Hotter today, a little rain, and…WHAT?

by , posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I’ve been following the drought, and the multiple heat waves, and since it’s Wednesday, that means I am of course awaiting tomorrow morning’s weekly update to the drought monitor. We’ve had a little rain here, so perhaps the situation has improved? I hope so, but do understand there are vast swaths of the country that have not had as much rain as us and even here the grass is still brown.

Anyway, I saw a link to a NY Times story about the drought and heat, specifically their impact on infrastructure, and thought I’d check that out. The piece starts out with a bit about a jet sinking into the tarmac at an airport, and I admit I wasn’t paying much attention to which city that happened in, skimming, skimming, and then I saw something a little closer to home, that made me say out loud, ok out loud very loudly, “WHAT?”

Per the article

In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm.

Umm. WHAT? They are shutting down nuclear power plants because of this drought and heat wave, and, more alarmingly to me, not shutting down others, right here in the state where I live, and I read about it in a NY Times article. Ok, need to be fair, perhaps this was in some local paper and I missed it.

So I googled “Illinois nuclear power plant” in google news and came up with some references to Fukushima, and a link to a previous NY Times blog piece that at least identified the plant – Braidwood – which this more recent article had not. I went to the Chicago Tribune’s wesbite, searched Braidwood there, some stuff about adding fish to the pond. On to the Sun Times and searched it, aside from a headline about a guy stealing deer semen, nothing out of the ordinary in their search results.

I say again: WHAT?

Really Illinois media? Really?

I admit to knowing not a lot about things nuclear, which might be somewhat of an embarrassing admission considering I grew up in a town that was home to a facility which ensured the odds are pretty good you would hit a physicist if you threw a rock into a crowd, and went to school with some of their kids who could probably do the calculation for those odds in their head. But despite my ignorance, I am nevertheless pretty sure that cooling ponds are an important safety feature of nuclear power plants. The sort of safety feature that prevent meltdowns and other bad stuff. (hahahaha – it just occurred to me that my embarassment at my ignorance is not least based in the fact that, where I grew up, statements like that are likely to be swiftly corrected with a technical explanation that starts with something like “don’t say meltdown, that’s an incorrect and misunderstood term, what would happen is…” I will therefore commit to sending a link to this post to at least one physicist of my acquaintance who can come along and correct my ignorance in a comment).

Anyway, am pretty sure dangerous and unhappy things could occur if you mess around with things like, oh, temperature and water level in a cooling pond for a nuclear power plant.

Yet here we are, with one plant shut down because its pond is drying up, and another which gets a waiver to exceed its temperature maximum, and yet another that has cut back their operations because of an overly warm pond.

And Illinois media does not seem to be concerned about it. Or at least not as concerned as they are about stolen deer semen.

But media issues aside, perhaps this is a non-story? Maybe that’s why its getting no attention? Maybe there’s nothing to be alarmed about here?


Or maybe it’s just this fucked up:

It’s so extraordinarily hot out there, on a long consistent basis, even at night, that it’s negatively impacting nuclear plants’ ability to function within their established safety parameters, in a way that could endanger lives, maybe lots of them. So the choices before the people in charge of this kind of thing are:

a.) shut them down, not just one, but all three, and maybe knock out power to a lot of people who are going to get very hot without their air conditioning, so hot that maybe some of them will die, or

b.) Just go ahead and change the rules (as it turns out, for a second time) and hope it works out okay.

I don’t know, I’m no nuclear physicist, but I’m just going to go out on a limb here and suggest that perhaps we should consider, as a society, working on adding some new alternatives to choose from.

After all, I’m no climatologist, but since I’m already out on this limb blogging away about things I know little about, I’ll just go ahead and suggest its probably only going to get hotter out there.


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