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

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…