Climate, Water are Risks for Nuclear, Gas, Coal

October 22, 2020

Exelon Corp.’s Clinton Power Station nuclear plant in Illinois uses about 248.5 billion gallons of water annually, the utility said in its 2020 report to CDP. The plant is in an area projected to face increased water stress by 2030.
Source: Exelon Corp.

One reason I have some confidence that China is not going to burn as much coal as they project, is that they are simply not going to have enough water to implement that plan.

Standard & Poors Global Market Intelligence:

As global warming climbs and humanity’s water consumption increases, nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants that rely on freshwater for cooling may not be able to perform at their peak capacity or could be forced to shut down temporarily even as demand for their supplies for indoor cooling and other uses increase, according to researchers and industry experts. 

Climate change-exacerbated water shortage issues pose a near-term and longer-term performance risk to power plants, such as hydropower and nuclear, around the world. And in the Lower 48, more than half of the fossil-fueled and nuclear fleet is located in areas forecast to face climate-related water stress by the end of this decade under a business-as-usual scenario, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

But electric utilities’ overall exposure to power plant water stress risks could diminish as they pursue decarbonization strategies and replace water-dependent plants with wind and solar generation that require little to no water. Some companies are also implementing water management and related investment strategies to reduce their exposure.

Water issues have become more and more important to utilities over time, said Alex Bond, Edison Electric Institute’s associate general counsel for energy and the environment. EEI is an association of U.S. investor-owned utilities.

Bond said water stress is one component of resilience that utilities currently monitor and analyze. “Our companies take electric sector resiliency very seriously,” he said.

According to projections from the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, water stress — when humanity’s competition for water exceeds the rate at which nature can replenish its stocks — could grow materially by 2030 in the drought-prone Western U.S., as well as the upper Midwest and portions of the Northeast and Florida, due to climate change.

About 61.8% of existing fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants in the Lower 48, or a combined 535 GW of operating capacity, is in areas that could face medium-high to extremely high water stress in 2030, based on an analysis of Market Intelligence’s power plant data paired with the Aqueduct water stress projections.

Moreover, 68.6% of the Lower 48’s natural gas-fired fleet, 73.3% of its oil-fueled fleet, 61.0% of its nuclear fleet, and 44.6% of its coal-fired fleet are in areas expected to face medium-high to extremely-high water stress that year.

“As we’re seeing snowpack decline — a natural mountainous reservoir of water — and as we’re getting lower amounts of total precipitation and available water in the U.S. West, this is going to be a really serious issue for the power sector,” said Betsy Otto, director of the Global Water Program at the World Resource Institute, or WRI. Moreover, scientists have said the West is entering a megadrought that could last more than 20 years.

USC News:

The researchers found that the U.S. energy system requires an estimated 58 trillion gallons of water withdrawals each year — enough to fill 88 million Olympic-size swimming pools. Of that, 3.5 trillion gallons of freshwater is consumed. That’s about 10 percent of total U.S. water consumption.

Among the findings:

  • Some energy resources are much more freshwater intensive than others. For example, irrigation associated with ethanol production (which makes up 2 percent of total energy delivered to U.S. consumers each year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration) and evaporation from hydropower reservoirs (1 percent of total energy delivered to consumers) consume a large amount of freshwater. Overall, they consume 28 percent and 18 percent of the total freshwater consumed by all energy sources, respectively.
  • Although oil and natural gas consume large volumes of water (together representing 30 percent of the total water consumed by all energy sources), their total freshwater consumption is relatively low (16 percent of total freshwater consumed for the energy system) despite representing 80 percent of the total delivered energy to consumers. Most of the water consumed by the oil industry is of comparable or lesser quality than saltwater.
  • Power plants represent a little more than one-third of total freshwater consumption for the U.S. energy system annually, but over 90 percent of energy-related water withdrawals.
  • Emerging renewable energy sources — wind power and solar panels — require very little water to create a unit of electricity compared to U.S. power plants that typically use coal, nuclear and natural gas.

8 Responses to “Climate, Water are Risks for Nuclear, Gas, Coal”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Small modulars get the go ahead in Boise, Idaho, lets hope the water flow there does not create any problems later on.

    “This is the first small modular reactor to gain approval by the United States. It’s a big event.”

    “A Portland-based company has a plan to repurpose closed coal plants—large sources of carbon dioxide emissions when they were operating—to generate carbon-free energy in the form of nuclear power.

    Last month, U.S. officials approved NuScale Power’s designs for 12 small nuclear reactors to be built in Boise, Idaho. The reactors could make use of the water, transmission lines and general infrastructure of former coal-powered plants in the West to produce clean energy, said Jose Reyes, co-founder of the company.”

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Excellent news and thank the gods. The water shortage problem must be, can be addressed for nuclear. For coal etc, don’t bother.

  2. Nuclear energy is not as clean as it claims. Certainly not carbon-free. Mining, milling, especially enrichment, fuel fabrication, plant construction, radwaste management, decomissioning all require large amounts of energy, often with electricity derived from coal + natural or methane gas. There are thousands of abandoned uranium mines in this country, often leaking constant low levels of long-lived radionuclides. The only nuclear plants under construction in this country are 2 Vogtle plants, now twice their original projected costs, at $24 billion for the two units. Also 5 years behind schedule. Just heard likely to miss target date of service late next year. And some of that George clay is causing subsidence issues, so that internal walls are not vertical.

    • funslinger62 Says:

      Not really genuine to include the carbon derived electricity equally since as more clean energy comes online that part will diminish.

      The “One must spend money to make money” analog applies here.

      • That sidsteps all the diesel in mining + milling + other steps. Also the serious CO2 releases in the concrete curing construction, a larger volume of concrete than any other source of power except hydroelectricity I suspect.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      That is silly. We do not stop using PV even though they are not actually harvested from solar panel trees, and wind turbines must actually be constructed rather than grown from seed, As for nuclides jail breaking from (thousands) of abandoned mines, you are confusing them with natural gases. Solutions are required, not dogma excuses.

      • The radionuclides are lofted with particles, + pose downwind risk. Here is a link to the federal data on this issue, entitled

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        See nothing in the link about flying radioactives. Now everything, including thee and me, is radioactive. Pure uranium mines are rare and all I know about are closed. That surprising large number off mines will include ones with side processing for uranium, or a naturally higher than normal uranium content. So IF there is a problem it is caused by mining in general and would still exist if nuclear power didn’t exist! The world is cooking,and scraping up reasons preventing a needed solution is….Really Silly!

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