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What Huffington Post Gets Wrong About Nuclear Energy & Water Use

We regularly return to the issue of water use and nuclear power plants because anti-nuclear activists can't help but manipulate or obscure the facts when it comes to explaining how much water is used to cool an operating reactor. The latest example comes from the Huffington Post where Kyle Rabin of the Grace Communications Foundation writes that thermoelectric power plants account for 45% of water withdrawals in the U.S.

Which is where NEI's Bill Skaff comes into the picture. Here's his comment that you can find in the string below the article (emphasis mine):
The discussion of electricity generation water use contains some misleading statements that mask the truth. Power plant water use consists of consumption, when water is evaporated and thus lost, and withdrawal, where water is removed from a water body but can be returned, totally or partially. The “outdated cooling technology” mentioned is a once-through cooling system, which cools by the coldness of the withdrawn water and returns 99 percent of that water back to the water body. The so-called up-to-date cooling system, cooling towers, cools by evaporation and thus consumes twice as much water as the once-through cooling system.

It is not surprising, then, that the Electric Power Research Institute, in a 2002 study, found that 98 percent of water withdrawn by the electric power sector in total is returned to the source water bodies.
This is just the sort of sleight of hand that anti-nukes regularly fall back on when presenting their arguments to a general audience. Please keep it in mind the next time you see a claim like Rabin's. Now, back to Bill with some additional facts to think about:
Here are some other facts to consider that provide some needed context that the news coverage this week has omitted. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, the last USGS study to consider water consumption nationwide:
  • Electric power sector water consumption represents only 3.3 percent of the nation's water consumption. 
  • Residential water consumption, at 6.7 percent, is more than twice power sector consumption. 
  • Agricultural water consumption is 81.3 percent, 17 percent of which is water lost during conveyance that never reaches the crops it is intended to irrigate.
The electric power industry, in partnership with businesses, universities, and the National Science Foundation, is supporting over a dozen research projects to develop power plant cooling technologies designed to reduce water consumption in the future.
For more on nuclear power plants and water use, see our website. 

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography. Photo used under Creative Commons License.


Anonymous said…
There is a reason the Huff Post is called the Huff Joke. That so-called news source actually censors and blocks commenters that are against its ultra-liberal positions. Thanks for pointing out another propaganda piece from the Huff Joke.
Jeffrey M. Skov said…
Don't overlook the water used in supposedly "green" ethanol production. Per the Economist: "A typical ethanol factory producing 50m gallons of biofuels a year needs about 500 gallons of water a minute" and "All this is putting a heavy burden on aquifers in some corn-growing areas." See here:

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