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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Confusion with the IAEA reactor performance data in the PRIS

July 30, 2017

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer, 2017 July 28.
This article, edited for space, appeared in the 2017 June edition of the Canadian Nuclear Society`s BULLETIN as a Letter to The Editor.

BULLETIN Publisher’s NoteThe CNS Nuclear Canada Yearbook commenced using PRIS data this year. Data was no longer available from the CANDU Owners Group, and data from public sources such as Nuclear Engineering International or Nucleonics Week had become either incomplete or late in publication.

When the author was preparing an article on the performance of Ontario’s CANDU nuclear units (reference 1) he wanted to include some idea of the amount of energy being curtailed by a unit at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station due to load cycling. To do this required a close look at the  published performance indicators in the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)(reference 2) and this revealed some discrepancies.

The performance of some of Ontario’s nuclear generating stations is affected by the surplus baseload generation (SBG) in the province (reference 1). Some nuclear units saw electricity output reductions during periods of surplus baseload generation (SBG). This means the CFs (Capacity Factors) are not a true performance indicator for those units (reference 3). A better metric of performance in these cases would be the Unit Capability Factor (UCF – used by Ontario Power Generation and by Bruce Power). The Energy Availability Factor (EAF) is another performance indicator and is shown in the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), (reference 2). The EAF adjusts the available energy generation for energy losses attributed to plant management, planned and unplanned, and for external energy losses beyond the control of plant management while the UCF only includes energy losses attributed to plant management and excludes the external losses beyond control of plant management like load cycling/load following, grid failures, earthquakes, cooling water temperature higher than reference temperature, floods, lightning strikes, labour disputes outside the plant etc. The UCF seems a much better indicator of how well the unit is being managed than either CF or EAF. The UCF rather than the CF would also be the more appropriate number to use when calculating the Equivalent Full Power Hours (EFPHs) on the reactor pressure tubes of Bruce units that use steam bypass at constant reactor power since steam bypass operation does not affect the EFPHs on the pressure tubes. Only  reactor power changes would do that.
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Performance of Ontario’s CANDU nuclear generating stations in 2016

April 3, 2017

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer, 2017 March 31

At the end of 2016 Darlington had a four unit average lifetime Capacity Factor (CF) of 83.6 percent and an average annual CF of 83.6 percent. Bruce A had a four unit average lifetime CF of 69.4 percent and an average annual CF of 81.9 percent. Bruce B had a four unit average lifetime CF of 83.5 percent and an average annual CF of 82.3 percent. The six unit Pickering station had a six unit average lifetime CF of 72.5 percent and an average annual CF of 73.6 percent. More information, and performance data for 2015 are in reference 1.

The raw performance data for 2016 are taken from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Note that the Load Factor term used in the PRIS database has the same meaning as CF. CFs are based on the (net) Reference Unit Power and on the (net) Electricity Supplied, as defined in the PRIS database.

The performance of some of Ontario’s nuclear generating stations is affected by the surplus baseload generation (SBG) in the province. The surplus usually arises because of unreliable intermittent wind generation coming in at times of low demand and wind generation is expected to increase even more over the next several years. Some nuclear units saw electricity output reductions during periods of surplus baseload generation (SBG). This means the CFs are not a true performance indicator for those units (reference 2). A better metric of performance in these cases would be the Unit Capability Factor (UCF – used by Ontario Power Generation and by Bruce Power). The Energy Availability Factor (EAF) is another performance indicator and is shown in the PRIS database. The EAF adjusts the available energy generation for energy losses attributed to plant management, planned and unplanned, and for external energy losses beyond the control of plant management while the UCF only includes energy losses attributed to plant management and excludes the external losses beyond control of plant management like load cycling/load following, grid failures, earthquakes, cooling water temperature higher than reference temperature, floods, lightning strikes, labour disputes outside the plant etc.

For Ontario there should be little significant difference between CF, UCF and EAF for units that do not load cycle (an external energy loss) since other external energy losses will be close to zero. For units that load cycle the UCF will be higher than the EAF and higher than the CF but the EAF should not be significantly different from the CF. For example, from PRIS data, Bruce B unit 5 has a 2016 annual CF of 94 percent and an EAF of 97.4 percent. However based on what was just said above this EAF of 97.4 percent must really be a UCF of 97.4 percent and this anomaly may apply to all EAFs given in this article! The UCF and the EAF are based on reference ambient conditions so, unlike the CF, they cannot exceed 100 percent. In some cases the CF can be more than the EAF because the cooling water temperature is lower than the reference temperature and that increase the electrical output of the unit.

All manoeuvred reductions in electrical output from Ontario’s nuclear stations to accommodate the much more expensive wind generation are done by the flexible Bruce A and Bruce B stations using turbine steam bypass to condenser and they get paid for the lost revenue. Of course it makes little environmental, economic or technical sense to reduce the low cost output from nuclear stations, with practically zero greenhouse gas emissions, to accommodate expensive unreliable wind generation on the grid that is not needed anyway. The provincially owned Darlington and Pickering stations do not manoeuvre but would have to come off line to accommodate wind and they would not get paid for the lost revenue. While the Bruce electricity output reductions are easily seen from the hourly Generator Output and Capability Report on the website of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) it is more difficult to know if nuclear unit shutdowns are to mitigate SBG or are due to forced outages. Maybe an outage was extended, or a planned outage was rescheduled, to accommodate anticipated SBG. However, according to the Bruce Site Updates website there appeared to be be just one overnight shutdown, on unit 2, caused by SBG.
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