Skip to main content

NEI Fact Sheet on Water Consumption at Nuclear Plants

NEI recently updated its fact sheet on water consumption at nuclear plants. Below are some highlights (the picture to the right is the cooling tower at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina):
Electric power generation is among the smallest users of water, accounting for about 3 percent of freshwater consumption in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This is the same percentage used by industries and the same used to raise livestock. The largest consumption of water is for irrigation, at 80 percent, followed by residential use at 7 percent, the USGS said.

Residential consumption of freshwater is nearly double the consumption of freshwater for electric power generation. According to the latest USGS figures, the residential sector consumes more than 6.6 billion gallons of freshwater per day, compared with the power sector, which consumes 3.8 billion gallons per day.

A typical nuclear plant supplies power for 740,000 homes and consumes the equivalent of six to 16 gallons of water per day per household in a once-through cooling system. The same plant would consume the equivalent of 20 to 26 gallons of water per day per household if it used cooling tower systems. The average U.S. household of three people consumes about 300 gallons of water per day for indoor and outdoor uses, according to the USGS.

...

There is nothing unique to nuclear power plants about the possibility of reducing electricity production to moderate water temperatures because of decreased water levels in a drought or a severe heat wave. This preserves safety margins established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for each plant.

...

Each reactor design has requirements to decrease power levels if the cooling water source exceeds certain temperature or water-level requirements. The maximum allowed temperature for the heat removal capacity (ocean, river, lake, cooling tower) varies among reactors based on specifications defined in the license.

...

Although the southeastern United States recently has suffered from drought conditions, nuclear plants were not affected significantly. In fact, nuclear plants in the region were critical to meeting electricity demand during a two-week heat wave in August 2007.

Comments

rsm said…
Is the 3% value reflect the amount of water going into the condensers or the water that is evaporated? I ask because I found this at USGS:

http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2004/circ1268/

It gives a value of 52% for freshwater withdrawals for thermoelectric power. The USGS value is clearly talking about what is going in prior to evaporation, but I am not sure what the 3% is in your factsheet.
David Bradish said…
rsm,

You've pretty much figured it out. Our fact sheet is referring to consumption which is really another word for evaporation.

Here is a link to the 1995 USGS study where it talks in detail about consumption. If you go to the last page of the Summary and Totals (pdf), you can find a diagram on water use where you can find our 3% value. The 2000 study you linked to only discusses withdrawals.
Anonymous said…
It's also worth note that South Texas Project Units 3 and 4 will have both wet and dry cooling towers. During periods of drought, they can operate without using any water beyond a small make-up for leaks at the penalty of slightly reduced output.

Matthew B.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…