Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 19

Thread: Energy sources and manpower required to maintain operation for x time

  1. Top | #1
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Riverside City
    Posts
    3,502
    Archived
    6,289
    Total Posts
    9,791
    Rep Power
    37

    Energy sources and manpower required to maintain operation for x time

    What's the typical size of a skeleton crew required to maintain operation and deal with plausible unexpected circumstances without outside intervention, say per GW of output for a limited amount of time?

    For how long would such a skeleton crew typically be able to maintain operation independently?

    Say for a nuclear power plant, how many staff is required for operation, and how long would the fuel on site typically last? Same for coal power, hydro (minus "fuel on site"), biomass (presumably worst for manpower), etc.

    I've had a discussion with someone elsewhere who was voicing the opinion that in this Year of Pestilence (or more precisely: if we were ever to be hit by another pandemic with higher fatality rate), nuclear reactors become an unforseeable risk if/when they run out of operators as they fall sick one after the other. I countered that, on the other hand, since they need less manpower to maintain operation than pretty any other energy source, it becomes much more feasible to send a skeleton crew into isolation before the outbreak hits hard, to ensure operation - which I'm sure is already happening all around the world.

    I don't actually have numbers to back this up or make it more specific. Does anyone?

  2. Top | #2
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    Sep 2000
    Location
    Nevada
    Posts
    26,527
    Archived
    96,752
    Total Posts
    123,279
    Rep Power
    99
    Coal plants need people with heavy lifting equipment (I think they use earthmoving equipment but I'm not sure) on a daily basis to keep the boilers fed. Nuke goes for several months without being refueled and you can go over the normal interval but eventually the output drops. (The rods actually have enough fuel for several years, the problem is waste products build up that love to absorb neutrons and thus poison the reaction. This turns down the maximum throttle, eventually to the point the reactor won't work at all.) No idea on other plants.

    I do agree that in the case of major pestilence reactors become a liability--but if it's that bad a bunch of reactors going Fukushima won't matter in the big picture. (The reactors can safely shut themselves down, the problem is even when you hit the big red button you set the throttle to 3%, not 0%. Nothing but time will bring it down from there and you have to keep it supplied with cooling water. That's what happened to Fukushima--they ended up with no power to run the pumps to provide that cooling water. The spent fuel pool also had the same problem.) If we have the sort of pestilence that leaves the reactors without even skeleton crews you're looking at civilization-ending event.

  3. Top | #3
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Riverside City
    Posts
    3,502
    Archived
    6,289
    Total Posts
    9,791
    Rep Power
    37
    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    Coal plants need people with heavy lifting equipment (I think they use earthmoving equipment but I'm not sure) on a daily basis to keep the boilers fed. Nuke goes for several months without being refueled and you can go over the normal interval but eventually the output drops. (The rods actually have enough fuel for several years, the problem is waste products build up that love to absorb neutrons and thus poison the reaction. This turns down the maximum throttle, eventually to the point the reactor won't work at all.) No idea on other plants.

    I do agree that in the case of major pestilence reactors become a liability--but if it's that bad a bunch of reactors going Fukushima won't matter in the big picture. (The reactors can safely shut themselves down, the problem is even when you hit the big red button you set the throttle to 3%, not 0%. Nothing but time will bring it down from there and you have to keep it supplied with cooling water. That's what happened to Fukushima--they ended up with no power to run the pumps to provide that cooling water. The spent fuel pool also had the same problem.) If we have the sort of pestilence that leaves the reactors without even skeleton crews you're looking at civilization-ending event.
    I guess my question is less "what happens when everyone falls sick" and more "if they see it coming, how many healthy people would have to be put in quarantine to keep operations up, and how long would this skeleton crew be able to operate the plant with outside (fuel/parts) supplies?

  4. Top | #4
    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    The Sunshine State: The one with Crocs, not Gators
    Posts
    22,250
    Archived
    10,477
    Total Posts
    32,727
    Rep Power
    85
    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    Coal plants need people with heavy lifting equipment (I think they use earthmoving equipment but I'm not sure) on a daily basis to keep the boilers fed. Nuke goes for several months without being refueled and you can go over the normal interval but eventually the output drops. (The rods actually have enough fuel for several years, the problem is waste products build up that love to absorb neutrons and thus poison the reaction. This turns down the maximum throttle, eventually to the point the reactor won't work at all.) No idea on other plants.

    I do agree that in the case of major pestilence reactors become a liability--but if it's that bad a bunch of reactors going Fukushima won't matter in the big picture. (The reactors can safely shut themselves down, the problem is even when you hit the big red button you set the throttle to 3%, not 0%. Nothing but time will bring it down from there and you have to keep it supplied with cooling water. That's what happened to Fukushima--they ended up with no power to run the pumps to provide that cooling water. The spent fuel pool also had the same problem.) If we have the sort of pestilence that leaves the reactors without even skeleton crews you're looking at civilization-ending event.
    A civilisation ending pestilence, not a civilisation ending meltdown.

    If every single nuclear reactor in the world melted down Fukushima style, the death toll would be zero (as it was at Fukushima).

    Nuclear reactor accidents are expensive. They are not dangerous (unless you are in the Soviet Union, which you're not, because it hasn't existed for nearly three decades).

    The underlying premise of the OP question - that a nuclear power plant becomes dangerous if abandoned - is simply untrue. It's possible for such an abandonment (if very sudden and with no time to prepare for a lack of staff) to result in the destruction of an expensive asset. And perhaps an expensive cleanup (if anyone cares to bother). But no lives would be at risk.

  5. Top | #5
    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    The Sunshine State: The one with Crocs, not Gators
    Posts
    22,250
    Archived
    10,477
    Total Posts
    32,727
    Rep Power
    85
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    Coal plants need people with heavy lifting equipment (I think they use earthmoving equipment but I'm not sure) on a daily basis to keep the boilers fed. Nuke goes for several months without being refueled and you can go over the normal interval but eventually the output drops. (The rods actually have enough fuel for several years, the problem is waste products build up that love to absorb neutrons and thus poison the reaction. This turns down the maximum throttle, eventually to the point the reactor won't work at all.) No idea on other plants.

    I do agree that in the case of major pestilence reactors become a liability--but if it's that bad a bunch of reactors going Fukushima won't matter in the big picture. (The reactors can safely shut themselves down, the problem is even when you hit the big red button you set the throttle to 3%, not 0%. Nothing but time will bring it down from there and you have to keep it supplied with cooling water. That's what happened to Fukushima--they ended up with no power to run the pumps to provide that cooling water. The spent fuel pool also had the same problem.) If we have the sort of pestilence that leaves the reactors without even skeleton crews you're looking at civilization-ending event.
    I guess my question is less "what happens when everyone falls sick" and more "if they see it coming, how many healthy people would have to be put in quarantine to keep operations up, and how long would this skeleton crew be able to operate the plant with outside (fuel/parts) supplies?
    Most plants could be run with a very small staff, if you are not concerned about regulatory compliance, but only with generating electricity.

    Outside fueling/defueling, which is needed only every year or two, a six man team could keep a nuclear reactor running 24x7. Of course, that would likely mean that once something went wrong (probably in the ancillary equipment outside the reactor vessel itself, which has few moving parts) it would require a fairly extended shutdown to fix it. And you wouldn't get any government in a nuclear power generating nation to allow you to run a plant without security guards (for example), or even without a small army of documentation compliance staff to report to the regulator evey time someone forgets to file a form in triplicate.

    Most naval reactors are basically miniature PWRs; They routinely operate with a fairly small crew (an Ohio class sub only has about 140 crew in total, most of whom are not in any way involved in reactor operations). Of course, they don't refuel while on patrol (and the very long time between fuellings is a major asset - nuclear subs can make their own water and oxygen, so the duration of a patrol is limited only by the amount of food they can carry*).












    *And the psychological endurance of the crew.
    Last edited by bilby; 03-26-2020 at 09:05 AM.

  6. Top | #6
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Riverside City
    Posts
    3,502
    Archived
    6,289
    Total Posts
    9,791
    Rep Power
    37
    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
    Coal plants need people with heavy lifting equipment (I think they use earthmoving equipment but I'm not sure) on a daily basis to keep the boilers fed. Nuke goes for several months without being refueled and you can go over the normal interval but eventually the output drops. (The rods actually have enough fuel for several years, the problem is waste products build up that love to absorb neutrons and thus poison the reaction. This turns down the maximum throttle, eventually to the point the reactor won't work at all.) No idea on other plants.

    I do agree that in the case of major pestilence reactors become a liability--but if it's that bad a bunch of reactors going Fukushima won't matter in the big picture. (The reactors can safely shut themselves down, the problem is even when you hit the big red button you set the throttle to 3%, not 0%. Nothing but time will bring it down from there and you have to keep it supplied with cooling water. That's what happened to Fukushima--they ended up with no power to run the pumps to provide that cooling water. The spent fuel pool also had the same problem.) If we have the sort of pestilence that leaves the reactors without even skeleton crews you're looking at civilization-ending event.
    I guess my question is less "what happens when everyone falls sick" and more "if they see it coming, how many healthy people would have to be put in quarantine to keep operations up, and how long would this skeleton crew be able to operate the plant with outside (fuel/parts) supplies?
    Most plants could be run with a very small staff, if you are not concerned about regulatory compliance, but only with generating electricity.

    Outside fueling/defueling, which is needed only every year or two, a six man team could keep a nuclear reactor running 24x7.
    That would be six people total, working in shifts, for two to three people on duty during normal operation? Or shifts of six people each?

    Of course, that would likely mean that once something went wrong (probably in the ancillary equipment outside the reactor vessel itself, which has few moving parts) it would require a fairly extended shutdown to fix it.
    How much more staff would be needed to ensure that operations can be quickly resumed in such a case?

    And you wouldn't get any government in a nuclear power generating nation to allow you to run a plant without security guards (for example), or even without a small army of documentation compliance staff to report to the regulator evey time someone forgets to file a form in triplicate.
    So add another 15-20 to the six?

    And how does this compare to other methods of power generation? Per GW of electricity output, how large would a skeleton crew have to be for a coal plant? For hydroelectric dams? How long does the coal stored on site last for a typical coal plant vs. for a typical nuclear plant? Obviously if we include mining and transport, the figures explode and isolating the entire supply chain from the outside world becomes implausible, so this is also a relevant difference.

  7. Top | #7
    Elder Contributor barbos's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Mlky Way galaxy
    Posts
    10,350
    Archived
    8,047
    Total Posts
    18,397
    Rep Power
    64
    For that to become a problem you need significant drop in man power - 30-50%. It would be Mad Max scenario long before that.

  8. Top | #8
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Riverside City
    Posts
    3,502
    Archived
    6,289
    Total Posts
    9,791
    Rep Power
    37
    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    For that to become a problem you need significant drop in man power - 30-50%. It would be Mad Max scenario long before that.
    Three chance that, say 50% of a small crew fall sick at roughly the same time and become inoperative for a couple weeksis non negligible lon3g before.

  9. Top | #9
    Elder Contributor barbos's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Mlky Way galaxy
    Posts
    10,350
    Archived
    8,047
    Total Posts
    18,397
    Rep Power
    64
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    For that to become a problem you need significant drop in man power - 30-50%. It would be Mad Max scenario long before that.
    Three chance that, say 50% of a small crew fall sick at roughly the same time and become inoperative for a couple weeksis non negligible lon3g before.
    But there is a large number of nuclear plants, they can all share qualified workers. Recently retired can go back to work, and then there are nukes in the navy, these guys with some training can be employed too.

  10. Top | #10
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Riverside City
    Posts
    3,502
    Archived
    6,289
    Total Posts
    9,791
    Rep Power
    37
    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jokodo View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by barbos View Post
    For that to become a problem you need significant drop in man power - 30-50%. It would be Mad Max scenario long before that.
    Three chance that, say 50% of a small crew fall sick at roughly the same time and become inoperative for a couple weeksis non negligible lon3g before.
    But there is a large number of nuclear plants, they can all share qualified workers. Recently retired can go back to work, and then there are nukes in the navy, these guys with some training can be employed too.
    That may work in big countries like Russia or the USA. Around here, Slovenia has one plant with one reactor, Hungary one with four reactors, Slovakia two with four reactors total, Czechia also two, Austria none (only one or two small research reactors), and Croatia none, though it owns a share of Slovenia's Krsko plant, Serbia also nonesince it closed the one it had. How readily are they going to share personell in a Time of Pestilence and closed borders when every one looks after their own first and foremost?

    And none of these countries had nukes in the navy. Most don't have a navy.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •