Essays on Electricity Market Restructuring and nuclear Industry in the United States

Open Access
Tsai, Chen-hao
Graduate Program:
Energy and Mineral Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 04, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Zhen Lei, Dissertation Advisor
  • Zhen Lei, Committee Chair
  • Seth Adam Blumsack, Committee Member
  • Andrew Nathan Kleit, Committee Member
  • Edward Harris Klevans, Committee Member
  • Luis F Ayala H, Special Member
  • nuclear energy
  • nuclear safety
  • electricity market
  • deregulation
Chapter 1: Deregulation and Investment in Generation Capacity: Evidence from Nuclear Power Uprates in the United States Nuclear power uprates are investments in generation capacity that enable reactors to operate beyond the original power limit. We find that deregulated reactors are more likely to invest in power uprates. Moreover, after deregulation boiling water reactors are more likely to choose Extended Power Uprates (EPUs) that could add up to 20 percent of the original power, but pressurized water reactors, another type of reactors for which EPUs are more technically challenging, tend to select other types of uprates that add less of reactor power. Deregulation incentivizes reactors to pursue profitable investments and propels them to make careful investment decisions. Chapter 2: Electricity Market Restructuring, Grid Power Flow Conditions, and Nuclear Power Safety in the United States The majority of nuclear power plants in commercial operation today require uninterrupted electrical power supply from transmission grid, controlled within a stringent range of voltage and frequency, to support critical plant safety functions. We study nuclear plant safety events caused by power flow transients over the transmission grid and reported by nuclear plants to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission between 1990 and 2011, and find that for plants operate in areas with competitive wholesale electricity markets, the likelihood to experience unplanned reactor emergency shutdowns have increased more than two times, mainly due to unanalyzed or unexpected abnormal voltages over transmission grid. Our study suggests that electricity market restructuring may have introduced an increasing challenge to nuclear plant operational safety, as well as to maintaining transmission grid voltage stability. Chapter 3: Deregulation and Nuclear Plant Performance: Evidence from Reactor Initiating Events in the United States Nuclear power reactor initiating events, which are unplanned automatic or manual reactor trips, serve as a primary indicator of reactor performance. We study all "plant-centered" initiating events. i.e. events due to plant internal root causes, between 1988 and 2012, and have two main findings. First, we find that deregulated reactors have significantly decreased the frequency of initiating events due to equipment failure. Second, we did not find changes in the frequency of initiating events due to human error. These findings suggest that deregulated reactors may put more emphasis on maintaining the equipment in sound operation and less emphasis is put on the training and human performance side. Our study also hints that when reactors performed well, it often became complacent and their performance declined, which echo industrial discussions that complacency is truly the enemy of nuclear safety culture, and it happens to even the best of nuclear reactors.