U.S. Nuclear Tug-of-War

Nuclear Reactors Adjust Capacity


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By Justin Williams
Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

U.S. nuclear power is in a state of constant highs and lows. It goes up. It goes down. And as production experiences this tug-of-war effect, it proves difficult to pinpoint just where nuclear power will fall as U.S. energy heads into the future.

This topsy-turvy condition is clearly evident when we look at nationwide production from last week.

Nuclear ReactorsStarting Wednesday, U.S. nuclear power dropped for the first time in four days as a result of a reactor in Maryland being shut down for a technical failure.

The very next day, U.S. power surged to an 11-week high after the reactor in Maryland, as well as reactors in Massachusetts and New Jersey, went back online.

By Friday, production fell right back down again, this time as reactors in Illinois and Pennsylvania slowed output.

This is happening nationwide, day in and day out—one valve gets shut down while another is released.

Wednesday

To show things more precisely, on Wednesday, nationwide production fell 0.4 percent to 84,196 megawatts, or 83 percent of capacity, according to Bloomberg. That was still 2.2 percent greater than figures from one year prior, when of the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S., 17 were offline.

The Maryland reactor—Constellation Energy Group Inc.’s (NYSE: CEG-PA) 862-megawatt Calvert Cliffs 2, just south of Annapolis—went down because of a steam generator feed pump failure.

American Electric Power Co. (NYSE: AEP) also put a clamp on its 1,009-megawatt D.C. Cook 1 reactor in Michigan. On Tuesday, it saw its output drop from 69 percent to 49 percent—this after just recently increasing production, as it was completely offline for routine maintenance and refueling.

But even though overall production fell on Wednesday, there were still some plants that ramped production up. NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) increased one of its reactors in Florida to 93 percent capacity, up 44 percent from Tuesday.

Thursday

On Thursday, when nuclear output went racing back up, it was largely in part because the three reactors mentioned earlier returned to service. With Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey back in the swing of things, nationwide production went up 0.9 percent, or 84,982 megawatts, according to Bloomberg, which still left the country at 83 percent of capacity. And that output is a whopping 3.4 percent greater than a year ago.

In Massachusetts, Entergy Corp.’s (NYSE: ETR) 685-megawatt Pilgrim 1 started back up at just 1 percent of capacity. It had previously been shut down since mid-April.

Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.’s (NYSE: PEG) 1,174-megawatt Salem 1 reactor in New Jersey was back up and running after being offline for more than a month due to maintenance and refueling. It re-opened, operating at just 2 percent of its capacity.

Friday

By the end of the five day work week, Friday saw the nation’s production shoot right back down 0.8 percent to 84,275 megawatts, according to Bloomberg, still leaving it at an 83 percent overall capacity. And these numbers are still 1.9 percent higher than a year ago.

This happened as a result of Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) bringing down production in two of its plants—one reactor in Illinois and the other in Pennsylvania.

The 1,118-megawatt LaSalle 1 in Illinois went from full capacity Thursday to 80 percent on Friday.

The 1,134-megawatt Limerick 1 reactor in Pennsylvania went from full capacity to 60 percent.

In addition, Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) brought its Catawba 2 plant in South Carolina from full generation to just 48 percent.

Dominion Resources Inc. (NYSE: D) went the opposite route and boosted its 973-megawatt North Anna 2 reactor to 68 percent, up from 48 percent on Thursday.

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The Outlook

Through all of the numbers and data shown from just three days last week, and a reflection of how it compares to the same figures from one year ago, there are two basic conclusions that can be made:

One, the U.S. is operating at roughly 83 percent of full capacity for overall nuclear production. While the numbers may go up and down from region to region and plant to plant, that number remains constant.

And two, overall production, even as it goes through highs and lows, remains higher than numbers from last year. This shows us that overall production is increasing.

Even with the growing focus on natural gas in the U.S., it’s hard to deny that nuclear power still has its place in the U.S. energy mix. It’s readily available—nuclear power plants are set up to use it whenever it is needed or desired—and the capacity for production far outweighs what is being used presently.

That can’t be said for any source of renewable energy. Plus, it’s a great crutch for U.S. energy dependence to lean on, and best of all, it’s cheap!

I can’t see a day when we won’t use nuclear power—not in our lifetimes anyway.

 

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