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By Russ Finley on Jun 27, 2012 with 9 responses

Hydropower: Dammed If You Do

Tags: hydropower

No, that is not a picture of cooling ponds inside a nuclear reactor. Those are dust covers on the turbines at the Grand Coulee dam. According to the photographer, you have to pass through a metal detector to get this far into the power plant. Come to think of it, the nuclear power industry could probably improve their public image with similar tourist photo ops of their spent fuel cooling ponds.

There’s an article over on Mongabay about a protest of the  Belo Monte Dam project in Brazil:

 Belo Monte will flood more than 40,000 hectares of rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people. The project will impede the flow of the Xingu, which is one of the Amazon’s mightiest tributaries, disrupting fish migrations and potentially affecting nutrient flows in a section of the basin.

Photo credit: Atossa Soltani/ Amazon Watch / Spectral QThey will of course lose in the end like all native people have always lost. You will be hard pressed to find a more environmentally destructive power source yet here we have a very upbeat article titled Hot dam: Hydropower continues to grow  on an environmental website:

Brazil, the second-largest producer of hydropower worldwide, gets 86 percent of its electricity from water resources. It is home to an estimated 450 dams, including the Itaipu Dam, which generates more electricity than any other hydropower facility in the world — over 92 billion kilowatt-hours per year.

The article also mentions Grand Coulee dam and the fact that the United States gets about seven percent of its electricity from hydro. It didn’t mention that:

 Kettle Falls, once a primary Native American fishing grounds, was inundated. The average catch went from a historical average of over 600,000 salmon a year to nothing. In one study, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated the annual loss was over a million fish.

The environmental impact of the dam effectively ended the traditional way of life of the native inhabitants. The government eventually compensated the Colville Indians in the 1990s with a lump settlement of approximately $52 million, plus annual payments of approximately $15 million.

Interestingly enough, the above link also says:

 In 2007, Grand Coulee generated the second-most energy among US power facilities, after the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant at 26.78 TWh. Palo Verde has a lower nameplate capacity but operates at a higher capacity factor, giving it slightly more annual output.

Which got me to thinking. There are over 1400 hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. compared to 105 nuclear power plants. The 105 nuclear power plants produce almost three times more energy …without destroying a single ecosystem or native culture. I then read a little bit about the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant:

Due to its location in the Arizona desert, Palo Verde is the only nuclear generating facility in the world that is not located adjacent to a large body of above-ground water. The facility evaporates water from the treated sewage of several nearby municipalities to meet its cooling needs. 20billion US gallons (76,000,000m³) of treated water are evaporated each year. This water represents about 25% of the annual overdraft of the Arizona Department of Water Resources Phoenix Active Management Area. At the nuclear plant site, the wastewater is further treated and stored in an 80 acre (324,000 m²) reservoir for use in the plant’s cooling towers.

You will be hard pressed to find an more environmentally friendly power source.

(Photo credit theslowlane via the Flickr Creative Commons license)

  1. By Adam on June 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    You will be hard pressed to find an more environmentally friendly power source.

    And yet the power source is largely opposed by Greenpeace and its ilks. Hollywood has also done a great job indoctrinating the next generation with an irrational fear of nuclear radiation. It’s just another case where environmental dogma wins out over actual concern for the environment.

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    • By Stephen on July 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Hollywood has also done a great job indoctrinating the next generation with an irrational fear of nuclear radiation.

      If only it were that simple. Fear of radiation is not irrational. The twin menaces of nuclear power – safety and waste – have not been solved, nor most likely will they ever be entirely. Nuclear technology is also not a panacea. Like traditional power generation it relies on a finite fuel source. If every country in the world were to switch entirely to nuclear power to satisfy its electricity demands, reserves of uranium would run out in 5-10 years.

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      • By Adam on July 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

        Maybe I’m wrong… but I believe that radiation is also released from coal? And that the radiation from coal is actually, as a net effect, more harmful then the radiation released by nuclear (I’m assuming due to the difficulty of capturing the radiation in the same fashion as in nuclear and that nuclear is contained during the most radioactive portions of its life-cycle)

        I do agree on the latter point, that Uranium is a finite fuel source and that if everyone switched over we wouldn’t have the reserves. However, uranium is not the only fissionable material. Thorium would be an excellent fuel source if we could solve the technical hurdles and would be far safer and bountiful then coal presently is.

        In my opinion one of the greatest strengths of nuclear power is it’s ability to provide base power as needed.

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      • By Russ Finley on July 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        Fear of radiation is not irrational.

        Nobody said fear of radiation is irrational. Fear of irrelevant levels of radiation is irrational.

        The twin menaces of nuclear power – safety and waste – have not been solved, nor most likely will they ever be entirely.

        The nuclear waste issue has been overblown. The waste produced from a half-century of energy production fits in their own parking lots. That small volume can be reduced by a factor of ten with reprocessing and technology is in the works to use that waste as fuel. Coal plants use the atmosphere as an open sewer.

        Nuclear technology is also not a panacea.

        Nobody said nuclear  power is a panacea. Do you know what a straw man argument is?

        Like traditional power generation it relies on a finite fuel source. If every country in the world were to switch entirely to nuclear power to satisfy its electricity demands, reserves of uranium would run out in 5-10 years.

        Nobody is saying that all power should be nuclear. It is  physically impossible to switch all  countries to it in  ten years. There is enough fuel in nuclear weapons to alone to run our nuclear for a century.

        Dams silt  up, geothermal wells cool off, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel consume prodigious amounts of fossil fuels. Fully renewable sources are wind and solar, which can’t do the  job alone.

         

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  2. By Douglas Hvistendahl on July 2, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Hey, doing the homework is boring. Who cares if this is the only way to learn to do it right?

    Our current culture has elevated interesting fantasies above answering questions about reality.

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  3. By notKit P on July 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Stephen let me share a little of what I have learned in my 40 years working in nuclear power.  First nuclear power is very safe.  No one has ever been hurt by radiation from a UD designed LWR.  That is a perfect safety record.   We have been safely making electricity for more than 50 years so clearly safety has been solved

     

    Second, any problems with handling spent nuclear fuel were solved before we made any.  It is not a very difficult engineering problem.  We are still debating if we should recycle spent fuel because only 5% of the energy from the uranium is used.  Current US law requires spent fuel to be retrievable for 100 years after being put in a repository.  

     

    Since the supply of fissionable material is so cheap I have to wonder why some think we are running out.  Technically everything is finite including our solar system.  The life of bearing is a wind turbine is finite too.

     

    The daily task of producing power is a finite task.  We only produce the finite amount that our customers need.  On the Mid-C right now, BPA is transmitting about 14,000 MWe.  Lots of runoff finite runoff from the mountains.  The wind is blowing too producing 4,000 MWe.  The hydro systems also provides for irrigation, transportation, and recreation.  Too many white caps for good sailing at the moment.  The nuke plant is producing about a 1000 MWe.  If the wind decreases then a gas or coal fired will start making electricity.

     

    My point here is that there are many good ways to make electricity to meet customer demand.  As for environment friendly, the may mean different things to different people.  The Colville Indians oddly enough use electricity to power their casinos.  Their casinos has a parking lot because their customers get there by car.

     

    Historically, my ancestors used plow horses to till the soil or pick axes to mine coal.  Yes, there are some people who long for a culture of illiteracy, manual labor, and perpetual hunger.    

     

    Funny thing about those who glorify the good old days.  100% of them use electricity and drive cars.  

     

    The natural environment of Kettles Falls is a dust bowl where the nomadic people subsisted on dried fish and berries.  The hydro system has changed that.  For the better?  

     

    One last irony!  The nuke plant in Washington State, Columbia Generating Station, is on the last free running part of the Columbia River where Salmon still spawn naturally.  

     

     

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  4. By Brandon Iglesias on July 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Dear Russ Finley:

    Thank you for the read. However, I was not able to find an element in your story focused on the supply chain resource requirements for nuclear energy. Your omission is equivalent to comparing traditional milk to soy milk, but forgetting about the soy beans required to make the soy milk.

    When ‘thinking’ about hydro-power the source of the power and generation is quite ‘visually’ obvious:

    1) Water Reservoir at a given elevation to provide economically recoverable energy
    2) Turbines to convert the stored energy into work to turn a generator to produce power

    However, when ‘thinking’ about nuclear you’re completely leaving out the Uranium and Thorium Mining exploration and operations that exploit the land’s abundant natural resources and consume fossil fuels to concentrate and transport the elements to the power generation facility ‘nuclear plant’. Perhaps a search through one of the National Laboratory’s Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) would point you in the right direction when comparing hydro to nuclear when viewed through the ‘true’ cradle-to-grave resource perspective.

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    • By Tom G. on July 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      I will never forget the day I was visiting a hydro electric plant in California as part of a team building exercise for management.  On my way to the turbine building I couldn’t help but make a comment to the plant operator who was escorting me that is was raining really hard.    I will never forget his response which was: “I know, we are getting a free fuel delivery today”.  

      And so it goes at a hydro electric plant – when it rains its like kilowatts falling from the sky.  Electrical power generation doesn’t get much more simple than this.  

       

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    • By Russ Finley on July 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Brandon said:

      I was not able to find an element in your story focused on the supply chain resource requirements for nuclear energy. Your omission is equivalent to comparing traditional milk to soy milk, but forgetting about the soy beans required to make the soy milk.

      Let me counter with a quote from Grand Coulee Dam Statistics and Facts

      What could you build with 12 million cubic yards of concrete? You could build a sidewalk four feet wide and four inches thick and wrap it twice around the equator (50,000 miles). You could build a highway from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida. You could build the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the modern wonders of the world.

      Source: http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/pubs/factsheet.pdf

      Brandon said:

       

      …you’re completely leaving out the Uranium and Thorium Mining exploration and operations that exploit the land’s abundant natural resources and consume fossil fuels to concentrate and transport the elements to the power generation facility ‘nuclear plant’

      It took a lot of gravel mining to make that dam. Enough to build 30 nuclear power plants. Several Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) studies have shown that the carbon footprint of nuclear is on par with renewable sources which is a good indicator of fossil fuel used.

      Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparisons_of_life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions

      Source: http://www.waterpowermagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2057142

      Source: http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/factsheet/nuclearpowerplantcontributions/?page=2

       

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