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Drought Threatens To Cripple Southeast Nuclear Industry
Written by Daniel   
Friday, 25 January 2008 12:37

Drought Threatens To Cripple Southeast Nuclear Industry
Jason Mick (Blog) - January 25, 2008 12:05 PM

Drought may shut down plants, lead to much higher energy bills in the Southeast

Whether climate change is a good or bad thing is open to debate, but change indeed appears to be happening in the Southeast U.S., which is being hit with record droughts. These droughts turned neighbors Florida and Georgia against each other in Federal courts over water rights for the water flowing into the Everglades. It also is having some startling consequences on one major U.S. alternative energy source.

Nuclear power is only recently gaining newfound respect in the U.S. and abroad, with the first application for a new nuclear plant in 30 years filed late last year and Canada pushing ahead to restart one of its major research reactors after criticism on government inactivity. Despite these modest gains nuclear remains much maligned among the U.S. public and still has yet to win broad support. Residents in the Southeast may soon be learning, though, that they didn't know what they had till it was gone, as the drought threatens to cripple the southeast nuclear industry and send energy costs in some areas skyrocketing.

Water is a key part of the process of generating nuclear energy. It is used to cool the reactor core and to create the steam which is used to drive turbines to convert the heat energy from the reactions into mechanical and finally electrical power.

Plants tend to fall into two categories. The first have tall cooling towers that discharge most of the water as steam, which is lost into the atmosphere. Others lack the tall cooling towers and exhaust hot water into reservoirs; however they are limited by environmental regulations as to how much hot water they can purge. These restrictions are due to the fact that the water is so hot it can easily kill fish and local plants. Exhausting heated water does recycle a small portion of the used water back into reservoirs, but much of the water still evaporates as it exits steaming hot.

Spokeswoman Julie Hahn for Progress Energy Inc., which operates four reactors in the drought zone, explains the massive water needs of the energy producing giants. She says one Progress reactor, the Harris reactor, intakes 33 million gallons a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation within its megatonic cooling towers. Duke Energy Corp.'s McGuire nuclear plant consumes more than 1 billion gallons a day, though a lesser percentage is lost to evaporation than with the Harris reactor.

The situation has gotten extreme, and numerous plants have been shut down, are preparing to temporarily shut down, or are throttling back production. Nearly a fourth of the nuclear reactors in the U.S., 24 out of 104, are in drought afflicted regions. Nearly all, 22 of these 24, rely on lakes and rivers for their water needs. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. government body which regulates the nuclear power industry, has set minimum allowable water levels for these water sources. Most of the water sources are approaching these minimum levels. Falling below means a government mandated plant closure. [More]  [Comments]


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