Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Atoms Not Dams. Surprising Facts for Earth Day.

Clip Art Courtesy of Jim Scherrer
Earth Day is the day we consider how we affect the planet we live on.   Let's look at some surprising facts about just how good nuclear energy is for the earth.  Every day is Earth Day when you support nuclear energy! 

And when I say "surprising facts," I mean that I was surprised.  And I love nuclear energy!

The biggest power plants in America are nuclear

James Conca at Forbes describes the Ten Biggest Power Plants in America---Not What You Think.  They are "not what you think" because Conca looks at the power produced by these plants, rather than the nameplate size of the plants.

Yeah, yeah, we all know that nuclear has a great capacity factor.  But in terms of power-produced, did you know that the biggest plant in America is Palo Verde? It is the plant that produces the most electricity.  The Grand Coulee Dam comes in third, after Palo Verde and Brown's Ferry Nuclear Station.  As a matter of fact, seven out of ten of the "biggest" are nuclear.

Vermont Yankee made more power per year (lifetime average) than Hoover Dam

There's a comment on Conca's post by Edward Leaver.  Here's part of the comment:

Lake Mead is still the nations largest artificial reservoir…..Hoover Dam’s generation capacity is 2.1
Hoover Dam
More massive than Vermont Yankee
Less electricity per year
GWe, or was until drought-lowered water levels forced downgrade to 1.6 GW. It’s used primarily for load balancing California nuclear and regional coal; for all the mighty Colorado, Hoover’s plant factor is just 24%, and 24% of 2.1 GW is but 500 MWe…. Vermont Yankee  is was 620 MWe, 87% lifetime CF, for 537 MW average, handily beating Hoover.

Something to think about the next time someone explains how Vermont absolutely NEEDS to buy power from HydroQuebec, no matter how many Canadian rivers are impounded and how many square miles of forest are drowned. 

Hydro Power makes 7% of U.S. Electricity. Nuclear makes 19%

Well, yeah. I knew that nuclear made 19% of U.S. electricity.  But somehow, I thought nuclear was running neck and neck with hydro power as the best source of low-carbon power.  I mean, there are big dams all over the U.S.: TVA, the dams on the Colorado,  the dams on the Columbia. Not to mention dams on smaller rivers.

And all those hydro plants add up to less than 7% of U. S. electricity.  About a third of what our nuclear plants made.  And they take a lot of land and they change their local ecology.

In the old days, I was a member of the Sierra Club.  I was in college and the club was for "Atoms not Dams." And the club advocated for Wilderness Areas instead of ridge-top wind turbines.  And it was truly about saving the earth and the wilderness.

Sigh.  I am showing my age.

But I am still young enough to be surprised by how good nuclear energy is. Every day is Earth Day when you support nuclear energy! 

End notes:

Wikipedia lists Hoover Dam as having a capacity factor of 23% not 24%. In his comment, Mr. Leaver seems to be giving Hoover the benefit of the doubt.

Well, okay. I still love the Grand Coulee Dam song by Woody Guthrie.


Howard Shaffer said...

As your preceding article says, there is Renewable Sprawl. Solar panels are better for the view on rooftops.

Wind turbines have to go where there is wind.

Nuclear power plants are concentrated energy sources. No sprawl there.

Joffan said...

Of course the great attractive quality of reservoir hydro is that it can be turned on really quickly as required, provided there is is enough baseload generation to cope with most demand and enough water supply to top up the reservoir. So a low capacity factor is not the end of the discussion of merit; dispatchability is also a very valuable attribute.

Of course dispatchability and intermittancy are not the same thing.

Leslie Corrice said...

Good post.