The most economical, technically simple and safe way to operate nuclear power plants is to generate electricity at a constant rate and as close to full capacity as possible, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency. Bitcoin mining can help by utilizing the excess energy that reactors typically generate outside peak periods of consumption, reducing the stress of powering such facilities up and down.
Energy – Bitcoin Needs It, the Atom Has It
You’ll often hear from mainstream media and uninformed economists that bitcoin burns more energy than a whole country. And while that claim is far from the truth, as we’ve explained before, you might be surprised to hear something you are not being told — that it’s actually better to burn off excess energy than waste it. And bitcoin mining can do precisely that.
Mining bitcoin, or verifying its transactions using the proof of work concept, is a process that needs electrical power. It takes place in facilities called mining farms which house specialized hardware, the bitcoin mining devices are equipped with ASIC chips. No reliable data about the consumption of the whole network is currently available but bitcoin mining is in its infancy and it likely uses much less energy than most established industries. Nevertheless, the process is energy intensive and its power needs may grow in the future. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean mining would affect negatively the energy balance of a particular system. The world is not connected in a single grid and bitcoin farms are often built close to energy sources that would otherwise remain unutilized.
In the case of nuclear power generation, plants actually need consumers to help them maintain a more even output of electricity throughout the day and mining farms can actually play that role. Nuclear fission, the physical process that releases energy in a nuclear reactor, cannot be paused or stopped at will. It can only be temporarily restrained. A nuclear power plant uses this nuclear reaction in a controlled manner to basically boil a fluid, often water, which in turn runs through giant steam turbines to generate electricity. The more it does that, the more efficient it is. Slamming on the brakes, in this case, does not save any fuel; rather, energy literary ends up being wasted.
And while nuclear plants can produce a constant supply of energy, we actually don’t need all of that electricity at all times of the day. During the night, for example, plant operators forcefully lower the power output of reactors by inserting control rods to reduce the intensity of the nuclear reaction. But that’s a particularly inefficient procedure, as almost all costs in nuclear energetics are fixed. From an economic standpoint, it means that the more electricity you produce from a certain amount of fuel, the cheaper it will be. And from a technological point of view, fewer cycles of heating and cooling exert less thermomechanical stress on different components, including the fuel pellets and their cladding. Nuclear plants are more efficient, safer and have a longer lifespan when they operate closer to their full capacity.
Nuclear Plants Under Pressure to
Cut Electricity Generation
In principle, nuclear reactors can be described as giant boilers, but they share few similarities with home appliances. It takes time to properly shut a reactor down, and it’s a procedure that should only be performed when absolutely necessary. At the same time, operators of nuclear plants have to contend with peaks and lows in consumption on a seasonal, weekly and daily basis. Modern reactors are complex feats of engineering designed to adapt to the constantly changing energy needs of our homes and businesses. In fact, plant operators can do this many times a day by adjusting the supply of power to the grid, so such networks are never overloaded or underpowered. The ability of plant operators to adjust output in this manner is known as “load following.”
According to a recent study by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the integration of renewable energy sources is a major factor driving the need for flexible nuclear operation. Nuclear generation can also help to mitigate the negative impact of insufficient interconnections between national and regional grids, as well as the inflexible generation mixes seen in some countries. And as nuclear power is much more controllable by human intervention and considerably more efficient and cheaper than renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower, nuclear plants are becoming a crucial instrument in load following, as they can help to maintain the overall stability of electric power systems. Of course, this comes at the expense of efficiency and longevity.
Using nuclear reactors as base-load sources of energy instead of restraining their use makes much more sense. And that’s exactly where bitcoin mining can help, by utilizing the excess energy that reactors generate outside of peak hours of consumption. Of course, that doesn’t mean burning more nuclear fuel, but simply using it more efficiently when the electricity is not needed by households, businesses and other energy consumers.
Do you agree that bitcoin-mining farms and nuclear power plants can complement each other? Share your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Kozloduy NPP.
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