August 24, 2011

Earthquakes, Nuclear and Wind power

The two North Anna nuclear reactors located in Mineral, VA very near the VA earthquake epicenter were designed to survive a 5.9 to 6.1 quake.  We got a 5.8.  Makes one pause and reflect. 

The two North Anna nuclear reactors scrammed and switched to running off of power from 3 diesel generators. One of the generators on site lost coolant and had to be shut down. 

The current reactors generate 1.8 GW of power. 

Dominion filed an application to build another nuclear plant on the same site in 2007.

The quake also caused a shut down of Dominion's newest natural gas power station, Bear Garden, which was just completed this summer. So far, there have been no reports of wind turbine or solar panel shutdowns

Meanwhile Brazil just wrapped up an auction for contracts with wind, biomass, hydro and natural gas developers. And for the first time ever, the price per megawatt-hour from the wind plants came in below the price for for electric power from natural gas plants.

The auctions covered 44 new wind projects worth 2 GW of capacity. The owners of those wind farms signed contracts to sell electricity for 99.58 reais ($61.93) a megawatt-hour — about 6.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. The prices for natural gas projects came in at 103 reais per MWh ($64.48). The price difference isn't staggering, but it marks a major downward pricing trend for wind, which was priced 19% higher on average in auctions last year.

Here in the US the 2008 financial crisis pushed international prices for turbines downward more than 20%. Larger blades, bigger turbines, and lighter materials are also helping push down the cost of developing projects.

The complexities of operating nuclear power plants (both technical and political) were highlighted yesterday by this story about our plans to send spent fuel to Mongolia

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