Nuclear Power Plant Outages Caused By Climate Change Rise, Study Finds


Figure summarizing the climate-related disturbances in the operation of nuclear power plants. Credit: Ahmad.

Previous research suggests that climate change and energy systems have a two-way relationship. In other words, just as emissions from energy systems can fuel climate change, climate change could also expose vulnerabilities or gaps in energy systems.

For example, climate change could negatively impact the functioning of critical energy systems and infrastructure, potentially disrupting the supply of electricity. While nuclear power plants (NPPs) could be a viable solution to generate low-carbon electricity, the operation of these plants is sensitive to climate change and the associated extreme weather conditions.

Ali Ahmad, a researcher at Harvard University, recently conducted a study on the possible effects of climate change on nuclear power plants. His article, published in Natural energy, specifically assessed whether climate change over the past three decades has had an impact on the frequency of nuclear power plant outages.

“With more than three decades of data on climate change, we are now able to empirically assess the impact of climate change on power plant operations,” Ahmad wrote in his article. “Such empirical assessments can provide an additional measure of the resilience of power plants in the future. Here, I analyze climate-related failures at nuclear power plants over the past three decades.”

Compared to other power plants, such as those based on fossil fuels and biomass, nuclear power plants require stricter safety regulations. In addition, after an unscheduled shutdown, nuclear reactors must undergo a series of tests and analyzes aimed at identifying the problem, which may take some time before restarting.

Understanding to what extent climate change can impact the operation of nuclear power plants is therefore of vital importance, as it could inspire the development of strategies to mitigate these climate-related effects. In his article, Ahmad examined the frequency of climate-related nuclear power outages over the past three decades or so.

Overall, he found that nuclear power plant outages caused by climatic events have become more and more frequent in recent decades. Many of these blackouts were caused by climate change, while others were the result of natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis. Ahmad sifted through the available data to focus only on outages associated with climate change.

“My assessment shows that the average frequency of climate-induced disturbances has increased dramatically from 0.2 outages per reactor year in the 1990s to 1.5 in the last decades,” Ahmad wrote in his article. “On the basis of the projections of the climate scenarios adopted, the average annual energy loss of the world nuclear fleet is estimated between 0.8% and 1.4% in the medium term (2046-2065) and 1.4% and 2.4% long-term. (2081-2100). “

As many researchers have highlighted the value of nuclear power as a means of slowing and mitigating climate change, it is of great importance to understand the effects of climate change and global warming on nuclear power plants before that humans do not start to depend heavily on it. Ahmad’s recent analyzes show that the operation of nuclear power plants has been significantly disrupted by climate change in recent decades. Going forward, the results of his study could help create more realistic economic and nuclear models that take climate-related risks into account.

Why nuclear power is not a safe bet in a warming world

More information:
Increased frequency of nuclear power plant outages due to climate change. Natural energy(2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41560-021-00849-y

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