Thursday, January 24, 2008

South's Drought Threatens Nuclear Power Plants

South's drought a threat to nuclear power plants
January 24, 2008
LAKE NORMAN, N.C. -- Nuclear reactors across the South could be forced to throttle back or shut down temporarily this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the cooling water they need to operate.
Utility officials say these shutdowns probably wouldn't result in blackouts. But they could lead to higher electricity bills. Last summer, there was one brief, drought-related shutdown at a reactor in Alabama.

"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. "This is becoming a crisis."
An Associated Press analysis of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors found 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought.
All but two are on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants' turbines.
Because of the yearlong dry spell in the South, water levels on those lakes and rivers are getting close to the minimums set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"If water levels get to a certain point, we'll have to power it down or go off-line," said Robert Yanity, spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., which operates the Summer nuclear plant outside Columbia.
About 3 million customers of the four commercial utilities that have reactors in the drought zone get their power from nuclear energy. If a prolonged shutdown were to happen, utilities 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 Dahlman Rose & Co in New York. "It would cost 10 times that amount if you had to buy replacement power, especially during the summer."

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