When thinking about a relationship between electricity and water, your first thought probably isn’t that electricity needs water. In a way, however, it does.
“Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel,” said Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network. Much of the Southeastern United States has been in a drought, and the drop in water levels may force the closure of some nuclear plants later this year. Others will be forced to throttle back without the necessary water levels they need to cool the reactors.
Utility officials say such shutdowns and throttle backs won’t result in blackouts if managed correctly. However, they could lead to high electric bills for the customers in the affected areas because the affected utilities may need to buy power from other utilities.
According to the Associated Press, of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, 24 are in severe drought areas. Twenty-two exist on the shores of lakes and rivers and use submerged intake pipes to draw the water they need to cool the reactors and condense steam after the water has turned the plants’ turbines.
The area has been under a year-long dry spell, and already, one reactor in Alabama briefly shut down over the summer of 2007. If conditions do not improve, water levels may drop below the minimums set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This poses a danger because the water level can drop below the intake pipes, or the water can become too hot to effectively cool the reactors.