Monday, August 11, 2014

Space Weather and Nuclear Power Plants

Recently the Washington Post ran an op-ed on the dangers posed by solar flares:
[Excerpted] Scientists have been predicting an upswing in volatile solar behavior, resulting in “space weather” that poses a surprisingly dangerous threat to modern society. A big “coronal mass ejection” is one of the least commonly discussed natural hazards humanity faces, but experts warn that “everything that plugs into a wall socket” could be at risk if the products of one hit the planet.
The danger is not hypothetical. A huge coronal mass ejection hit the Earth in 1859, inducing dangerous sparks in telegraph offices, some of which burned to the ground. In 1921, the planet saw a similar episode. But humans now rely much more on vast, interconnected electricity grids.
….a National Academy of Sciences study warned in 2009 that the costs could be staggering, ending electric power to millions, permanently damaging power-grid equipment, costing up to $2 trillion during the first year of recovery — and taking four to 10 years to fully rebuild.
Even access to basic necessities such as potable water and toilet facilities could be limited because a big coronal mass ejection could knock out the electric pumps that drive public water systems.
…A recent NASA write-up highlighted a huge, 1859-style coronal mass ejection that narrowly missed Earth two years ago. [end]

Majia here: The op-ed fails to mention the CATASTROPHIC risks posed by nuclear power plants in the event of a sustained power outage:
America's nuclear safety under scrutiny after Oyster Creek's Sandy alert Richard Schiffman Nov 1, 2012 The Guardian

[Excerpted] Watchdog groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) warn that America's nuclear facilities remain vulnerable to a variety of potential catastrophic events, both natural and resulting from deliberate sabotage or cyber-attack. And they say that federal regulations are currently inadequate to deal with all of these possible disaster scenarios.

…A 2011 study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory warns that a massive solar storm could knock out electricity in some areas for weeks, overwhelming the capacity of many nuclear plants to keep their critical cooling systems operational.

But nuclear regulators have not required power plants to guard against the risk of solar storms....

Majia here: The lack of regulation is not surprising but it is worrisome given the real risks solar flares pose for nuclear plants:

Ryan, M. (2012, June 19) Solar Flares Endanger Nuclear Plants, Power Grids. Breaking Energy,

[excerpted] In the last decade, a range of US agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, FERC and NRC, and the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) have been assessing ways to minimize damage from these hard-to-predict events.

NERC Vice President Mark Lauby said a GMD Task Force has looked at scenarios and concluded that a “voltage collapse” would be the most likely outcome of a severe GMD, which would mean a blackout and probably equipment like system transformers damaged or destroyed.[end]
Majia here: A couple of years ago, Enenews ran a very interesting post about the risks posed by nuclear power plants:
Enenews (2011) Solar storms threaten nuke plants: Electric power outages could last “for years or even decades” — Risk significantly outweighs that of major earthquakes

The problem with a solar flare is that it can take out transformers, which are very difficult to replace. Please read my analysis of why here: Generators and Nuclear Power Plants

Jebus posted a very interesting link at the Enenews forum linked above of a scientific study of the nuclear risks posed by flares at this forum. Although the comment can still be seen, the link is no longer active. Why is that?

Someone took the article down. I cannot find it. Whoever took it down doesn't want us to know how vulnerable nuclear power plants are to solar flares.

A sustained power outage impacting a region with multiple reactors (with spent fuel pools) has ELE potential.

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