April 01, 2019

Flexible Operation of Nuclear Power Plants Ramps Up

A widespread misconception persists that nuclear plants can only function as inflexible baseload sources of power—and it’s hurting prospects for the nuclear sector’s role in the world’s future power mix, which will increasingly be crowded by intermittent renewable energy forms, several experts say.

Existing nuclear plants and new designs can technically perform both frequency control and load-following operations, but owing to high upfront capital costs and relatively low fuel and operational costs when compared with fossil fuel–generating units, the majority of nuclear generators across the world generally consider operating nuclear power plants at full capacity—for as long as maintenance and refueling allows—as the best option.

However, there appears a “recent and increasing need” worldwide to operate nuclear plants flexibly, noted the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) in an April 2018 report surveying knowledge, feasibility, and challenges concerning non-baseload operation of nuclear power plants. Among key reasons it cites for this trend are: “large nuclear generating capacity relative to the total capacity, growth in renewable energy generation, and deregulation or structural changes of the electricity supply system and the electricity market during the long operating lifetime of a nuclear power plant. These necessitate technical and regulatory changes, and also operational, economic and financial rearrangements, to maintain the efficiency of capital investment,” it said.

In this article by POWER magazine, Craig Ranson, senior vice president of Framatome’s Installed Base America division, talks flexible operations in the U.S., as well as what solutions Framatome has to offer nuclear plant operators worldwide.