Nuclear Power, Getting Perspective – Water Use vs. Consumption


One anti-nuclear argument is the often cited extreme use of water.

The people who use this as an argument against building reactors either ignore or don’t understand the difference between USE and CONSUMPTION. In fact, the only water consumption involved is simple evaporation.

So what? Water even evaporates when rain falls on solar collectors.

The vast majority of water “used” by any power plant (even nuclear) is simply pumped from some body of water such as a river, runs through a heat exchanger, and then runs back to the source a few degrees warmer.

Yes, the water is used, but it isn’t USED UP. In other words, most of the water isn’t “consumed,” you can use it again.

Using water isn’t the same thing as consuming water which is what we do with gasoline, but if you mention water use and nuclear reactor in the same paragraph it really sounds scary.

The only radioactive water in a reactor is kept sealed inside. The massive amounts of cooling water isn’t radioactive and it isn’t consumed. You could just as easily say it is recycled, even the amount which is consumed. In fact, all the cooling water used by a nuclear power plant is recycled, 100%.

An Australian government analysis showed that actual water “consumption” (evaporation) is about 1500 “litres”/MWh generated. Coal fired plants use less so there is less evaporation, about 1200 “litres”/MWH

That isn’t consumed water, just the water that runs through the cooling coils and back out.

How much water evaporates from solar panels when it rains? Certainly more than if it fell on the ground and was absorbed?

Those who complain about water use in power plants don’t address the difference between use and consumption. Merely running water over cooling coils doesn’t destroy or pollute the water. Most of the water is still there at the end, ready for some other use.

This isn’t just my opinion, it is simply understanding the basic difference between “use” and “consumption.”

The same Australian report cited above says: “Some power stations USE large quantities of water, but most of this water is returned to the source and can be used again by other consumers – All power stations do CONSUME some of the water they USE. This is generally water that is lost as evaporation.”

I might add that water in ponds, lakes. oceans, swimming pools, hot tubs, as well as that which falls from the sky onto gardens is also subject to evaporation, that is how we get rain and snow.

Nuclear power isn’t the only power source which “consumes” water through evaporation and heating.

The Hoover dam created a 164,000 acre lake (Lake Meade). The estimate for all U.S. hydroelectric plant evaporation is 9 BILLION gallons per DAY.

In addition, anyone who has ever set a bucket of water out in the sun on a summer day also knows that water behind a dam probably gets warmer, just as water used in a power plant.

The point I’m making is that things are generally a LOT more complicated than most of the people who are against nuclear power want you to understand.

In fact, they often try to mislead people by misrepresenting something innocuous as something terrible.

Should we be against nuclear power because some water evaporates? If so, why not object to all power plants on the same basis, even hydroelectric? How about the pollution from making solar cells or mining the materials to make them, or the water which evaporates from them instead of sinking into the ground?

And, how about the hydroponic plants using waste heat from power plants? Shut them down too?

Silly, but that makes every bit as much sense as saying we shouldn’t use nuclear power because water runs through some clean pipes and back out of the plant while a small percentage evaporates to eventually become rain or snow.