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The Impact of Climate Change on Nuclear Power Supply

Kristin Linnerud*, Torben K. Mideksa** and Gunnar S. Eskeland***

A warmer climate may result in lower thermal efficiency and reduced load—including shutdowns—in thermal power plants. Focusing on nuclear power plants, we use different European datasets and econometric strategies to identify these two supply-side effects. We find that a rise in temperature of 1C reduces the supply of nuclear power by about 0.5% through its effect on thermal efficiency; during droughts and heat waves, the production loss may exceed 2.0% per degree Celsius because power plant cooling systems are constrained by physical laws, regulations and access to cooling water. As climate changes, one must consider measures to protect against and/or to adapt to these impacts.

  1. INTRODUCTION Climate change may affect thermal power plants in two ways. Firstly, increased ambient temperature reduces the efficiency of thermal power plants in turning fuel into electricity (i.e. lowers the ratio of electricity produced to the amount of fuel used in producing it). For example, the difference in sea temperature between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea will play a role in where Turkey builds 10 planned nuclear plants because the efficiency of these plants is negatively related to the temperature of the coolant (Durmayaz and Sogut, 2006).Secondly, at high ambient temperatures, the load of a thermal power plant may be limited by maximum condenser pressure, regulations on maximum allowable temperature for return water or by reduced access to water as a result of droughts. For example, during the 2003 summer heat wave in Europe, more than 30 nuclear power plant units in Europe were forced to shut down or reduce their power production (IAEA 2004; Zebisch et al., 2005; Rebetez et al., 2009; Koch and Vo¨gele, 2009). Our analysis focuses on these two temperature-induced impacts: reduced efficiency and increased frequency of shutdowns.

Although all thermal power plants are exposed to these two impacts, nuclear power plants are especially vulnerable. The average efficiency is lower and the water requirement per electricity output is higher in nuclear power plants compared to most other thermal power plants. More importantly, energy disruptions at nuclear power plants may cause a threat to energy supply security since each nuclear reactor accounts for a considerable amount of power and nuclear reactors are typically located in the same geographical area with access to the same source of cooling water (Vo¨gele, 2010).

The two climate impacts have been addressed in the climate and energy literature. The 4th Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2007, p. 556) reported that climate change could have a negative impact on thermal power production since the availability of cooling water may be reduced.

……..Cooling water shortages or regulatory limitations on the increase in water temperature put further restrictions on a nuclear power plant’s operations.8 The temperature of the returned cooling water is most often subject to regulations. The allowable return temperature varies depending on the source of the water, ambient conditions and local regulations. As the temperature of river or sea water rises, the water will be able to absorb less heat before exceeding the maximum allowable temperature limit for return water. In such circumstances, the plant must reduce power production until the return temperature is below the limit.

……Droughts may also reduce plants’ access to cooling water, and plants in drought-prone areas are especially vulnerable to climate change.

In sum, as ambient temperature rises, production of electricity at nuclear power plants may decrease as a result of both efficiency losses and cooling system …….


July 28, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change, Reference

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