A Scottish nuclear power station was forced to shutdown by the storm on December 8th. Attention has been focussed by anti-windfarm sources on the shutdown of windfarms in and around Scotland in what has been called the strongest winds in 25 years, but what has received hardly any attention was the storm-induced grid failure which shutdown the 480 MW Hunterston B nuclear power station in Ayrshire.
Such sudden nuclear shutdowns are in fact quite common, and, as covered in my blog on a Sizewell B failure on March 14th (scroll down to read this), these quite unexpected shutdowns of nuclear power stations are much more dangerous to grid stability and supply services to consumers than storm-induced shutdowns of windfarms. This is because storms can be predicted in advance, meaning that the National Grid System Operator can take mitigatory measures in good time on the basis of anticipated declines in windfarm production of electricity, and also because the windfarms, which will typically cut out when windspeeds reach 25 metres per second, do not all cut out at exactly the same instant.
Unfortunately when nuclear power stations cut out (and the most 'modern' ones are over 1000 MW in capacity), they do so without warning taking off large chunks of generating capacity off the grid in an instant. That is far more dangerous to the prospects of 'keeping the lights on' than the well known variability of windfarm output. This emphasises how wind power is in fact more reliable for grid stability purposes compared to nuclear power stations. See a report on the storm shutdowns (both wind and nuclear) on http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-09/battered-u-k-turbines-switch-on-after-halting-in-165-mph-winds.html. This is not the first time a storm has suddenly shutdown Hunterston B. See also the1998 report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/244765.stm.
Of course, because nuclear power stations are built to run all the time they are useless in providing so-called 'back-up' to windfarm variability, but they are a major threat to grid variability compared to windfarms. So don't accept any of the nonsense about how nuclear power is better than renewable energy because it provides firm power. It needs plenty of back-up itself!