Nuclear Power Risk Management and Climate Change
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- Sep 17, 2020 4:04 pm GMTSep 17, 2020 2:29 pm GMT
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Nuclear Power has had a roller-coaster ride over its lifetime. Once proclaimed as power too cheap to meter, it has suffered from accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. Now new challenges arise: as the industry needs to adapt to climate change.
Some environmentalists have become pro-nuclear, seeing it as necessary to run the electricity grid with lots of intermittent renewable sources. George Monbiot and Mark Lynas in the UK and Patrick Moore in the USA have argued that Nuclear Power is necessary to ensure our power networks will be sufficiently decarbonized in a short enough time-frame.
This year climate records have been broken yet again: “Summer 2020 was within the top 10 hottest summers for 37% (452) of 1203 cities analyzed, and 55 cities across the U.S had their hottest summer on record. Furthermore, from January to August 2020, local record highs outpaced record lows in most places—a hallmark of climate change as global temperatures increase.” ClimateCentral.org
However as global heating gets more intense, this will create difficulties for existing and planned nuclear power stations. These are normally built in low-lying areas adjacent to water, mainly coastlines. Now this is becoming an increased risk for the utilities and their managements.
Rising air and water temperatures will make the plants need more cooling, and therefore be less efficient, cutting into profits, which is painful when the plants are operating on very small margins. Severe weather such as flooding, hurricanes and storm surges will increase. This means more risk assessments and disaster plans must be prepared, then implemented, hiking costs.
A recent report by Moody's Investors Service observed: “Climate hazards are likely to worsen for nuclear power plant operators over the next two decades, with severity varying by region.
“Ultimate credit impact depends on the ability of plant operators to invest in mitigating measures to manage risks. Over the next 10 to 20 years, nuclear operators will face growing credit risks associated with climate change.”
While nuclear power stations are among the most strongly-built infrastructure assets, plant operators may have to take additional measures to reduce exposure to these growing climate risks,
David Kamran, a Moody's Analyst, said, "Parts of the Midwest and southern Florida face the highest levels of heat stress, while the Rocky Mountain region and California face the greatest uncertainty regarding long-term water supplies. We count about 48 GW of nuclear capacity with elevated exposure to combined rising heat and water stress across the US."
Several operators have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to have their licenses extended. These and other plants will be operating till the 2050s, but it is unclear how their functionality will be affected by climate change by that time.
High temperatures have already affected nuclear plant operation: in 2019, there were seventeen incidents reported where a nuclear plant had to cut power and operate at a reduced capacity until hot weather returned to normal, according to the NRC. This year there were 25 incidents which is a significant increase. These effects will need to be monitored carefully so regulators and operators can implement mitigation policies if they continue to affect nuclear plants.
Given pressure from industry and politicians to support base-load demand, Moody's expects many nuclear plant operators to file for license extensions over the next decade. As their ability to operate effectively will be impacted by climate hazards, nuclear plant operators will continue to determine the exposure they face and design and implement resilience measures to adapt to these risks.