June 2 News

June 2, 2012

TEPCO is considering removing some fuel rods from spent fuel pool 4 this summer.

June 2, 2012

The problem with spent fuel pool 4 is severe.  Earthquake activity in northeastern Japan has been five times normal since March of 2011, and geologists are predicting more strong earthquakes will hit the area over the next few years. Some engineers have concluded that the building for reactor 4 is too damaged to stand another major earthquake, so if it is hit by one, it could fail, leaving the fuel in the spent fuel pool exposed.  If the fuel is exposed, anyone who gets close will die rather quickly.  Also, if it is exposed, it is likely to burn or melt down.  If it burns or melts down, it will be impossible to maintain the rest of the fuel at Fukushima Daiichi, leaving it to burn or melt down as well.  Such an event could lead to the entire northern (eastern) half of Honshu being evacuated, including Tokyo.

There are well-known experts who say that if they spent fuel pool for building 4 at Fukushima fails, they will look for places to live in the Southern Hemisphere.  That being said, however, there is some good news, which is that there are a lot of “ifs” in the scenario, and we can hope one of them will fail.

Unfortunately, there is more bad news.  TEPCO has said it will not be ready to start removing fuel before January of 2014, and the whole process might not be finished for another several years after that.  This sounds unreasonable to many people, but it is not something that can be done without planning and preparation.  Just as an example, if an assembly gets stuck, it  cannot be put back, but pulling on it could break it open, making a possibly irretrievable mess.

Officials at TEPCO have been working on a new plan.  Part of the load in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool is an unused set of assemblies, because the reactor was emptied for inspection just before being hit by the earthquake and tsunami.  They plan to remove at least two of these this summer as a test.  They are not as radioactive as spent fuel, so the risks are very much lowered.

We should hope they do well.

A solar power production record has been set in Germany

June 2, 2012

On Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26, the output of solar power installations in Germany exceeded 22 gigawatts in bright, noontime, sunshine for periods in excess of an hour.  This was about 50% of the German electrical production at the time.

Electricial power from solar production in Germany does not have to be used immediately.   Excess power on the grid can be used to pump water to high reservoirs, which can later be used to generate power.  Germany has 7 gigawatts of generating capacity from pumped storage, with a storage capacity of 40 gigawatt hours, with plans to build a good deal more.

Germany has experienced a growth of over 50% in solar power in the last year alone.  The growth of most renewable resources has been very great in the last ten years or so.  Hydropower, which dominated the renewable sector in 2000 with about 65% of the output,  has been surpassed by solar, biomass, and wind, and now represents only about 15% of the total.  Renewable electrical production has grown from 6.4% of the supply to about 22% in that time.  (These numbers are a bit hard to track, as installed capacity of most renewable resources is increasing very rapidly.)

Last year alone, the German economy added 381,600 jobs in the renewable energy sector, which now employs more people than nuclear and coal combined.

The NRC has approved a power increase for Harris

June 2, 2012

On June 1 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved in increase in the electrical power output at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant.  According to the NRC, the increase is 1.66%, from 900 MW to 930 MW.  I am not sure how that works mathematically, but perhaps they were just guessing.

The Harris plant has a single pressurized water reactor.  It is run by Progress Energy and is situated about twenty miles from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Short Comment on Renewable Power

June 2, 2012

Friends and family are tired of hearing this, but I will say it once again.

When it comes to how energy is obtained and used, the people in our society act like a bunch of children, sitting at the foot of a great Christmas tree, surrounded by beautiful presents, but the only ones we seem to be interested in opening are the ones that are covered with soot, smell like petrochemicals, or glow in the dark.

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