It’s a startling fact: In just 10 years, our growing population and rising industrial development will mean that almost a third of the world will not have access to clean water.
Almost all the world’s water—96 percent of it—exists in oceans that contain salt. But humans need fresh water, and “fresh” means water that contains fewer than 1,000 parts per million dissolved salts in one percent of its weight. Ocean water contains almost 35,000ppm.
Desalination removes salt from water using heat – lots of heat. If the heat comes from fossil-fuel sources, then desalination contributes to climate change. That’s because all fossil fuels—oil, gas or coal—release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The need for clean and accessible water cannot be overstated. A recent alarming WHO report found that one in three people are affected by water scarcity. A number that would be higher had it not been for desalination plants. Almost a quarter of a billion people rely on desalination to supply them with clean water. Desalination plants supply Israel with almost half of its water, Japan holds a fleet of 10 desalination facilities which provide electricity and potable water.
Nuclear power plants look interesting to countries with a fresh-water shortage due to environmental benefits. According to Dr. Ibrahim Khamis, a senior nuclear engineer with the IAEA, “A nuclear power plant is like any heat source. The moment you use the reactor, the cost of fuel is much less and it has a lot of energy.”
Nuclear plants produce tremendous heat which drives steam turbines to make electricity. They can use leftover heat to boil ocean water. When steam condenses, it becomes pure, clean water; the salt drops out and can be returned to the ocean.
Dr. Khamis says using nuclear power to desalinate water has both economic and environmental benefits, combining two projects into one. “Instead of having a desalination plant somewhere and a power plant somewhere else and each one has intake, withdrawing the water, you can bring them together to improve the environmental impact and become more green when you use nuclear desalination,” he says.
According to the World Nuclear Association, “The feasibility of integrated nuclear desalination plants has been proven with over 150 reactor-years of experience, chiefly in Kazakhstan, India and Japan.”
After decades of research, India launched a hybrid Nuclear Desalination Demonstration Project, the largest of its kind.
Using nuclear technology to provide safe, clean drinking water is nothing new. The U.S. Military has relied on nuclear reactors to provide potable water to submarine and aircraft carrier personnel.
With the global demand for water on the rise, nuclear technology could be a solution to the world’s fresh water supply, providing security and prosperity to countries in need of fresh water. Nuclear technology could prove to be a solution when faced with a dwindling fresh water supply. Providing security, prosperity and growth to countries starved for access to water.