I have read a number of analyses of the education system in Simcity and how it interacts with the operation of nuclear power plants. I have yet to read a post that correctly explains how to operate a nuclear power plant safely.
While the game’s description indicates that having an uneducated workforce in your nuclear power plant will result in a meltdown, the actual mechanics of the game’s nuclear power building has nothing
to do with the education level in your city as indicated by the number of mortar boards (the five green “hats”) that you can fill up. The mechanics are instead only
related to the strength of the knowledge network that is able to be generated by a city’s college, university or both those education buildings working together.
The Five Mortar Boards and Education Level
The five mortar boards do indicate a general “education level” of your city. However, this education level only influences aspects of the game such as the amount of garbage your Sims produce, crime levels, fire risk, etc. It has nothing
to do with safely operating a nuclear power plant.
Student Sims, Worker Sims and Education Agents
Only Student Sims are capable of transporting “education agents” from an education sink back to their residence sinks each day. Worker Sims are not capable of transporting education agents anywhere. They do not transport education agents from their residence sink to the nuclear power plant when they work there. Worker Sims have no education level. None of them are educated and none of them are uneducated. They are all the exact same and have no education level assigned to them, ever. Therefore, it makes no difference which Worker Sims staff a nuclear plant each day. There is no such mechanic as an “uneducated Worker Sim” staffing a nuclear power plant and causing a reactor to blow up. That does not happen.
The Knowledge Network and Industrial Technology Progression
1. Bring up the industrial technology map (F12, then “/” twice)
2. Center the camera over a college or university and watch what happens during a day. As students attend the four classes their “knowledge” begins to flow outwards from the building along the road network. This is shown as coloured lines that slowly start to fade-in along roads. The college and university each have their own separate knowledge network and if you zoom in you can see the two networks’ coloured lines float on top of each other where they overlap. The network from the college is on the bottom and the network from the university is on top. They are shaded slightly different colours as well.
3. The more students that are educated each time a class is held, the stronger the knowledge network that is generated by the college or university and the further the knowledge network(s) will push along the road network.
4. The knowledge is absorbed from the network(s) by the industrial buildings and electronic production specialization buildings it reaches along roads. Note that electronic production specialization buildings will only absorb knowledge from the network generated by the university. Those particular buildings ignore the network generated by the college.
5. An industrial “tech level” bar grows in each of these buildings to show the total amount of knowledge they have stockpiled. If one of these buildings sits outside of the reach of the knowledge network(s), it will not absorb and stockpile any knowledge and will therefore not move through the different technology stages.
6. Overnight each knowledge network fades away and is cleared from the data display and had to be regenerated by the following day’s students successfully attending classes.
How to Safely Operate a Nuclear Power Plant
Factors Affecting Knowledge Network Generation
- A nuclear power plant behaves like an industrial building in the game. The mechanism the game uses to determine if an individual reactor at the plant is safe to operate or will go into meltdown is based only on the amount of knowledge (i.e. tech level) the plant has been able to stockpile from the knowledge network described above.
- Each day as the knowledge network is generated by students attending classes at a college or university and this network reaches the nuclear power plant, the plant’s knowledge stockpile bar grows. If both a college and university exist in a city and both knowledge networks are strong enough to be able to reach the plant, two knowledge stockpile bars will be shown in the plant, one for each of those education buildings.
- When first placed, a new nuclear power plant and its Generation I reactor will start with one full bar of its knowledge stockpile (tech level of 600.) This bar is the same one that would be absorbed from a college's knowledge network. A university's knowledge network fills a separate bar. This starting knowledge stockpile is there so that the plant begins operations in a safe state. However, if the plant is placed in such a way that it is operating out of the reach of a knowledge network, it will consume its starting knowledge stockpile within a few days and the reactor will meltdown. Many mayors have a false sense of security when they place a plant and check that the education level is safe during the plant's first few operating minutes. The plant is only operating safely because of its starting knowledge stockpile.
- A nuclear power plant consumes its stockpiled knowledge very quickly over the course of a day. You can watch this occur during the daily cycle on the industrial technology map. Periodically the plant’s knowledge stockpile bar will shrink, often down to zero.
- The grow/shrink cycle repeats during the day until all four classes of students have been taught and the knowledge network stops being generated. At this point the nuclear power plant is left with a knowledge stockpile that it will use to safely operate its reactors overnight until the next day’s classes are attended.
- Often the nuclear power plant will consume its entire amount of stockpiled knowledge overnight and be left with zero stockpile in the morning.
- The key to preventing a reactor meltdown is to consistently replenish the nuclear power plant’s knowledge stockpile so that it does not stay at “zero levels” for an extended period of time.
Factors Affecting the Amount of Knowledge Stockpiled
- The number of students attending class. More students = Stronger knowledge network
- The number of colleges and universities in a city. One college/university = One knowledge network. Both a college and a university = Two knowledge networks
Factors Affecting Knowledge Stockpile Consumption
- Proximity of nuclear power plant to college/university. The closer the plant is to the origin point of the knowledge network, the more knowledge the plant will be able to stockpile before the knowledge network is absorbed by other sinks.
- The location and number of other knowledge network sinks in a city. If there are multiple industrial buildings and electronic production specialization facilities between a city’s college/university and its nuclear power plant, the knowledge network will be absorbed by all the other knowledge network sinks before it is able to reach the plant. This will potentially not leave enough knowledge in the network to be able to be stockpiled by the plant to operate safely.
- The number of reactors. More reactors = More knowledge consumption
- The type of reactors. Higher technology reactors = More knowledge consumption
Therefore running four Fast Neutron reactors consumes much more knowledge on a daily basis than running a couple of Generation I reactors. You must have a consistent and strong knowledge network being generated daily by your college and/or university to be able to safely run larger and more advanced nuclear power plants.
What a Safely Operating Nuclear Power Plant Looks Like
The nuclear power plant is located in a city that has a college and/or university that is/are consistently well attended by students daily, thus creating a strong knowledge network that easily is able to reach the plant and completely refresh the plant’s knowledge stockpile to maximum levels on a daily basis.
1. Do I need to have public schools, high schools, or libraries in my city to safely operate a nuclear power plant?
No. The safety of a nuclear power plant only depends on its ability to absorb knowledge from the knowledge network. The knowledge network is created only by colleges and universities. No other education building has any influence on the plant's safe operation.
2. Can I safely operate a nuclear power plant with no college or university in my city if there is another city in my region's cluster that is specializing in education?
Yes. If the other city that is specializing in education has a well attended college and/or university and few/no knowledge network sinks (i.e. industrial buildings, electronic production specialization buildings) the knowledge network that is generated by that other city can travel along the regional highway, enter your city along its road network and be absorbed by your nuclear power plant to permit it to safely operate. This is a shared knowledge network.
There are significant risks to using this strategy:
3. Are there any safeguards in place to make sure my students don't drop out of college/university because of traffic problems?
- You are depending on the robustness and consistency of that other city's knowledge network. If another player is controlling that city live and one day there are suddenly problems with attendance levels at that player's college/university your city may not receive any of the shared knowledge network from the regional highway the next morning. You would then be facing a significant risk of a reactor in your plant melting down within hours.
- You are depending on the other city's knowledge network being able to adequately supply all knowledge network sinks in the regional cluster of cities where your city and its plant is located. If another city starts to build additional industrial buildings or electronic production specialization buildings, the shared knowledge network could be absorbed by those sinks first and not be strong enough to make it to your plant. You would then be facing a significant risk of a reactor in your plant melting down within hours.
- The game's regional trading system is currently buggy (as of Patch 1.8) and the lags and inconsistent ability to share resources among different cities, including a shared knowledge network, makes reliance on another city specializing in education to allow your plant to safely operate a very risky strategy.
No. If you are running a safe nuclear power plant and something in your city changes traffic so that drastically fewer students are able to attend classes at the college/university for a couple of days, there is a significant risk that the plant will have its knowledge stockpile at "zero levels" for too long and one or more reactors will meltdown.
4. Can I safely operate a nuclear power plant and have the industrial buildings in my city be low-tech at the same time?
Yes, however this would not be easy to achieve. You would need to structure your city's layout so that the knowledge network generated by your college/university reaches your plant first before it is able to reach any other industrial building. You would then need to find a balance point where enough students attend the college/university so that the knowledge network it generates is enough to satisfy the plant's needs, but does not spread out any further to reach your industrial buildings. This would be a very difficult balance point to achieve and consistently maintain over time.
5. Will a nuclear power plant’s reactors meltdown if they are not supplied with water?
No. A nuclear power plant that runs out of water will not have any of its reactors meltdown no matter how long the water is cut-off. I tested and safely operated a plant with one Generation I reactor for a week where no water was being supplied to any buildings in the city. Every residential building in the test city had been abandoned and crumbled into ruins because of the lack of water supply by the time I completed the test. I then repeated the test with a plant that had four Fast Neutron reactors and no water. Again, the plant was able to operate safely.
The reason why most people believe that a lack of water will cause a reactor to meltdown is because a serious water shortage will actually result in the college/university in their city shutting down. With no higher education buildings operating, there is no knowledge network being generated for the plant to absorb on a daily basis. The plant’s knowledge stockpile therefore ends up at “zero levels” for too long and a meltdown occurs.
I was able to operate my test plants without water because I had already set-up a neighbouring city with a university that was being well attended. Therefore the neighbouring city’s knowledge network was shared with my test city running the plant (see F.A.Q. #2 for more information on shared knowledge networks.) The plant in the test city was able to absorb enough knowledge from the shared network flowing in from the regional highway each morning that it was able to continue operating safely even with no higher education buildings operating in its own city. As well, because the lack of water supply resulted in all residential buildings being abandoned and a population of zero in the test city, the plant was staffed by workers who commuted in from the neighbouring city.
Edits apart from corrections for spelling, grammar and formatting will be noted below.
Added F.A.Q. section to respond to questions posted below.
1) Clarification - electronic production specialization buildings only absorb knowledge from the university's network. The knowledge network generated by the college will bypass these buildings without being absorbed.
2) F.A.Q. #5.
3) Information - when first placed, a new nuclear power plant will start with one full bar of its knowledge stockpile (tech level of 600.) This bar is the same one that would be absorbed from a college's knowledge network. A university's knowledge network fills a separate bar.
4) Information - when looking at the Industrial Tech Map, where two knowledge networks overlap, the college's network is on the bottom and the university's network is on top.