Global warming really affecting USA’s nuclear reactors
Extreme Heat, Drought Show Vulnerability of Nuclear Power Plants Reactor shutdown in Connecticut is latest sign that nuclear energy would face challenges from climate change. By Robert Krier, InsideClimate News, 15 Aug 12, Will 2012 go down as the year that left the idea of nuclear energy expansion in the hot, dry dust?
Nuclear energy might be an important weapon in the battle against climate change, some scientists have argued, because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. But separate of all the other issues with nuclear, that big plus would be moot if the plants couldn’t operate, or became too inefficient, because of global warming. In June, InsideClimate News reported on the findings of Dennis Lettenmaier, a researcher at the University of Washington. His study found that nuclear and other power plants will see a 4 to 16 percent drop in production between 2031 and 2060 due to climate change-induced drought and heat.
The U.S. is getting plenty of both this year. Just Sunday, the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., had to shut down one of its two reactors because seawater was too warm to cool it. It was the first time in the plant’s 37-year history that the water pulled from the Long Island Sound was too warm to use.
So the question becomes, is the future already here?
Heat records have been falling by the thousands since spring, and on Aug. 9 theU.S. Drought Monitor map showed that 62.46 percent of the nation is under moderate to exceptional drought conditions. That’s down slightly from the peak of 63.86 percent last month, the highest percentage since the Drought Mitigation Center began producing the map in 2000. But the percentage of the country that is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought continued to rise and is now at 24.14 percent, almost a fourth of the country.
Much of the drought and unusual heat has been in areas that rely in part on nuclear plants: the upper Midwest, the Southeast and parts of New England.
When all of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants are fully operational, they supply about 20 percent of the energy generated in the United States. Those plants need water to operate, and in most cases, they need fresh water. There’s not a lot of fresh water to go around in much of the nation this summer, and that is putting nuclear energy to the test.
It’s also raising questions about how freshwater supplies should be managed in a world further taxed by climate change. Inevitably, there will be increased competition for water from a growing population, agriculture and the energy sector.
(Plants that use saltwater for cooling generally don’t have the same issues, because they never have a shortage of water. But the shutdown at Millstone shows they can still be vulnerable to heat waves.)
About 40 percent of the nation’s fresh water use goes toward energy generation, with nuclear energy considered a very water-intensive energy source….. http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120815/nuclear-power-plants-energy-nrc-drought-weather-heat-water?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:%20solveclimate/blog%20(InsideClimate%20News)
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