Nuclear power uprates

Many people who are in favor of developing wind energy and solar energy use the argument that nuclear energy is slower to develop. I am in favor of wind energy and solar energy development, but I recognize that there has been less of both than new nuclear power even without new nuclear reactors. The total wind energy in the USA is now at 31 billion kwh. Nuclear is at 780 billion kwh and this increased by 200 billion kwh since 1990.

total nuclear power by year

Most of the increase has been from operating efficiency increasing from 56% to 90% and over 4.8GW of power uprates.

A discussion of the three kinds of power uprates for nuclear reactors In addition to the 4,845 MWe of approved uprates through mid-2006, the NRC is reviewing pending applications for another 1,057 MWe to be added by early 2008. In addition, based on a September 2006 survey, the NRC expects 25 additional uprate applications from 2007 to 2011 that will increase output by another 4,150 MWe.

Extended power (20%) uprates are most often performed on boiling water reactors (BWRs).

Florida Power & Light Co. wants to upgrade each of its four nuclear reactors – two at the St. Lucie plant on Hutchinson Island and two others at the Turkey Point plant near Miami. The move would add 414 megawatts of power to the grid between 2011 and 2012. FPL, owned by FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL, $58.97), also reiterated that it wants to build two more reactors at Turkey Point by 2018 and 2020 and wants to choose from one of five reactor designs by early next year.

Hypothetically, U.S. utilities could add the equivalent of 20 new nuclear reactors by 2020 through the uprate by upgrading the maximum power level of the nation’s existing 104 reactors. The National Energy Policy estimates the nuclear up-rate potential at 12,000 MW. Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), in its Vision 2020 publication, expects the industry to add 10,000 MW of capacity through increased efficiency and improved performance of the existing 104 reactors. NEI also states that a cornerstone of the nuclear industry’s vision is to add 50,000 MW of new generating capacity by 2020. So far public plans are for 5 new reactors that will supply about 9GW by 2020. 12GW of power uprates and 9GW of new reactors would be about 200 billion kwh of power added each year by 2020. I believe that more of the 29 license applications will be submitted over the next two years and perhaps half will be completed by 2020. Eleven more reactors in addition to the other five for about 17GW more power for a total of about 360 billion kwh in added power or an average of about 20 billion kwh per year in new nuclear power. This is a faster rate than what wind power has been able to achieve in the USA.

The US wind industry hopes to achieve the power additions described above. Note: 1GW of added wind is about 2.5 billion kwh while 1GW of nuclear is 8.5 billion kwh because of the operating efficiency. (sometimes the wind is not blowing)

Of the four incomplete reactors, Browns Ferry 1 has been completed and activated, Watts Bar 2 has announced plans for 2013 completion. Atlantic Energy (Seabrook) 2 in New Hampshire, and Washington Public Power System 1 are the other two incomplete reactors.

As I have noted before, MIT researchers have found a way to boost the amount of energy that nuclear reactors produce by 50%.

Westinghouse is interested in commercializing the new design because the greater efficiencies achievable with the annular fuel would allow new light-water reactors to be significantly smaller, Lahoda says. “The biggest cost in a nuclear reactor is the building… If you can reduce the size of these things—especially the containment building—or keep them the same size and get more power out of them, then you’ve made money,” he explains. At least 10 years of work would be required to commercialize the new technology in the U.S., Lahoda predicts.

The American Wind Energy Association hopes to get 6% of the US electricity generated by wind by 2020 This would be about 300 billion kwh or nine to ten times more wind power than is generated today by wind (31 billion kwh) The EIA project wind power to increase form 31 billion kwh to 52 billion kwh.

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I had not verified the values from the article." REL="nofollow">the energy density of coal is 6.67 kW*hours/kg. from wikipedia

Potentially 11 million kilowatt-hours per kilogram of thorium. (at 50% efficiency to convert to electricity)

It is 4000 tons if the conversions are both equally efficient." REL="nofollow">From the thorium energy blog


"The energy contained in one kilogram of Thorium equals that of four thousand tons coal" seems slightly excessive to me. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, it does not square with what you actually get out of 1 kg of thorium - only enough power for 50 people a year. The 50-person-years of electricity figure is based off of 1 MW being approximately enough electricity for 1,000 people a year and a 1 MW thorium reactor consuming 20 kg of thorium a year, obtained by dividing the uranium needs of a 1 GW reactor (20,000 kg/year) by 1,000. Maybe you need totally different amounts of fuel for a uranium or thorium reactor, but I doubt it, so I'm guessing that the 20 kg-for-1 MW figure is correct.

In any case, people don't burn eight hundred tons of coal per year for their power needs, so the "four thousand tons coal" seems high. Unless a kg of thorium could meet the power requirements of more than 50 people/year.