Friday, April 1, 2011

Nuclear Energy and Water

One of the discussions that is never had when talking about the pros and cons of nuclear power stations is the cooling process. It occured to me years ago, whilst driving along the Loire River in France, that all of these reactors (there are five, I think, along that river alone) need to be constantly cooled with, constantly. The water that runs off from them, which will have been warmed by the reactors, then goes back into the rivers and seas.

Over the last decade there has been much less rainfall, the river levels are lower, and the industrial and agricultural extraction of water from rivers has increased. This is one of those slow-burn problems that people do not think about, or deliberately do not want to think about, until it is too late.

Here in France the climate has been getting dryer and dryer - 24° in the shade today - and this will have an effect on the ability to cool down the reactors. 85% of France's electricity is produced from these reactors, and I recently heard that last year France had to import electricty from the UK, as they were not able to keep all the power plants cool, necessitating the shutting down of some of them - not a quick process.

This problem will only get worse, and I foresee power cuts becoming a regular feature of European life. This is fine for the average household, who can (or should) easily go without for an hour or two, but much more problematic when we come to think of hospitals, industry, and even those same power stations.

These are energy issues which we could and should have thought about a long, long time ago. Back then, solutions would have been possible - now I am not so sure.

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