Nuclear Technology / Volume 205 / Number 3 / March 2019 / Pages 415-441
Technical Paper / dx.doi.org/10.1080/00295450.2018.1491181
Approximately 19% of the electricity produced in the United States comes from nuclear power plants. Traditionally, nuclear power plants, as well as larger coal-fired plants, operate in a baseload manner at or near steady state for prolonged periods of time. Smaller, more maneuverable plants, such as gas-fired plants, are dispatched to match electricity supply and demand above the capacity of the baseload plants. However, air quality concerns and CO2 emission standards have made the burning of fossil fuels less desirable, despite the current low cost of natural gas. Wind and solar photovoltaic power generation are attractive options due to their lack of carbon footprint and falling capital costs. Yet, these renewable energy sources suffer from inherent intermittency. This inherent intermittency can strain electric grids, forcing carbon-based and nuclear sources of energy to operate in a load-follow mode. For nuclear reactors, load-follow operation can be undesirable due to the associated thermal and mechanical stresses placed on the fuel and other reactor components. Various methods of thermal energy storage (TES) can be coupled to nuclear (or renewable) power sources to help absorb grid variability caused by daily load demand changes and renewable intermittency. Our previous research has shown that coupling a sensible heat TES system to a small modular reactor allows the reactor to run at effectively nominal full power during periods of variable electric demand by bypassing steam to the TES system during periods of excess capacity. In this paper we demonstrate that this stored thermal energy can be recovered, allowing the TES system to act as a peaking unit during periods of high electric demand or used to produce steam for ancillary applications such as desalination. For both applications the reactor is capable of operating continuously at approximately 100% power.