US Nuclear Plants Ready to Prove Their Value – Again – This Winter
- Temperatures expected to drop 10 to 20 degrees below normal
- Nuclear plants remain reliable through all weather extremes
- Plants also provide steady fuel availability, grid stability
With the fall refueling and maintenance outage season nearly complete, America’s 99 nuclear energy facilities are ready to meet this winter’s season of high electricity demand; only seven reactors were operating at less than full generating capacity on Friday morning, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s daily status report.
According to forecasts, temperatures into next week will plummet to their lowest this season—and exceptionally lower than normal for this time of the year.
“Frigid air from the depths of the Arctic will plunge into the United States as the jet stream (a fast-river of air along which storms travel) drops southward. The coldest days of next week will yield highs and lows generally 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal from the Northwest to the Gulf and East coasts,” AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.
This advantage was apparent during the 2014 polar vortex, when temperatures dropped precipitously across the country, breaking many local records. The intense cold wave caused fuel availability issues when natural gas pipelines experienced congestion issues. (Exacerbating the problem, quantities of gas were diverted from large-scale electricity generation to home heating.) Likewise, coal plants were hampered by their fuel stock being fused into icy blocks. Nuclear energy facilities remained fully operational throughout the event.
The regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection, which serves more than 60 million Americans across the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, lost 22 percent of generating capacity during the polar vortex. PJM reported that 47 percent of those outages were natural gas plants, 34 percent were coal, but only 3 percent were nuclear.
Heading into the cold snap this week, nuclear reactors are operating at similar levels.
“The combination of fuel availability, high capacity and resistance to weather conditions give nuclear energy the qualities it needs to resist extreme temperatures,” NEI Vice President of Nuclear Operations Joe Pollock said.
Nuclear energy shows its relative robustness not only during periods of extreme cold but also when summers are unusually hot. Last July’s “heat dome” event covered a substantial portion of the United States, from California to Maine. According to the NRC, 97 percent of the U.S. nuclear fleet was available to operate throughout the event.
Whatever the weather, the ability of nuclear energy to keep Americans safe, warm and comfortable remains key to the nation’s energy security.