Vermont Yankee Thermal Plume

Vernal thermal plume

The photograph was taken in Jan 2013 on a bitter cold winter day.  It shows hot water coming out of the discharge from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at Vernon.  There is old white ice, fresh “black ice” and unfrozen water.

There was recently a photograph in the Gazette, the local newspaper, showing that people were ice-fishing on the Oxbow section of the Connecticut River in Northampton, MA.   At the same time there is no ice at all on the river  itself, and I wondered why this might be.   On January 7 I drove north along the river.   At Northfield public boat ramp there was a little ice forming at the edge of the river, but there was mostly open water. At  the Hinsdale public boat ramp the entire river was covered with ice and one could see across the river the Yankee nuclear power plant.  At Brattleboro the river was frozen as well, with a small thermal plume coming out of Brattleboro, from the city grey water.   At the Vernon canoe take-out, just down stream from the nuclear power plant, about 1/2 mile from the Hinsdale site,  the entire river was open.   This plume of heat extends all the way down to Northampton.     Later that month I drove to these sites again.   There was more ice at Northfield.   At the Oxbow there was more ice.  The river remained open at the Oxbow.   At the Westfield river there was more ice.     Finally, at Agawam the river started to ice over some 70 miles down stream from the reactor at Vernon. At the Oxbow boat ramp there is open water extending into the Oxbow part of the river while the main part of the Oxbow is frozen.  Water coming down the river from the north, where it should be colder, is warm enough to keep the water open.    Examine the  river banks.  The sun will warm some spots locally, but in the shade, such as at the Ellwell Park dock, there is snow on the dock, and the wet spots closer to the water are thawed, and not “black ice.”   These observation confirms that the land is cold enough to produce ice; however, the water is too warm to freeze.           After a blizzard in the middle of February I went to some these places again.  At the Sportsman’s Marina in Hadley ice was accumulating on the river.  At the Oxbow the river was covered with snow.   At the Westfield river  the ice was covered with snow.  At Brattleboro the river was covered with snow, with a noticeable thermal plume from the city itself, but not extending very far down the river.   A friend offered to fly to these sites with me in early March.    Over Brattleboro looking at the river the size of the thermal plume from the city is clear.   Over Vernon there is a clear demarcation between the ice and the open water water on the river.View of River at Vernon, 3/5/13

Flying over Barton Cove in Turner’s Falls it is clear that the river is open and Barton Cove is still full of ice.

There is so much heat discharged from the nuclear power plant that the river in Northampton is still too hot to freeze; the winter is cold enough for the Oxbow to freeze, and one would expect the water from the north to be colder and not hotter.

This is not because the water is flowing, since the Connecticut River is also flowing at Brattleboro, and is cold enough to freeze.   This is an effect independent of global warming but rather a local effect of the nuclear power plant at Vernon.

When the plant is running, it is 33% efficient, the same efficiency as other steam turbines run on coal.  The use of modern cogeneration technologies can increase  toward  70 % efficiency.  In other words,   nuclear sources of energy produce twice as much heat per unit of energy delivered as conventional energy sources.     Since Yankee produces about 650 Megawatts of energy, it produces about 1300 Megawatts of heat, which must be dispersed, either through the cooling towers or into the river, using water to transfer the heat into the environment. 1300 megawatts provides enough energy to bring to boil and evaporate the entire content of an Olympic sized swimming pool every 1.4 hours. Much of the dialogue on the environment focuses on greenhouse gases, which serve to trap heat,  but greenhouses also have heaters inside that contribute to warming.  Nuclear power plants warm the greenhouse.

There is currently a widely spread idea that nuclear power plants do not contribute to global warming.   However, nuclear power plants are tremendous users of energy.

The mining and trucking consume resources, often in the form of fossil based fuel.

Oak Ridge and Hanford are on rivers to take advantage of hydro-electricity, for the concentration of the ore.  There is the use of resources for the production of the non-nuclear parts of the reactor, such as the vessel itself, the cooling towers.

The claim is made that nuclear power plants do not contribute to greenhouse gases.

Much of the popular thinking about global warming focuses on the greenhouse effects of the gas carbon dioxide, yet there are other greenhouse gases, notably methane and water vapor.  For example, In deserts the days can be hot, but the nights are much cooler, because  the absence of water vapor, which is invisible, allows the heat to radiate.   Furthermore, cloudy nights are warmer than cool nights. ,

With the cold upon us this winter, there is line between freeze and thaw: this time is  an ideal time to make observations about the thermal output  from Vernon.  When I first started rowing here in Northampton in the 1980’s I had to stop rowing at the time of Christmas, because the river froze,  and I resumed in March.   Now I can row throughout the year.   Part of the effect is related to global warming, but careful study shows local effects.

Take a look around.    At the Oxbow boat ramp there is open water extending into the Oxbow part of the river while the main part of the Oxbow is frozen.  Water coming down the river from the north, where it should be colder, is warm enough to keep the water open.    Examine the  river banks.  The sun will warm some spots locally, but in the shade, such as at the Ellwell Park dock, there is snow on the dock, and the wet spots closer to the water are thawed, and not “black ice.”   These observation confirms that the land is cold enough to produce ice; however, the water is too warm to freeze.

Another effect, the albedo effect, states  that the open water absorbs heat, whereas the ice reflects heat.  The open water from Vernon itself is contributing to global warming.

There is evidence that this thermal plume at other plants  may contribute to weather and cause snow precipitation.

Most of the year the effects of Vernon are invisible.   At this time of year the effects are quite clear.   There is a large thermal plume coming from Vernon that is warming the environment and melting the ice.  This is part of  global warming.  At other times of the year, the thermal plume is released from its so called cooling towers.   Actually, they are heating the air. Vernon  9/6/12

The cloud with its rapidly rising air looks ominously like a mushroom cloud, but it is only water vapor, perhaps lightly tritiated.

By the end of March, 2013, spring is coming and the Oxbow is melting.  The heat from the Connecticut River has extended deeply into the Oxbow;  the heat from warming of Spring on the left.

In other places  snow can be seen condensing from nuclear power reactors.  Clearly, there are a tremendous amount of gases being released on a regular basis that contribute to weather.

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10 thoughts on “Vermont Yankee Thermal Plume

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