Effect of Solar Storms on the Grid and Nuke Plants?

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I found a recent article suggesting that solar storms predicted in in the next few years pose a serious threat to the electrical grid and thus to nuclear plant cooling systems:

"Severe Solar Storms Could Disrupt Earth This Decade: NOAA," International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/194166/20110808/solar-storms-severe-solar-storms-earth-paralyse-carrington-event.htm [Broken], 8/8/11. Here's an excerpt "A report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that over the standard 40-year license term of nuclear power plants, solar flare activity enables a 33 percent chance of long-term power [grid] loss, a risk that significantly outweighs that of major earthquakes and tsunamis."

Electromagnetic energy from solar flares can destroy power transformers on earth and cause long-term power outages. And as we saw in Fukushima, nuclear power plants crucially rely on the power grid to continuously cool nuclear fuel (both active fuel and spent fuel).

Here's an example of a fairly short-term power outage caused by solar activity ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/03/11/f-power-2020-aging-infrastructure.html ): "On March 13, 1989...a violent solar storm knocked out power across Quebec for more than nine hours during the chilly tail end of winter. The blast of energy and plasma from the sun also caused smaller blackouts and damage to electricity infrastructure in other parts of North America.

According to the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storm cost Hydro-Québec and Public Service Electric and Gas of New Jersey more than $30 million, putting the event on par with damage caused by hurricanes and earthquakes."

Here is a article that paints a scary scenario, though it is from a more questionable source: "Solar flare could unleash nuclear holocaust across planet Earth, forcing hundreds of nuclear power plants into total meltdowns" http://www.naturalnews.com/033564_solar_flares_nuclear_power_plants.html .

Several questions:

a) Is Oak Ridge National Laboratory correct in saying that there is a 33% chance of long-term grid failure to the average nuclear power plant over 40 years due to solar flares? And what do they mean by long-term?

b) What would you recommend be done (from a technical perspective) to prevent possible nuclear meltdowns due to possible long-term power outages caused by massive solar flares? Is there any way to retrofit a nuclear plant to (temporarily or permanently) run its cooling systems off of the power generated by the nuclear plant itself? Why weren't plants designed to do this in the first place? (Of course, the current diesel generator and battery emergency backup systems would be needed too.)

c) Any reactions to the above articles?

Thanks, Neil
 
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Astronuc

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Nuclear plants are designed to shutdown when they lose connection to the grid. The decay heat is not sufficient to provide the turbine-generator with appropriate power to generate electricity. Instead, plants have backup or emergency diesel generators. Some NPPs may have fossil units nearby.
 
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Neil, take a look at the Carrington Event [solar storm of 1859].

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

What happens when dozens or even hundreds of NPPs lose the grid at the same time?
 

swl

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Neil, take a look at the Carrington Event [solar storm of 1859].

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

What happens when dozens or even hundreds of NPPs lose the grid at the same time?

Hope they bring in the back-up diesel fuel shipments before the roads are grid-locked.

Even if we are to be concerned with North Anna's back-up generator failure, it's unlikely that many plants will loose enough generators for more than one ore two real Fukushima-esque melt fests.
 

jim hardy

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""Hope they bring in the back-up diesel fuel shipments before the roads are grid-locked.""

we had no trouble with fuel deliveries after hurricane Andrew. Even though we had weeks of fuel on hand for emergency diesels we kept them topped off.

uilities learned from the 1968 blackout that you need to be able to "reboot" your grid.

It would take quite a diesel to start a 7,000 hp boiler feed pump that might draw 20,000 hp while starting. So a large fossil unit in a black-out is in same pickle as a nuke - down until the grid comes back.
To that end utilities sprinkled around their systems smaller plants capable of bootstrapping the larger units. Gas Turbines work well for that. The 400 mw fossil units adjacent my plant had 12,000 hp of diesels enough to start one of their 3,000hp feed pumps and get them going.

so a solar induced blackout shouldn't last long.
far worse would be something that physically destroys the power line support towers. like an earthquake.

old jim
 

jim hardy

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Fascinating link, Astro.

The power grid is a delicately balanced, running machine.
We dont realize that because the wires don't spin at 3600 rpm like the generators do.
In reality each wire is analogous to a mechanical drive shaft.
Power flowing down it is analagous to torque.
Torsional oscillations are possible, as is breakage from overtorque.

When the computers quit the system operators were in same situation as pilots of that AirFrance Airbus - flying blind.

A software bug known as a race condition existed in General Electric Energy's Unix-based XA/21 energy management system. Once triggered, the bug stalled FirstEnergy's control room alarm system for over an hour. System operators were unaware of the malfunction; the failure deprived them of both audio and visual alerts for important changes in system state.[12][13] After the alarm system failure, unprocessed events queued up and the primary server failed within 30 minutes. Then all applications (including the stalled alarm system) were automatically transferred to the backup server, which itself failed at 14:54. The server failures slowed the screen refresh rate of the operators' computer consoles from 1–3 seconds to 59 seconds per screen. The lack of alarms led operators to dismiss a call from American Electric Power about the tripping and reclosure of a 345 kV shared line in northeast Ohio. Technical support informed control room personnel of the alarm system failure at 15:42.[14]
old jim
 
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I think plants would probably be fine assuming no serious civil unrest after loss of power. I'm a bit concerned about possibility of fires near the plants, starting from the grid connected equipment.
The circuit breakers are highly non trivial devices at this kind of power levels.
 

NUCENG

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Fascinating link, Astro.

The power grid is a delicately balanced, running machine.
We dont realize that because the wires don't spin at 3600 rpm like the generators do.
In reality each wire is analogous to a mechanical drive shaft.
Power flowing down it is analagous to torque.
Torsional oscillations are possible, as is breakage from overtorque.

When the computers quit the system operators were in same situation as pilots of that AirFrance Airbus - flying blind.



old jim
And if that isn't enough we have a large political bloc that wants to make the grid even more unstable by increasing wind and solar generation and shutting down nuclear and fossil generation.

I like the idea of free energy that doesn't pollute, but I think we have a long way to go to make it possible.
 
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And if that isn't enough we have a large political bloc that wants to make the grid even more unstable by increasing wind and solar generation and shutting down nuclear and fossil generation.

I like the idea of free energy that doesn't pollute, but I think we have a long way to go to make it possible.
Can't see the logic in that statement . Somewhere in this world ,the tide is always going in or out ,the wind is blowing,rivers are flowing ,geysers are spouting and the sun is shining.

No such thing as "free energy" but some sources are sustainable and others are not and appear to incur lethal costs.
One step on , maybe we should think outside the 'grid' ?
 

jim hardy

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if we take it to the logical extreme, way past anything practical,

one day mankind will have to get by on just what precious little energy he can eke out of the sun every day.

These are the 'good old days'.


We are still on the upward trend of per capita energy use.
To that end we are dependent on a huge machine of which we are largely unaware - the electric grid.

the big machine evolved because it enjoys economy of scale.
 

NUCENG

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Can't see the logic in that statement . Somewhere in this world ,the tide is always going in or out ,the wind is blowing,rivers are flowing ,geysers are spouting and the sun is shining.

No such thing as "free energy" but some sources are sustainable and others are not and appear to incur lethal costs.
One step on , maybe we should think outside the 'grid' ?
When you say that you "can't see the logic," are you trying to be argumentative?

Thinking "outside the grid" is the exact opposite of genertion "somewhere in the world" and getting that power to a customer.

The opponents of fossil and nuclear generation baseload are usually the ones who claim solar and wind power are "free and don't pollute. I'm not that naive. As to lethal costs the pollution from coal is much more deadly than multiple Fukushima, Chernobyl and TMI2 accidents. Yet the most vocal opposition is to nuclear power. Is that logical?

If you believe in global warming, which is best: burning coal, burning switchgrass, ar nuclear power?

Smaller countries like Germany and Italy have a much better chance to increase the share of solar and wind generation because of their geographic area. That will make a smart grid easier for them to achive. The topic of solar storms is another excellent distinction between the larger and smaller counties and their vulnerability to grid disruptions. Electomagentic disturbances are directly proportional to the length of conductors exposed to a solar field.

Distributed generation with solar and wind power is limited currently to residential or small business applications because they are less sensitive to power quality and reliability requirements than manufacturing, industry and other larger commercial customers.

Implementation of power storage capacity would be a big help. That too however, is not yet technically achievable. Those limitations may change as research and development continues.

I am not saying these changes can't or won't happen. I am all for continuing to develop a diversity of improvements including smart grid technology. In the meantime I will work to prevent the TRULY ILLOGICAL" destruction of power systems that have become essential to our society in the misguided pursuit of simplistic feel-good solutions that don't solve anything.
 
Jim Hardy: "we had no trouble with fuel deliveries after hurricane Andrew. Even though we had weeks of fuel on hand for emergency diesels we kept them topped off. uilities learned from the 1968 blackout that you need to be able to "reboot" your grid."

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/194166/20110808/solar-storms-severe-solar-storms-earth-paralyse-carrington-event.htm [Broken]: "...there may also be disruption of power supply for years, or even decades, as geomagnetic currents attracted by the [solar] storm could debilitate the [grid] transformers."

How long must active nuclear fuel rods in a reactor be cooled to prevent a meltdown after a reactor is shut down? Is the quote above from the International Business Times way off? I honestly don't know. But if solar storms were to knock out the grid for a year, society would probably descend into chaos. Also, the process of refining oil into diesel fuel or nat gas into propane requires electricity, which would no longer be available, unless backup generators were brought to the refineries. And the NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) backup generators require continuous diesel or nat gas. Also, trucks would be needed to ship the fuel to the NPPs during a one year power outage.

The spent fuel pools require water pumping for 10 to 20 years to cool down new rods or else the water would boil away and large amounts of radiation could be released. In 1997, the Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a "massive calamity at one spent-fuel pool could ultimately lead to 138,000 deaths and contaminate 2,000 sq. mi. (5,200 sq km) of land" (source: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2060880,00.html ).

Thanks everyone for all your interesting responses above. Best, Neil
 
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jim hardy

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""Is the quote above from the International Business Times way off? I honestly don't know. ""

i was going to check his source for that claim but get a 404 on the link.

myself i think it's quite a stretch of imagination.

long power lines may relay out but i dont see a mechanism for wrecking transformers .
The same features that keep the internal magnetism inside the transformer will keep the external magnetism from doing much.

just my seat of the pants feeling. i could be wrong.

any transformer design guys here?
 
Jim Hardy "i was going to check his source for that claim but get a 404 on the link."

Oops, I added a stray colon in the link. I've corrected the link in my post above. The link is also here: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/194166/20110808/solar-storms-severe-solar-storms-earth-paralyse-carrington-event.htm [Broken] . Best, Neil
 
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Astronuc

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http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/194166/20110808/solar-storms-severe-solar-storms-earth-paralyse-carrington-event.htm [Broken]: "...there may also be disruption of power supply for years, or even decades, as geomagnetic currents attracted by the [solar] storm could debilitate the [grid] transformers."

How long must active nuclear fuel rods in a reactor be cooled to prevent a meltdown after a reactor is shut down? Is the quote above from the International Business Times way off? I honestly don't know. But if solar storms were to knock out the grid for a year, society would probably descend into chaos. Also, the process of refining oil into diesel fuel or nat gas into propane requires electricity, which would no longer be available, unless backup generators were brought to the refineries. And the NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) backup generators require continuous diesel or nat gas. Also, trucks would be needed to ship the fuel to the NPPs during a one year power outage.
The issue of electrical grid security/reliability/stability is in the realm of electrical engineering, and really has nothing to do with nuclear engineering. The IBTimes articles is speculative, and perhaps overly speculative.

It is hard to imagine a nation having an electrical grid down for weeks, months, years. The technology is much more robust than in the 1800s.

The solar activity is a discussion topic for astrophyiscs. Prior to solar cycle 24, there was speculation about the sun entering a relatively prolonged quiet phase. Now we see 'speculation' about an active period in 2013. We discourage and even prohibited 'overly speculative' posts at PF to avoid the unnecessary and unproductive arguments about what might be.
 
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It is hard to imagine a nation having an electrical grid down for weeks, months, years. The technology is much more robust than in the 1800s.
From what I've heard, the main concern is the very large, extra high voltage transformers. It is possible to protect them from large surges of geomagnetically induced DC current, but most transformers don't have this protection, and there's no guarantee that the grid operators would take the necessary action to protect the many transformers without automated protection (i.e., make the decision to disconnect them and shut down power before the storm arrives).

If a bunch of them were destroyed in a single event, there would be trouble. We do not keep any significant number of this class of transformers in reserve, and there is in fact a long manufacturing backlog for new ones.

There's a bit of discussion on this here.
 

Morbius

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Nuclear plants are designed to shutdown when they lose connection to the grid. The decay heat is not sufficient to provide the turbine-generator with appropriate power to generate electricity. Instead, plants have backup or emergency diesel generators. Some NPPs may have fossil units nearby.
Exelon Corporation that owns the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant Units 2 and 3 on the Susquehanna River also owns the Conowingo dam and hydro plant just down stream of the Peach Bottom plant. I recently read the testimony of an Exelon executive that states that they have a dedicated underground electric line from the dam to the nuclear power plant, so the dam provide backup power.

That seems like such a great idea. Lots of nuclear power plants are located on rivers, and owning a dam on the same river seems like a very good idea.

The Conowingo dam is a "run of the river" dam and is a lot older than the nuclear plant.

Greg
 
The issue of electrical grid security/reliability/stability is in the realm of electrical engineering, and really has nothing to do with nuclear engineering. The IBTimes articles is speculative, and perhaps overly speculative.

It is hard to imagine a nation having an electrical grid down for weeks, months, years. The technology is much more robust than in the 1800s.

The solar activity is a discussion topic for astrophyiscs. Prior to solar cycle 24, there was speculation about the sun entering a relatively prolonged quiet phase. Now we see 'speculation' about an active period in 2013. We discourage and even prohibited 'overly speculative' posts at PF to avoid the unnecessary and unproductive arguments about what might be.
Considering the fact that the operation of nuclear power plants DEPENDS on an ongoing and functioning source of electrical power, I would think that the two realms are critically interdependent and a rational discussion of the nuclear engineering realm cannot ignore the effect that the elimination of the electrical engineering realm would create.

Also considering the fact that this is a LP/HC event, I believe that it needs to be taken seriously (Low Probability/High Consequence).

In order to provide sources of information that are not considered speculative, I'd like to offer:

A report from the National Academy of Sciences titled, "Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts"
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12507&page=1

and a report from, "The EMP Commission [which] was established pursuant to title XIV of the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001"
http://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf

The first report states: "Today scientists have a better understanding of the technical causes and implications of space weather, and even of appropriate technical responses to it, than they did in the past. Knowledge of the social, institutional, and policy implications of space weather is growing but is still rudimentary. The disruption of the telegraph system in 1859 caused problems in communication, but because modern society is so dependent on large, complex, and interconnected technical systems—and because these systems not only are vital for the functioning of the economy but also are vulnerable to electromagnetic events–a contemporary repetition of the Carrington event would cause significantly more extensive (and possibly catastrophic) social and economic disruptions."

I find the fact that both reports left out the implications for the nuclear power industry in the event of a long-term shut down of a significant portion of our power grid to be negligent.
 

Astronuc

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I find the fact that both reports left out the implications for the nuclear power industry in the event of a long-term shut down of a significant portion of our power grid to be negligent.
The utilities that operate nuclear power plants also operate with a diverse variety of other types, e.g., coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar, . . . . Just because nuclear plants aren't explicitly mentioned does not mean that the interest parties are neglecting those issues.

The utilities have an interest in maintaining the entire grid.
 
The utilities that operate nuclear power plants also operate with a diverse variety of other types, e.g., coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar, . . . . Just because nuclear plants aren't explicitly mentioned does not mean that the interest parties are neglecting those issues.

The utilities have an interest in maintaining the entire grid.
They may have an interest in maintaining the entire grid, but that does not mean that they are taking the necessary steps to prepare for a severe solar storm on the level of the Carrington Event.

The report from the National Academy Workshop on the Societal and Economic Impacts of Severe Space Weather Events indicates, the possibility of a total grid failure for months and even years exists. (cost could exceed 1-2 Trillion, and recovery time could take 4-10 years).

Here is an abridged, "for public consumption" review of the, "Rising Above the Weather Conference Apr 2, 2009" presented by William J. Murtagh of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center: http://www.ametsoc.org/atmospolicy/documents/Bill_Murtagh_SpWx.pdf

Because this is a LF/HC event, and because cost benefit analysis is involved, the utility companies aren't investing in the infrastructure upgrades necessary to withstand another "Carrington Event".

Another Carrington Event would put is back into the 1800 and that alone would not be survivable for many people, but add in multiple nuclear power plants with no back up electricity, and you have an event that would be IMO an extinction level event.

I think that the only intellectually honest position would be to say, "we know that the possibility exists, but we do not have the resources or the will to invest in prevention, and because it is a low-frequency event, we are going to hope for the best".

To back up my claim that the utility companies aren't doing enough to prepare, here is a section of the report from the National Academy of Sciences I linked to above:

(I don't know how much text can be placed in one comment, so I'll break it up into multiple comments) This text is only a tiny fraction of the entire report, so it isn't a copyright violation because it is much less than 50% and the link to the report is provided:

Kappenman stated that “many of the things that we have done to increase operational efficiency and haul power long distances have inadvertently and unknowingly escalated the risks from geomagnetic storms.” This trend suggests that even more severe impacts can occur in the future from large storms. Kappenman noted that, at the same time, no design codes have been adopted to reduce geomagnetically induced current (GIC) flows in the power grid during a storm. Operational procedures used now by U.S. power grid operators have been developed largely from experiences with recent storms, including the March 1989 event. These procedures are generally designed to boost operational reserves and do not prevent or reduce GIC flows in the network. For large storms (or increasing dB/dt levels) both observations and simulations indicate that as the intensity of the disturbance increases, the relative levels of GICs and related power system impacts will also increase proportionately. Under these scenarios, the scale and speed of problems that could occur on exposed power grids have the potential to impact power system operators in ways they have not previously experienced. Therefore, as storm environments reach higher intensity levels, it becomes more likely that these events will precipitate widespread blackouts in exposed power grid infrastructures. The possible extent of a power system collapse from a 4800 nT/min geomagnetic storm (centered at 50° geomagnetic latitude) is shown in Figure 7.1. Such dB/dt levels—10 times those experienced during the March 1989 storm—were reached during the great magnetic storm of May 14-15, 1921.
 
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...continuation of above post....

The least understood aspect of this threat is the permanent damage to power grid assets and how that will impede the restoration process. Transformer damage is the most likely outcome, although other key assets on the grid are also at risk. In particular, transformers experience excessive levels of internal heating brought on by stray flux when GICs cause a transformer’s magnetic core to saturate and to spill flux outside the normal core steel magnetic circuit. Kappenman stated that previous well-documented cases have involved heating failures that caused melting and burn-through of large-amperage copper windings and leads in these transformers. These multi-ton apparatus generally cannot be repaired in the field, and if damaged in this manner, they need to be replaced with new units, which have manufacture lead times of 12 months or more. In addition, each transformer design can contain numerous subtle design variations that complicate the calculation of how and at what density the stray flux can impinge on internal structures in the transformer. Therefore the ability to assess existing transformer vulnerability or even to design new transformers that can tolerate saturated operation is not readily achievable.
 
The utilities that operate nuclear power plants also operate with a diverse variety of other types, e.g., coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, wind, solar, . . . . Just because nuclear plants aren't explicitly mentioned does not mean that the interest parties are neglecting those issues.

The utilities have an interest in maintaining the entire grid.
I think I understand your comment a bit better after re-reading it.

My concern isn't with the utility companies and their actions, it is with the reports and/or the attendees at the conferences documented by the reports. The scope of their investigation into the issue is not complete if they fail to explicitly address the likely outcome of a grid down scenario on nuclear power plants specifically. They address the societal and infrastructure impacts, but not how a long term grid down scenario (which they clearly state is possible) would have on nuclear power plants in particular.

Considering the scope of the sobering outcome when the back up generators run out of fuel, and nuclear cores cannot be cooled, I would think that this topic should have at least been mentioned specifically.

Why write a report with a subsection titled, "Future Solutions, Vulnerabilities, and Risks" without addressing this most important issue?

If a lay person such as myself (and many other speculators) can envision this as a concern - why are the "experts" failing to even address the topic?
 

jim hardy

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color me still skeptical.

i just don't see the mechanism by which a transformer gets hurt by an external magnetic field.

Sounds like much ado about nothing. But i'm open to an explanation.

old jim
 
color me still skeptical.

i just don't see the mechanism by which a transformer gets hurt by an external magnetic field.

Sounds like much ado about nothing. But i'm open to an explanation.

old jim
Did you read the report from the National Academy of Science that I listed above?

Here are some pictures of transformers damaged by a solar event:
http://www.ametsoc.org/atmospolicy/documents/Bill_Murtagh_SpWx.pdf

This paper might help you understand the concern:
http://www.labplan.ufsc.br/congressos/powertech07/papers/445.pdf [Broken]
 
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