Friday, January 25, 2008

Droughts Threaten Nuclear Power Plants

One of the implications of the drought in parts of the Southeast is that nuclear power plants may have to be temporarily shut down due to lack of water that is normally used for cooling operations at the plants. Specifically, water is generally drawn off from rivers or lakes to cool steam that is generated in the nuclear reactor (heat exchange process). Without this cooling water, nuclear power plants cannot function. As Jim Warren (exec director of NC Waste Reduction and Awareness Network) states, "Water is the nuclear industry's Achilles' need a lot of water to operate nuclear power plants". Amazingly, 24 of the nation's 104 nuclear power plants are located in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. Although rain has recently fallen in parts of the Southeast, it is estimated that over a foot of additional rain in the next 3 months would be needed to bring these areas out of drought conditions.

In class we have discussed nuclear power as a potential renewable/green energy option. Although there are nuclear waste/security issues to be considered, I think of this type of energy as an important alternative that could be used to partially reduce the United State's reliance on oil and coal. However, as this article points out, there are other considerations to nuclear that also must be weighed - I hadn't realized the impact of droughts on nuclear power sites. If issues such as global warming and climate change do indeed cause droughts in parts of the world, this will inevitably impact decisions on where to locate new nuclear facilities in the future.

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