CHICAGO—Nuclear proponents like Exelon Corporation are quick to claim that nuclear power was “reliable energy” during last year’s “polar vortex” days compared to its fossil fuel rivals.
It seems that crowing may have been premature.
The Pilgrim-1 nuclear reactor near Plymouth, MA, was closed today by the heavy snow storm buffeting the Northeast.
The reactor had already been reduced to 20% output as a “precaution” prior to the storm’s arrival when transmission lines connecting the reactor to the power grid failed. This caused the reactor automatically shut down to protect itself. Pilgrim’s safety systems are now running on emergency diesel generators, which, industry-wide have a spotty reliability record. The reactor is not likely to be back on line for several days, according to plant personnel.
“We already knew that nuclear reactors were particularly vulnerable to drought and extreme hot weather events,” notes David Kraft, director of the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, a safe-energy advocacy and nuclear power watchdog organization. (NOTE: see, “It’s the Water, Stupid!” on the NEIS website) “Pilgrim’s failure to be available during the snow emergency in New England proves nuclear power’s vulnerability during extreme winter weather as well.”
Pilgrim-1 is a 43 year-old 711 MWe GE boiling water reactor. It has a Mark-I containment, the same as the containments at Fukushima I-IV which melted down and blew up in 2011. Illinois has 4 such reactors: Quad Cities 1 & 2 near Cordova, IL, on the Mississippi River, and Dresden 2 and 3, 50 miles SW of Chicago near Morris, IL.
“The fact that they had already reduced output by 80% as a precaution shows that even the nuclear operators see how vulnerable nuclear reactors can be in a winter storm emergency. The fact that it will take several days to bring the reactor back on line shows that they won’t be available when needed. How ‘reliable’ is that?“ Kraft asks.
Exelon Corporation is seeking a $580 million bailout from Illinois ratepayers via legislative action to make up for a profit shortfall at five of its unprofitable Illinois reactors. In public statements and a report done by the Nuclear Energy Institute in October 2014, they pointed to the “reliability” of their nuclear reactors during last year’s polar vortex as alleged justification for the need to keep even unprofitable reactors operating, at ratepayer expense.
“Reality has a peculiar way of contradicting Exelon’s assertions with frightful regularity,” Kraft says. “Their reactors are vulnerable to power interruptions in extreme hot weather, and as Pilgrim-1 demonstrated today, in extreme cold weather. It’s a crap shoot filled with weather variables – not a healthy gamble to hitch an economy too for decades into the future – especially at ratepayer expense,” Kraft asserts.
“The Governor and the Legislature should not be conned into thinking they should open ratepayers wallets for $580 million simply on Exelon’s claims to reliability. With nuclear, what can go wrong eventually does, it seems,” Kraft points out.