Citizens Electoral Council - Election 2016 - Enact Glass-Steagall


Solve the Water Crisis With Nuclear Desalination

(published in The New Citizen, February 2002, reprinted in April 2006 edition.)

Nuclear desalination, researched since the 1960s, is a technology ready for take-off as a clean, economical source for supplying safe drinking water from seawater. As Lance Endersbee makes clear, there is no time to waste in planning and building desalination plants that can meet the looming deficits of fresh water for the world’s population.

Conventional desalination plants powered by the steam or electricity that is produced by gas or oil, have been operating for 50 years, and in 2001, there were 12,451 desalination plants worldwide. In the Gulf region and North Africa, desalination supplies about one million cubic meters per day of water, while Saudi Arabia, which is even more dependent on desalination, has a capacity of four million cubic meters per day. The Mideast and Gulf regions are the largest users, with more than 50% of the world’s desalination capacity.

Nuclear desalination complexes (nuplexes) such as this could produce “rivers of water”, and transform Australia and the other dry areas of the world.

There are three main desalination technologies: reverse osmosis, or RO, which is used in nearly half of today’s desalination plants; multi-effect distillation (MED); and multi-stage flash distillation (MSF). All three technologies are still undergoing research to improve efficiency and cost.

Nuclear Desalination Most Attractive

Any power plant—even a small diesel engine—can be coupled to a desalination facility. But nuclear plants are the most attractive power source for desalination, because they are more energy-intensive than plants fired by conventional fuels, and cleaner. Although almost any kind of nuclear plant could be used to power a desalination facility, the fourth-generation high-temperature nuclear reactors which are 50% more efficient, modular, mass-producible, and super-safe-are ideal for the job. Because of its passive safety characteristics and smaller design, the new high temperature reactors (either the South African Pebble Bed or the prismatic core model of General Atomics), can be easily sited near the water-distribution systems.

Especially for developing-sector countries, which do not have large power grids, the small to medium-size, fourth-generation reactors are economical, because they can be added to the grid module by module, as demand increases.

For industrialised countries, larger nuclear plants are appropriate. In fact, in the 1980s, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves the large desert population of more than 15 million people, proposed building a large desalination facility powered by a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor of the General Atomics design. The desalination process was designed to directly use exhaust heat from the reactor. Although economically and technologically feasible, the project was killed by the environmental Malthusians.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has conducted research and feasibility studies on nuclear desalination since the Atoms for Peace days. In its recent studies, the IAEA has stressed that nuclear desalination is cost competitive against other energy sources; it has inherent advantages, such as no pollution, continuous operation, and a secured fuel supply; and that both the heat and/or the electricity produced by a nuclear reactor can be used for desalination, permitting flexible design concepts.

Marjorie Mazel Hecht


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