We’ve all read about the drought in America’s Southeast, and if it doesn’t let up very quickly, some nuclear power stations may have to either cut back operations or shut down temporarily because of a lack of water.
An Alabama reactor had to shutdown for a brief period in the summer, and officials in the Southeast now say it is becoming a crisis.
Water is essential for the operation of a nuclear facility, primarily to cool used steam generated by the nuclear reactors which run the electricity-generating turbines.
Some plants recycle cooling water in what is known as a closed system, so that process doesn’t create a real water problem.
How much water does a plant use? The Harris reactor near Raleigh, N.C., draws 33 million gallons of water a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation in the cooling towers.
Duke’s McGuire plant near Charlotte, N.C. sucks up more than 1 billion gallons a day from Lake Norman, but most of that is returned to the source. The problem there, is that the lakes level is now 93.7 feet, down nearly 5 feet from a year ago. If it drops another foot, the plant may have to cease operations.
The ratepayer in the Southeast may have to eat some high rates if the trend continues. An energy analyst says replacement power would cost 10 times the going rate should plants shut down.