September 15, 2012

Will Climate Change Cripple Coal & Nuclear Power Plants? ~ Richard Kujawski

photo: flickr/Tobin

The impact of this year’s record-setting drought is easily seen in parched fields around the country and barges stranded in the Mississippi River.

But global warming is also bringing problems for our nation’s power plants; energy experts are warning that the cooling water for these plants is getting hotter each year—and reducing the amount of electricity that can be produced.

As global warming continues, the lakes and rivers around power plants is becoming too warm to properly cool the equipment; seawater is already too hot to cool some nuclear reactors in Connecticut, so one was shut down because the ocean water was too warm to use.

A recent article in the Washington Post by Ezra Klein explores the extent of the problem. He writes that “In the United States, coal, gas and nuclear plants account for roughly 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater use, drawing from rivers and lakes to prevent their turbines from overheating.”

Klein continues, “Over the next 50 years, if global warming proceeds apace, many rivers will get warmer or reduce their flow. That, in turn, could lead to shortages of cooling water, forcing many plants to shut down. A new study in Nature Climate Change projects that, starting in the 2030s, the generation capacity of these thermal plants could drop by up to 16 percent in the United States and by up to 19 percent in Europe. The likelihood of “extreme reductions” of output at most plants, including shutdowns, would nearly triple.”

Another article at Inside Climate News looks at how the lack of cool water may slow down nuclear industry. 

Robert Krier writes that “Nuclear energy might be an important weapon in the battle against climate change, some scientists have argued, because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. But separate of all the other issues with nuclear, that big plus would be moot if the plants couldn’t operate, or became too inefficient, because of global warming.”

Inside Climate News reported recently that “nuclear and other power plants will see a four to sixteen percent drop in production between 2031 and 2060 due to climate change-induced drought and heat.”

Krier notes that “Much of the drought and unusual heat has been in areas that rely in part on nuclear plants: the upper Midwest, the Southeast and parts of New England. When all of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants are fully operational, they supply about 20 percent of the energy generated in the United States.”



Richard Kujawski is the Managing Editor of Living Green Magazine which informs and educates readers on a range of environmental and lifestyle issues. They balance news stories with articles that highlight nonprofit causes and provide sustainable solutions for individuals, families, businesses, and communities. Their readers come in all shades of green, and want to create a healthy environment for themselves and others. Some people describe Living Green Magazine as the NPR and PBS of green websites.



Editor: Bryonie Wise

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