Global Warming Straining U.S. Electrical Grid

Posted by By at 24 August, at 09 : 54 AM Print

Last week, I reported the shutdown of a nuclear power plant in Connecticut. The water it drew from Long Island Sound had become too warm to be used to cool the plant.

There are five nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania, three of them on the Susquehanna River:

  • Three Mile Island (Excelon Nuclear), on the Susquehanna River, a few miles south of the state capital, Dauphin County. The plant was partially shut down early Wednesday for maintenance, but a failed pump in the turbine building forced a complete plant shutdown “as a safety precaution.” The plant operator has not yet said when the plant will be back online.
  • Susquehanna Steam Electric Station (PPL Susquehanna), on the Susquehanna River in Salem Township, Luzerne County, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. The Unit 1 reactor reportedly was shut down in June while engineers investigated a “minor water leak.”
  • Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, on the Susquehanna River in Delta, York County, about 20 miles south of Lancaster.
  • Limerick Generating Station (Excelon Nuclear), on the Schuykill River in Montgomery County; in Pottstown, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The plant shutdown one of its reactors in mid-July when a transformer malfunctioned. The reactor was back online a week later.
  • Beaver Valley (FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co.), on the Ohio River in Beaver County, about 25 miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh. The plant did shut down in April, for refueling, but Gresh said it has not shut down or reduced power because of too-warm river water.

In spite of the record high temperatures that have plagued the nation this summer, none of the Pennsylvania plants have had to shut down because the river water on which they depend for cooling had become to warm, according to PA Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Katherine Gresh.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Thursday the Susquehanna River at Danville, PA, a few miles downstream from the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, at Salem, was nearly 85F. The Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut shut down Sunday because cooling water being drawn from Long Island Sound was averaging nearly two degrees above the 75F limit set in the plant’s license.

But water expelled from a power plant is warmer then water taken in, and information about the temperature of Susquehanna River water above the Salem Township plant was not immediately available.

The Chicago Tribune reported last week nuclear and coal-fired power plants along the Great Lakes have been granted waivers to release hotter-than-normal water into the lakes, causing fish to die or migrate to deeper, cooler locales. Plant operators say they need the waivers because shutting down the plants will cause them to lose money and to be unable to supply electricity for their elderly customers.

I am not, at least on this point, declaring nuclear power to be unsafe. Indeed, there are risks to everything, and we humans must make choices. Shutting down a plant because it cannot be cooled is a smart decision. Shutting down fossil-fired plants because they befoul the air and contribute to global warming also would be a smart decision, but it is so far one we have chosen not to make.

And nuke’s produce huge amounts of electricity. The Millstone plant, in Connecticut, is said to provide half the electricity used in the state, and about 12 percent of the power used in New England. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says there are 65 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., with a total 104 reactors.

The immediate question is whether nukes and coal-fired plants put our water supply at risk. Evidence is beginning to mount that they may. And as river temperatures rise, the plants themselves may be at risk, if only of being shut down.

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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