Nuclear Electrical Power Generation – Why The Fuss? (Part 7)

Posted on Wed 08/05/2009 by


Currently in the U.S. there are 65 Nuclear power plants. Most of these plants have two reactors, and each reactor provides the steam that drives one turbine/generator complex. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the advantage of nuclear plants is that large volumes of steam can be generated from the heat caused by the nuclear reaction of the low enriched pellets in the fuel rods.

It’s worth mentioning again that to generate large amounts of electrical power, a large generator is needed. The generator is on the same shaft as the driving three stage turbine, and this unit as a whole weighs in the vicinity of 200 to 350 tons, and rotates at 3600RPM, day in day out, for years. A very large amount of steam is required to drive that huge weight, and that is why when Nuclear plants are designed, they can in fact utilise these large sized generators, because there will always be that large amount of steam to drive them.

Those 65 nuclear power plants have 104 reactors. So that means there are 104 Generators actually producing that power.

The nameplate capacity of all these plants is around 100,000 MW, but that nameplate capacity is a misleading figure, because what it actually recorded is the power that they actually supply. This figure is detailed at this link, and is currently sitting on a yearly total of 812 Billion KWH, and this constitutes 21% of all power consumed in the U.S.

Interestingly, Wind power has a nameplate capacity of 29,000 MW and yet only produces 58 Billion KWH. So Nuclear power plants have a nameplate capacity only 3.4 times larger than for wind while they produce 14 times the power consumed.

To indicate correctly the ratio of actual power produced to what is theoretically the absolute maximum, what looks to be a complex formula is used but it is relatively simple really.

That formula for the absolute maximum power that can be produced is Nameplate capacity X 24 X 365.25 X 1000. The 24 is for hours in a day, the 365.25 is days in a year, averaged for leap years and then multiplied by 1000 to convert from MW to KWH.

So, for nuclear power the figure is 100,000 X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 which comes to 876 Billion KWH. If the actual amount consumed is 802 Billion KWH, then you can see that the Nuclear power sector is running at almost a 92% power delivery efficiency factor, far and away the highest power delivery rate of any power generation method. The only method even close to that is the coal fired sector, which runs along at at around 85%. Compare that to Wind, currently running at around 25% and the claims are that when operating at its maximum, it could actually rise to around 30% but that figure is quite sanguine. Both forms of Solar power can deliver power at a rate approaching 20%.

From these figures alone, it is easy to see that Nuclear power is the most efficient producer of electrical power in the US, and that also applies for the rest of the World.

06 Existing ReactorsWorldwide figures show that there are in total 443 reactors that provide electrical power. The list you see at left details these, and if you click on the image, it will open in a new and larger window. The list is a year or so old now, so the figures for the U.S. show the total at just on 19% of the total power. The figure has increased in the last year not because new plants have opened, but that those existing plants have been asked to produce more power to take up the load from decommissioned coal fired power plants, something that nuclear power plants can quite easily do.

There are 30 Countries on that list, and as you can see, even those developing Countries are constructing them as well, in an effort to bring electrical power to their populace.

Of the Larger Countries in the OECD you can see some that have a large percentage of their total power produced coming from Nuclear plants, notably, France approaching 80%, South Korea approaching 40%, Japan approaching 30%, Germany  around 28%, with the UK around the same as for the U.S. Even the total for the whole World is approaching 15%, so it’s not just an isolated means of producing power in some Countries. France in fact is actually selling some of it’s extra power into Italy, who currently have a moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants. It seems that actually having them is not a good thing, but the power produced from them is somehow okay. The same also applies for some other European Countries who have gone strongly in the direction of renewable power, only to find it cannot supply what they need, so some of those Countries are in fact also purchasing power from neighbouring Countries with an excess production from those nuclear power plants.

Some of those developing Countries, most notably China and India are constructing more nuclear power plants. China has an expansion rate for all forms of electrical power unparalleled in any Country. So when you hear that China is bringing on line one large coal fired power plant every seven days, be fully aware that they are constructing plants of all forms on a huge sacle, most notably hydro electric power, where they have currently 20 of the largest 25 plants on Earth under construction, and when finished they will produce what amounts to half as much again as the total electrical power currently produced from the whole U.S. nuclear power inventory, and that is just what they have under construction, and more than double the existing nameplate capacity of the U.S. Hydro electric power total, and again, that is just under construction.07 Proposed New Plants

The World figures for Nuclear power plants, both proposed and already in construction are in that chart to the right, and again, click on the image to open it in a new and larger window. You can see from this chart that China is actually powering ahead with new Nuclear plants in an effort to bring electrical power to their people, because currently, only one household in seven has access to any electrical power, let alone the constant and regular supply we take so much for granted as a staple of life.

Electrical power generated using the Nuclear process is a proven method of producing large scale power to satisfy the demands of all consumers.

It is gradually becoming accepted that the process is an inherently safe one, and it is a process that needs to be kept on the table if we are to be taken down the route of closing coal fired power plants.

In the next post I will detail the costings involved with these types of plant, and it might actually be surprising. These plants are generally believed to be hugely expensive, but that is not the whole story.