the basis for calculating deaths through radiation, nuclear power is, by far, the safest technology we have to provide electricity. Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Shellenberger (Environmental Progress- pro nuclear group) in Cleveland out of curiosity as to whether anything can be done to combat the Big Green organizations who have spread so much innumeracy and dis-information. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone can overcome the publics’s well trained Pavlovian response against nuclear power.

I have watched the fascinating back and forth between Bas Gresnigt, EngineerPoet and others. It’s like listening to two alternate versions of reality. EngineerPoet statements are technically accurate. It’s impossible to educate the local base in Ohio about the consequences of closing these carbon free energy sources when most local environmentalists are completely innumerate or use false data to back up their claims. They like to point to the Energiwiende ignoring the fact that residential users pay 3-4 times as much per kW*hr as us poor slobs in Ohio. No matter what the environmental lobby says, coal is still king in Germany and will be for many years. All you have to do is look at the daily German energy production available at //www.energy-charts.de.

I have worked in coal plants along the Ohio River as an engineering co-op student (Sammis and the now closed Burger plant). Coal is a nasty form of power, but very cheap. The only reason residential electricity in Germany isn’t even higher is that they still burn lignite. At least we burn an anthracite bituminous mixture.

The Nexus high pressure gas pipeline being built near my hometown wouldn’t need to be constructed if we had committed to nuclear 30 years ago. But you can’t get that point across to my fellow Ohioans because of all the fluff that passes for information from the big green lobby. The response is that it will be replaced by windmills and solar panels, or the difference will simply be “conserved”. When asked about long term energy storage for wind and solar, the answer is “that it isn’t a problem because we will import it from where the wind is blowing.” How many people are on-board for running an HVDC transmission line through their backyard? Coal and nuclear will be supplanted by natural gas (methane) not solar and wind.

It seems that high electricity prices are in Ohio’s future once natural gas becomes the near monopoly source of power. We have to make a decision as a country. Do we want to eliminate nuclear due to irrational fears or do we want to reduce carbon dioxide? Innumeracy, pixie dust, and misguided righteous zeal don’t cut it.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 24, 2018

thermoacoustic, my experience is similar to yours. I grew up in Illinois near Zion Nuclear Power Plant – there were never any problems, never any fears. Probably helped that my mom was a radiologist, I learned about radiation early on. Sometimes I would be waiting in her waiting room for her to finish work and encounter people trembling in fear at the thought of being x-rayed. She would show them pretty pictures of others’ bones so they could understand why it was important, why it was nothing to be afraid of.

It was obvious to everyone I knew that in the future electricity would be powered by nuclear energy – until I moved to California and encountered anti-nuclearism as a primal fear, as a religion.

Everyone has irrational fears. Michael Shellenberger, who I work with frequently on efforts to save Diablo Canyon Power Plant, likes to try to relate to audiences by admitting his irrational fear of flying. For decades I tolerated others’ irrational fear, because I knew they were afraid of something they didn’t understand. It was only a problem of education.

Now I’m realizing many don’t want to understand, and that makes me angry. There’s too much at stake to waste any more time with solar, with wind, with waves, with OTEC, with biofuel, with CCS, with geothermal, with hydrogen, with locationally-dependent, meager, intermittent sources of energy.

Keep doing what you’re doing – talking about it, explaining. Have answers to the common questions so you’re ready when they come up. Stay involved.

https://www.generationatomic.org/

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on April 25, 2018

Thermoacoustic, I missed this when it was posted.  Thanks for the shout-out.

The brazen mendacity and hypocrisy of the “Greens” staggers me.  Bas Gresnigt takes long airplane trips on his so-called “eco-tourism”.  Nobody can cite even one civilian fatality from commercial nuclear power in the US, Europe, Japan or Korea, but they’re still deathly afraid of it while people die every day from COPD caused or exacerbated by particulates from fossil power.

There are few options for fighting such massively dishonest propaganda, and none of them are good. We have failed to learn from history, and as Santayana observed, we are forced to repeat it.

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