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an atmospheric mystery
sometimes, atmospheric conditions near MIT cause a neat little line of low-altitude cumulus-like clouds to form as if condensing downstream from a steam plume. there are two likely suspects for the plume: the MIT nuclear reactor (5MW heat output, no power generation, so it all goes up the cooling tower), and the MIT cogeneration plant (21MW of electrical power from a gas turbine, plus some waste heat recovered to make utility steam). claimed electrical heat rate for the cogen turbine is 11400 BTU/kWh; multiplying out with 21MW gives about 70MW of combustion heat. if the cogen process approaches 90% total efficiency, that's still 7MW of waste heat to the cooling tower. for some reason, the reactor cooling tower plume looks more dramatic from the ground despite its lower power. maybe it condenses at a lower altitude. the clouds have no continuous connection to the cooling towers, so it's not possible to trace their origin that way. (the plants in question are across Mass Ave from each other.)


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