Can nuclear power plants deliver on all the attributes U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry claims

October 11, 2017

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer, 2017 October 11

The U.S. has finally recognized the potential attributes that nuclear  power generation brings to the power grid. “US energy secretary Rick Perry has called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to act swiftly to address threats to grid resiliency through market reforms to recognise the attributes of baseload generation sources including nuclear”, and, “Traditional baseload generation, with on-site fuel supplies and the ability to provide voltage support, frequency services, operating reserves and reactive power, is essential to provide resiliency during events like the Polar Vortex of 2014, and more recently hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Perry said”. Also, “Perry’s proposed rule would allow for the recovery of costs of “fuel-secure generation units that make our grid reliable and resilient”. To be eligible, units must be located within FERC-approved organised markets; be able to provide “essential energy and ancillary reliability services”; and have a 90-day fuel supply on site. They must also be compliant with all applicable environmental regulations” (Reference 1).
 
Question is, can U.S. nuclear generation deliver on those attributes.

This is what the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) says, (Reference 2)

“Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) are designed as base load units and are not designed to load follow (either by plant operator action or automatically via external control signal). While operators can adjust power in general, rapid changes are difficult and power changes are most problematic near the end of a fuel cycle (typically 18 months) where reactor power control is more complicated.
NPPs control systems will not be interfaced with or controlled from grid network control systems. Control of a NPP has to be handled by the NRC licensed operators to ensure nuclear safety.”

Thus in the U.S. it looks as if nuclear plants are not licensed to provide attributes like dispatchable load-following, automatic generation control (AGC) and primary frequency response although they would provide reactive power and voltage support and they certainly have adequate on-site fuel supplies. They also provide highly reliable baseload with a 92.5 percent capacity factor in 2016. Since nuclear units are operated at 100 percent full power they would not provide operating reserves. This is not to say they cannot do all the things that energy secretary Perry claims it just means the U.S. NRC prohibits them from doing so.

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