(Updated August 2017)

  • Potable water is in short supply in many parts of the world. Lack of it is set to become a constraint on development in some areas.
  • Nuclear energy is already being used for desalination, and has the potential for much greater use.
  • Nuclear desalination is generally very cost-competitive with using fossil fuels. "Only nuclear reactors are capable of delivering the copious quantities of energy required for large-scale desalination projects" in the future (IAEA 2015).
  • As well as desalination of brackish or sea water, treatment of urban waste water is increasingly undertaken.

It is estimated that one-fifth of the world's population does not have access to safe drinking water, and that this proportion will increase due to population growth relative to water resources. The worst-affected areas are the arid and semiarid regions of Asia and North Africa. A UNESCO report in 2002 said that the freshwater shortfall worldwide was then running at some 230 billion m3/yr and would rise to 2000 billion m3/yr by 2025. Wars over access to water, not simply energy and mineral resources, are conceivable.

A World Economic Forum report in January 2015 highlighted the problem and said that shortage of fresh water may be the main global threat in the next decade.

Fresh water is a major priority in sustainable development. Where it cannot be obtained from streams and aquifers, desalination of seawater, mineralised groundwater or urban waste water is required. A study in 2006 by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that 2.3 billion people lived in water-stressed areas, 1.7 billion of them having access to less than 1000 m3 of potable water per year. With population growth, these figures will increase substantially.

Water can be stored, while electricity at utility scale cannot. This suggests two synergies with base-load power generation for electrically-driven desalination: undertaking it mainly in off-peak times of the day and week, and load-shedding in unusually high peak times.

World Energy Outlook 2016 reported that in 2015, there were about 19,000 desalination plants worldwide, to provide water to both municipal and industrial users. Almost half of global installed desalination capacity was in the Middle East, followed by the European Union with 13%, the USA with 9%, and North Africa with 8%. Globally, seawater is the most common feedwater type, supplying about 60% of installed capacity, followed by brackish water at over 20%.

WEO 2016 also reported on energy consumption for desalination. The UAE used 556 TJ/yr, followed by Saudi Arabia 168 TJ/yr, Qatar 118 TJ/yr, and Kuwait 76 TJ/yr.

Cumulative investment in desalination plants reached about US$ 21.4 billion in 2015 and is expected at least to double by 2020 according to a 2016 report by market analyst, Research and Markets. The report, Seawater and Brackish Water Desalination, includes a prediction that investment by 2020 should top US$ 48 billion showing a compound annual growth rate of 17.6%. The report assesses the market for large industrial or municipal facilities with a capacity greater than 1,000 m³/day. It highlights a growing gap between freshwater resources and demand from all sectors.


Most desalination today uses fossil fuels, and thus contributes to increased levels of greenhouse gases. Total world capacity in 2016 was 88.6 million m³/day (32,300 GL/yr) of potable water, in almost 19,000 plants. Of this, 73% is membrane desalination, and 27% thermal, though in the year to mid-2016, 93% of new capacity contracted was membrane. In 2015, over 65% of global installed desalination capacity was reverse osmosis (RO). A majority of the plants is in the Middle East and north Africa. Combining power generation and water production by desalination is economically advantageous and is widely used in the Middle East.

In December 2015 the "Global Clean Water Desalination Alliance – H2O minus CO2" initiative was launched at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris, and called on its 17-nation membership to use clean energy to power new desalination plants. The call was part of the alliance's aim to tackle the water-energy nexus and climate change.

The largest desalination plant – the $3.8 billion Al-Jubail 2 in Saudi Arabia – has 948,000 m3/day (346 GL/yr) MED-TVC capacity, plus 2745 MWe power generation using gas turbines. The Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) takes about 62% of output to supply Riyadh. China is building a 1 million m3/d RO plant to supply Beijing. Two-thirds of the world capacity is processing seawater, and one-third uses brackish artesian water.

Desalination technologies

The two major types of desalination technologies used around the world can be broadly classified as either thermal processes, in which feedwater is boiled and the vapour condensed as pure water (distillate), or membrane desalination processes, in which feedwater is pumped through semi-permeable membranes to filter out the dissolved solids. The main thermal processes are multi-stage flash distillation (MSF), multi-effect distillation (MED) and vapour compression variants – thermal and mechanical (TVC, MVC). The main membrane process is reverse osmosis (RO).

More than three-quarters of the capacity is MSF and RO, but MED is increasing rapidly, according to the International Desalination Association.

The major technology in use and being built today is reverse osmosis (RO) driven by electric pumps which pressurise water and force it through a semi-permeable membrane against its osmotic pressure*. This accounted for 65% of 2016 world capacity, up from only 10% in 1999. With brackish water, RO is much more cost-effective, though MSF gives purer water than RO. RO relies on electricity to drive the actual process and requires clean (filtered) feedwater.

* IAEA 2015 states that operating pressure for osmosis ranges from 17 to 27 bars for brackish water and from 55 to 82 bars (5500 to 8200 kPa) for seawater. The energy efficiency of seawater RO heavily depends on recovering the energy from the pressurized reject brine. In large plants, the reject brine pressure energy is recovered by a turbine; commonly a Peloton wheel turbine recovering 20% to 40% of the consumed energy.

Hybrid thermal-membrane plants have a more flexible power-to-water ratio, efficient operation even with significant seasonal and daily fluctuations of the electricity and water demand, less primary energy consumption and an increase of plant efficiency, thus improving economics and reducing environmental impacts. MSF+RO or MED-TVC+RO hybrid plants exploit the best features of each technology for different quality products or a blended product.

Several thermal distillation processes capable of using waste heat from power generation are in use: Multi-stage flash (MSF) distillation process using steam, was earlier prominent. It works by flashing a portion of the water into steam in multiple stages of what are essentially countercurrent heat exchangers and it accounted for 23% of world capacity in 2012. It is more energy-intensive than MED, but it can cope with suspended solids and any degree of salinity. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has designed a 600 MWt HTR called the GTHTR300 which produces 300 MWe and uses the waste heat in MSF desalination, the projected water cost being half that of using gas-fired CCGT.

An increasing number of plants use multiple-effect distillation (MED) with 8% world capacity in 2012, or multi-effect vapour compression (MVC or VCD) distillation or a combination of these, e.g. MED-TVC with thermal vapour compression. Multiple-effect distillation (MED) is the low temperature thermal process of obtaining fresh water by recovering the vapour of boiling seawater in a sequence of vessels (called effects), each maintained at a lower temperature than the last. Because the boiling point of water decreases as pressure decreases, the vapour boiled off in one vessel can be used to heat the next one, and only the first one (at the highest pressure) requires an external source of heat, such as that from the condenser circuit of a power plant. It is higher-cost than RO but can cope with any degree of salinity. For Kuwait, MED was selected because no pre-treatment of feedwater was required, in an area with algal blooms and organic matter.

Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging process which is thermally-driven.

Desalination is energy-intensive. Reverse osmosis needs up to 6 kWh of electricity per cubic metre of water (depending on both process and its original salt content), though the latest RO plants such as in Perth, Western Australia, use 3.5 kWh/m3, or 4 kWh/m3 including pumping for distribution. Hence 1 MWe continuous will produce about 4000 to 6000 m3 per day from seawater. MSF and MED require heat at 70-130°C and use about 38 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 3.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MSF and 1.5 kWh/m3 for MED-TVC. (IAEA 2015 quotes 100 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 3.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MSF and 50 kWh/m3 thermal input, plus 2.5 kWh/m3 electrical for MED.) A variety of low-temperature and waste heat sources may be used, including solar energy (especially for MED), so the above kilowatt-hour figures are not properly comparable. For brackish water and reclamation of municipal wastewater RO requires only about 1 kWh/m3. The choice of process generally depends on the relative economic values of fresh water and particular fuels, and whether cogeneration is a possibility. Thermal processes are more capital-intensive.

Forward osmosis (FO) may be used in conjunction with a subsequent process for desalination. The FO draws water through a membrane from a feed solution into a more concentrated draw solution, which is then desalinated without the problems of fouling, such as often encountered with simple RO. FO plants operate in Gibraltar and Oman.

Desalination dependence

About three-quarters of Israel's water is desalinated, and one large RO plant provides water at 58 cents per cubic metre, claimed to be the world's cheapest. Until 2013 it also claimed to have the world’s largest seawater RO plant at Soreq, producing 627,000 m3/day. In 2015 Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million agreement for a new desalination plant at Aqaba on the Red Sea, supported by the World Bank and based on a 2013 agreement. The new agreement involves desalination of 80 million m3 per year/220,000 m3/d at the Aqaba plant, with Israel buying half of that amount for use in its southern port town of Eilat and the Arava region – both desert areas with a chronic water shortage. Jordan will get half the water for the arid southern part of that country. As part of the deal, Israel will supply an additional 50 million m3 of water for the central and northern parts of Jordan from its Lake Kinneret. In addition to the desalination, over 100 million m3 of concentrated brine will be pumped 180 km north to replenish the Dead Sea.

Malta gets two-thirds of its potable water from RO, and this takes 4% of its electricity supply.

At the end of 2016 desalination met 25% of Singapore’s water demand, as one of the island state's Four National Taps, along with local catchment water, imported water, and NEWater, Singapore's own recycled wastewater. In 2016, 55% of water was imported from Malaysia. A further 228,000 m3/d plant was due online in 2016, supplying potable water at US 22¢/m3 (compared with US 49 cents and 36 cents for the first and second plants). Singapore wants to increase the proportion of water it gets from desalination and wastewater reuse from 45% today, to 85% by 2060, by which time, industrial use is expected to account for 70% of water demand. Its 137,000 m3/d Marina East desalination plant being built by Keppel is designed to treat seawater and reservoir water. The raw water intake from both sources goes through a dual flow chamber, with pre-treatment using flocculation and dissolved air flotation, then ultrafiltration. This is followed by a two-pass reverse osmosis system, and post-treatment using ultraviolet disinfection.

Saudi Arabia in 2011 obtained 3.3 million m3/d from 27 government-owned (SWCC) seawater desalination plants, 70% of the country’s requirements. Twelve plants, accounting for most of production, use multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) and 7 plants use multi-effect distillation (MED), in both cases the plants are integrated with power plants (cogeneration plants), using steam from the power generation as a source of energy for desalination. Eight plants are single-purpose plants that use reverse osmosis (RO) technology and power from the grid. The UAE is heavily dependent on seawater desalination, much of it with cogeneration plants. Algeria in mid 2013 had 2.1 million m3/d capacity and another 400,000 m3/d is envisaged.

In February 2012 China's State Council announced that it aimed to have 2.2 to 2.6 million m3/day seawater desalination capacity operating by 2015, and early in 2015 the target under the government’s Special Plan for Seawater Utilisation was 4 million m3/d. However, a 2017 report from the State Oceanic Administration said that the total capacity in 2016 was 1.18 million m3/d.  The cost ranged from CNY 5 to 8/m3 ($0.74 to 1.18/m3). Two-thirds was used for industrial purposes. Some 400 of the 668 largest cities in China are reported to experience water scarcity.

The Kwinana desalination plant near Perth, Western Australia, has been running since early 2007 and produces about 140,000 m3/day (45 GL/yr) of potable water, requiring 24 MWe of power for this, hence 576,000 kWh/day, or 4.1 kWh/m3 overall, and about 3.7 kWh/m3 across the membranes. The plant has pre-treatment, then 12 seawater RO trains with capacity of 160,000 m3/day which feed six secondary trains producing 144,000 m3/day of water with 50 mg/L total dissolved solids. The cost is estimated at A$ 1.20/m3. Discharge flow is about 7% salt. Future WA desalination plants will have more sophisticated pre-treatment to increase efficiency. In August 2011 the state government decided to double the size of its new Southern Water Desal Plant at Binningup plant near Perth to 100 GL/yr, taking the cost to about $1.45 billion. Stage 1 of 50 GL/yr was within the A$ 955 million budget.

Nuclear desalination studies

Small and medium sized nuclear reactors are suitable for desalination, often with cogeneration of electricity using low-pressure steam from the turbine and hot seawater feed from the final cooling system. The main opportunities for nuclear plants have been identified as the 80-100,000 m³/day and 200-500,000 m³/day ranges. US Navy nuclear powered aircraft carriers reportedly desalinate 1500 m3/d each for use onboard.

A 2006 IAEA report based on country case studies showed that costs would be in the range ($US) 50 to 94 cents/m3 for RO, 60 to 96 c/m3 for MED and $1.18 to 1.48/m3 for MSF processes, with marked economies of scale. These figures are consistent with later reports. Nuclear power was very competitive at 2006 gas and oil prices. A French study for Tunisia compared four nuclear power options with combined cycle gas turbine and found that nuclear desalination costs were about half those of the gas plant for MED technology and about one-third less for RO. With all energy sources, desalination costs with RO were lower than MED costs.

At the April 2010 Global Water Summit in Paris, the prospect of desalination plants being co-located with nuclear power plants was supported by leading international water experts.

As seawater desalination technologies are rapidly evolving and more countries are opting for dual-purpose integrated power plants (i.e. cogeneration), the need for advanced technologies suitable for coupling to nuclear power plants and leading to more efficient and economic nuclear desalination systems is obvious. The IAEA Coordinated Research Program (CRP) New Technologies for Seawater Desalination using Nuclear Energy was organized in the framework of a Technical Working Group on Nuclear Desalination that was established in 2008. The CRP ran over 2009-2011 to review innovative technologies for seawater desalination which could be coupled to main types of existing nuclear power plant. The CRP focused on low temperature horizontal tube multi-effect distillation, heat recovery systems using heat pipe based heat exchangers, and zero brine discharge systems.

An IAEA preliminary feasibility study on nuclear desalination in Algeria was published in 2015, for Skikda on the Mediterranean coast, using cogeneration. The nuclear energy option was very competitive compared with fossil fuels.

Desalination: nuclear experience and plans

The feasibility of integrated nuclear desalination plants has been proven with over 150 reactor-years of experience, chiefly in Kazakhstan, India and Japan. Large-scale deployment of nuclear desalination on a commercial basis will depend primarily on economic factors. Indicative costs are US$ 70-90 cents per cubic metre, much the same as fossil-fuelled plants in the same areas.

One obvious strategy is to use power reactors which run at full capacity, but with all the electricity applied to meeting grid load when that is high and part of it to drive pumps for RO desalination when the grid demand is low.

The BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau, in Kazakhstan, successfully supplied up to 135 MWe of electric power while producing 80,000 m³/day of potable water over some 27 years to 1999, about 60% of its power being used for heat and desalination. The plant was designed as 1000 MWt but never operated at more than 750 MWt, but it established the feasibility and reliability of such cogeneration plants. (In fact, oil/gas boilers were used in conjunction with it, and total desalination capacity through ten MED units was 120,000 m³/day.)

In Japan, some ten desalination facilities linked to pressurised water reactors operating for electricity production yield some 14,000 m³/day of potable water, and over 100 reactor-years of experience have accrued. MSF was initially employed, but MED and RO have been found to be more efficient there. South Korea has some MED plants associated with PWRs. The water is used for the reactors' own cooling systems.

India has been engaged in desalination research since the 1970s. In 2002 a demonstration plant coupled to twin 170 MWe nuclear power reactors (PHWR) was set up at the Madras Atomic Power Station, Kalpakkam, in southeast India. This hybrid Nuclear Desalination Demonstration Project (NDDP) comprises a reverse osmosis (RO) unit with 1800 m3/day capacity and a multi-stage flash (MSF) plant unit of 4500 m³/day costing about 25% more, plus a recently-added barge-mounted RO unit. This is the largest nuclear desalination plant based on hybrid MSF-RO technology using low-pressure steam and seawater from a nuclear power station. They incur a 4 MWe loss in power from the plant.

In 2009 a 10,200 m3/day MVC (mechanical vapour compression) plant was set up at Kudankulam to supply fresh water for the new plant. It has four stages in each of four streams. An RO plant there supplied the plant's township initially. The full MVC plant was commissioned in mid-2012, with quoted capacity of 7200 m3/day to supply the plant’s primary and secondary coolant and the local town. The cost is quoted at INR 0.05 per litre (USD 0.9/m3).

Since 2010 Russia’s Rostov nuclear power plant at Volgodonsk has produced make-up water using MED, now at 9600 m3/d. Other plants also use MED and RO for desalination.

Egypt’s Nuclear Power Plant Authority plans a two-unit AES-2006 nuclear power plant with desalination facility at El-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast, 290 km west of Cairo. Atomstroyexport quotes the El Dabaa reactors as 3200 MWt, 1190 MWe gross for power generation only, using warm seawater for cooling. However, with desalination (MED + RO) taking 432 MWt from the secondary circuit, they would be 1050 MWe gross, 927 MWe net and each produce 170,000 m3/d at a cost of less than $1/m3.

A low temperature (LTE) nuclear desalination plant uses waste heat from the nuclear research reactor at Trombay has operated since about 2004 to supply make-up water in the reactor.

Pakistan in 2010 commissioned a 4800 m3/day MED desalination plant, coupled to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP-1, a 125 MWe PHWR) near Karachi, though in 2014 it was quoted as 1600 m3/day. It has been operating a 454 m3/day RO plant for its own use.

China General Nuclear Power (CGN) has commissioned a 10,080 m3/day seawater desalination plant using waste heat to provide cooling water at its new Hongyanhe project at Dalian in the northeast Liaoning province.

Much relevant experience comes from nuclear plants in Russia, Eastern Europe and Canada where district heating is a by-product.

Large-scale deployment of nuclear desalination on a commercial basis will depend primarily on economic factors. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is fostering research and collaboration on the issue. In the 1960s the US Atomic Energy Commission investigated using nuclear plants up to 10,000 MWt for desalination on the west coast.

In 2014 Rusatom Overseas said it was planning to promote thermal desalination plants using nuclear power on a BOO (build-own-operate) basis. The first meeting of the Rusatom Overseas International Expert Council on Desalination took place in September 2014 in Moscow.

In California, a county’s Drought Task Force is teaming up with Diablo Canyon nuclear plant owner Pacific Gas and Electric with a view to using the site's 5700 m3/day RO desalination plant to supply up to 3100 m3/day surplus water for county residents.

In South Africa, due to acute water shortages in the region, Eskom announced in May 2017 that it would install a small desalination plant at its Koeberg nuclear power plant. It will produce water solely for the plant initially. Also, Eskom has agreed to support Cape Town authorities if they choose to progress plans to install a small-scale desalination unit for municipal use at the Koeberg site. It would produce 2,500 to 5,000 m3/d, as a demonstration plant for a larger project.

Small nuclear reactors suitable for desalination

SMART: South Korea has developed a small nuclear reactor design for cogeneration of electricity and potable water. The 330 MWt SMART reactor (an integral PWR) has a long design life and needs refuelling only every 3 years. The main concept has the SMART reactor coupled to four MED units, each with thermal-vapour compressor (MED-TVC) and producing total 40,000 m3/day, with 90 MWe.

CAREM: Argentina has designed an integral 100 MWt PWR suitable for cogeneration or desalination alone, and a prototype in being built next to Atucha. A larger version is envisaged, which may be built in Saudi Arabia.

NHR-200: China's INET has developed this, based on a 5 MW pilot plant.

Floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) from Russia, with two KLT-40S reactors derived from Russian icebreakers, or other designs for desalination. (If primarily for desalination the twin KLT-40 set-up is known as APVS-80.) ATETs-80 is a twin-reactor cogeneration unit using KLT-40 and may be floating or land-based, producing 85 MWe plus 120,000 m3/day of potable water. The small ABV-6 reactor is 38 MW thermal, and a pair mounted on a 97-metre barge is known as Volnolom floating NPP, producing 12 MWe plus 40,000 m3/day of potable water by reverse osmosis. A larger concept has two VBER-300 reactors in the central pontoon of a 170 m long barge, with ancillary equipment on two side pontoons, the whole vessel being 49,000 dwt. The plant is designed to be overhauled every 20 years and have a service life of 60 years. Another design, PAES-150, has a single VBER-300 unit on a 25,000 dwt catamaran barge.

See also: Small Nuclear Power Reactors paper.

Wastewater and groundwater treatment for irrigation

In the Middle East, a major requirement is for irrigation water for crops and landscapes. This need not be potable quality, but must be treated and with reasonably low dissolved solids.

In Oman, the 76,000 m3/day first stage of a submerged membrane bioreactor (SMBR) desalination plant was opened in 2011. Eventual plant capacity will be 220,000 m3/day. This is a low-cost wastewater treatment plant using both physical and biological processes and which produces effluent of high-enough quality for some domestic uses or reinjection into aquifers.

In Australia AGL plans to install a 2000 m3/d RO desal plant to treat water from fracking in its Gloucester coal seam gas project. This will be used for irrigation, rather than being potable quality. Also in Australia the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has found that the addition of nutrients could make desalinated water more financially attractive to farmers, who normally pay 20 cents/kilolitre for irrigation water, whereas most desal groundwater costs more than A$1/kL.

New desalination projects

Algeria has undertaken a study on nuclear power generation and desalination using RO and MED. The 500,000 m3/d Magtaa seawater RO desal plant at Oran costing $495 million was commissioned in November 2014, following the 120,000 m3/d Fouka seawater RO desal plant at Tipaza near Algiers in 2011, costing $185 million. The country is also considering MSF desalination for two new plants in addition to the 91,000 m3/d Arzew MSF plant now operating. Total capacity is 2.3 million m3/d.

Argentina: A 3000 m3/day seawater RO plant is being built at Puerto Deseado, Santa Cruz, about 1800 km south of Buenos Aries.

Australia: Six major seawater RO plants were commissioned at a cost of A$ 12 billion between 2006 and 2012. However, the Kurnell plant near Sydney is not used but costs some A$500,000 per day on care and maintenance.

In Victoria, a 440,000 m3/day (150 GL/yr) RO desalination plant near Wonthaggi built by Degremont was commissioned in 2012 to supply Melbourne. It claims to use 90 to 120 MWe of renewable energy, and is expandable to 200 GL/yr. However, it has never been used since 2012 completion and remained on standby to 2017. Melbourne Water’s A$ 18 billion in repayments due over 27 years from 2015 is proposed to be spread over 60 years. The A$ 607 million pa maintenance cost is billed to customers. The state government in 2016 ordered 50 GL of water costing A$ 27 million (over the maintenance figure) by mid-2017, and then a further 15 GL before the plant returned to standby.

Adelaide's 100,000 m3/d (36 GL/yr) plant started operation in 2011, with plans to expand it to 100 GL/yr. A 200-280,000 m3/d desalination plant to serve the expanded Olympic Dam mine in South Australia has environmental approval but now may not proceed.

Perth has two RO seawater desal plants, a 123,000 m3/day (45 GL/yr) one (costing A$ 387 million) completed in 2006 powered by a wind farm, and a 100 GL/yr one powered by 65 MWe of dedicated renewable energy, which together provide half the city’s needs. Following extensive trials, the city plans a groundwater replenishment scheme from treated wastewater which is expected to be half the cost and use half the energy of seawater desalination. It will include a new Advanced Water Recycling Plant and provide 7 GL/yr from 2016 and 28 GL/yr eventually about 2022.

Chile: Several mining projects in the high-altitude Atacama desert of northern Chile rely on seawater desalination at the coast to supply their water. In November 2015 the Chilean state copper commission Cochilco said that desalination will provide half of the water demand for the country’s copper mines by 2026 – 924,000 m3/day. There are 16 mining-related desalination projects worth US$10 billion planned or under construction in the country, and nine are already operating.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have built a $3.43 billion, 220,000 m3/day (79 GL/yr) RO seawater desalination plant with twin 1.07 m diameter pipes and pumps for their Escondida copper mine. Seawater is pumped 170 km inland to a reservoir near the mine, 3200 m above sea level and 185 km inland. It requires over 1000 MWe from the grid for desalination alone and will be commissioned in March 2017. Doosan built the plant at Caleta Coloso under Bechtel supervision.

BHP’s 2017 commitment to a $2.5 billion expansion of its Spence copper mine involves an $800 million desalination plant at Mejillones, 60 km north of Antofagasta. It will be built by Mitsui and Grupo Cobra.

Chilean state copper company Codelco is seeking a BOOT (build-own-operate-transfer) agreement to build a 54,000 m3/day plant expandable to 145,000 m3/day for its Chuquicamata, Radomiro Tomic, Ministro Hales, and Gabriela Mistra mines – in the Antofagasta region. The $1.2 billion project includes a 160 km pipeline and pumping system.

Energias y Aguas del Pacifico (ENAPAC) is a proposed solar-powered 126,000 m3/day seawater RO desalination plant and water transport project which aims to support expansion of several mining operations in the Atacama region. Five pumping stations on twin 1.4 m diameter pies will take the water 72 km to a reservoir at Copiapo, 700 m above sea level. The RO process itself will require 3.5 kWh/m3, including pre and post treatment, and about the same again to deliver the water inland. The whole project will be powered about 80% by a 100 MWe solar PV plant, as well as off-peak grid power.

A 104,000 m3/day seawater RO plant is planned to serve the regions of Caldera, Chañaral, Copiapó, and Tierra Amarilla, costing $250 million, with contracts expected by the end of 2017.

China built 112 seawater desalination plants in 2014, with total output of 927,000 m3/day, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

It is looking at the feasibility of a nuclear seawater desalination plant in the Yantai area of Shandong Peninsula, producing 80-160,000 m3/day by MED process, using a 200 MWt NHR-200 reactor. A 100,000 m3/d seawater RO plant supplied by Abengoa of Spain started operating early in 2013 at Qingdao in Shandong province. Another project is for a 330,000 m3/day plant near Daya Bay.

A 50,000 m3/day Aqualyng plant was completed in October 2011 at Caofeidian on Bohai Bay in Hebei province, and a second stage doubled this in 2012. The Hong Kong based Beijing Enterprises Water Group (BEWG) with Aqualyng is building a 1 million m3/day RO plant at Caofeidian for CNY 7 billion to supply Beijing through a 270 km pipeline by 2019, and a 3 million m3/d plant is planned to expand this to supply the capital, providing about one-third of its needs. The pipeline, itself a major part of the project,  will cost about CNY 10 billion, and supply desalinated water at CNY 8/m3 ($1.28/m3).

In March 2013 the National Development and Reform Commission announced new plans for seawater desalination, including for the cities of Shenzhen and Zhoushan, Luxixiang Island in Zhejiang Province, Binhai New Area in Tianjin, Bohai New Area in Hebei, and several industrial parks and companies. The cost is likely to be some CNY 21 billion ($3.35 billion). China aimed to produce 2.2 million m3/day of desalinated water by 2015, more than three times the 2011 level, but only reached 1.18 million in 2016. More than half of the freshwater channelled to islands and more than 15% of water delivered to coastal factories would come from the sea by 2015, according to the plan.

The Luo Fang Wastewater Treatment Plant in Shenzhen is to be equipped with membrane bioreactor technology from GE Water & Process Technologies, adding 150,000 m3/d and taking capacity to 400,000 m3/d.

A 300,000 m3/d seawater desal plant at Tianjin is under construction and will be the first zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) plant in the world. It is due to supply petrochemical plants from 2017.

Cyprus’s Water Development Department is calling for bids to build a 15,000 m3/d RO desalination plant in Kouklia, Paphos, on a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis. This will augment existing desalination capacity of 220,000 m3/d. The country aims to produce 30% of water from desalination by 2020, while the goal for reuse water is 20% by 2020, and 30% by 2025, mainly for irrigation.

Egypt’s Nuclear Power Plant Authority plans a two-unit AES-2006 nuclear power plant with desalination facility at El-Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast, 290 km west of Cairo. See section above.

The former largest desalination plant, 24,000 m3/day RO, at Marsa Matrouh in the northwest has pressure exchanger (PX) energy-recovery devices by Energy Recovery Inc of California.

In 2017 the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces (EAAF) of Egypt announced plans for three 150,000 m3/d capacity facilities in Al-Alamain, Al-Jamila, and East Port Said, involving “large French and German companies”. Its Ain Sokhna 164,000 m3/d plant in the Suez Canal Zone is part of an integrated water and power project being built on a BOO basis by Hyflux for delivery in 2018. A small plant is also planned at Najila, Matruh.

Ghana: Abengoa has built a 60,000 m3/day seawater RO plant at Nungua to supply Accra. The $125 million contract covers operation and maintenance for 25 years.

In India, further plants delivering 45,000 m3 per day are envisaged, using both MSF and RO desalination technology, and building on the extensive experience outlined above. For Chennai, the 100,000 m³/d Minjur RO seawater desalination plant was commissioned in 2010, the 100,000 m3/d Nemmeli RO seawater desalination plant was commissioned in 2013, and a 150,000 m3/day expansion is planned. A 200,000 m3/day plant is planned for Pattipulam nearby, with potential for doubling in size, and also serving Chennai. Also in Tamil Nadu two 60,000 m3/day seawater RO plants are being built at Kuthiraimozhi in Ramanathapuram and Alanthalai in the port city of Tuticorin to supply potable water.

In Karnataka four new desalination plants are planned for a satellite city to Bengaluru, comprising a $380 million plant at Mangaluru, a $110 million plant at Udupi, one of $23 million at Kundapura, and at Saligrama, a $12 million plant. IDE Technology and Vagas are likely to build them.

Indonesia: South Korea investigated the feasibility of building a SMART nuclear reactor with cogeneration unit employing MSF desalination technology for Madura Island, and later studies have been on larger-scale PWR cogeneration by Batan.

Iran: A 200,000 m³/day MSF desalination plant was designed for operation with the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran in 1977, but initially lapsed due to prolonged construction delays. It is being completed by AEOI subsequently.

In June 2016 Doosan signed a $186 milllion agreement to build a 200,000 m3/d seawater RO plant at Bandar Abbas.

Iraq: Basrah has 400,000 m3/d desalination for saline river water, and a Hitachi-led consortium is building a new 199,000 m3/day RO plant there, for completion in 2016.

Israel has four desal plants including the 627,000 m3/day seawater RO plant at Soreq. It plans further capacity, including purchase of about 35-40 GL/yr from a planned plant at Aqaba jointly run with Jordan.

Jordan has a 'water deficit' of about 1.4 million m3 per day and is actively looking at nuclear power to address this, as well as supplying electricity. An 80 GL/yr/220,000 m3/d plant at Aqaba is planned, with Jordan using half the output.

Kenya plans a 100,000 m3/day desalination plant near Mombasa.

Kuwait has been considering cogeneration schemes up to a 1000 MWe reactor coupled to a 140,000 m3/day desalination plant. Meanwhile Hyundai and a Veolia subsidiary in November 2016 commissioned the $1.7 billion Az-Zour North gas-fired combined cycle 1500 MWe power plant and 486,000 m3/d MED plant. It accounts for about 10% of Kuwait’s power capacity and 20% of its desalination capacity. Stage 2 of the Az-Zour Independent Power and Water Project is out to tender until March 2017. The whole project is 40% privately-owned, largely by Sumitomo and Engie.

Libya: in mid 2007 a memorandum of understanding was signed with France related to building a mid-sized nuclear plant for seawater desalination. Areva TA would supply this. Libya is also considering adapting the Tajoura research reactor for a nuclear desalination demonstration plant with a hybrid MED-RO system.

Mexico has a 21,000 m3/day El Salitral plant in operation from the end of 2013, and has begun construction of a 22,000 m3/d plant at San Quintin in Baja California, and another similar one at Ensenada, both using public-private partnerships. A 379,000 m3/day seawater RO desalination plant is contracted at Rosarito Beach, in Baja California near the US border, with 189,500 m3/day as phase 1 from 2019, and phase 2 by 2024, which would make it the largest desalination plant in the Western hemisphere. Expected cost including 37 years' operation and maintenance is $490 million, offset by $56 million annual revenue. Ownership would transfer to the state in the late 2050s. It would serve both Mexico and California (Otay Water District). However it is now in doubt due to political and economic changes, and will require a tariff increase to proceed.

Morocco has completed a pre-project study with China, at Tan-Tan on the Atlantic coast, using a 10 MWt heating reactor which produces 8000 m3/day of potable water by distillation (MED). The government has plans for building an initial nuclear power plant in 2016-17 at Sidi Boulbra, and Atomstroyexport is assisting with feasibility studies for this.

In 2014 Abengoa was awarded a contract to build and run for 20 years a 100,000 m3/day seawater RO desal plant in Agadir, 45 km from that city. The capital cost is €82 million. This project was then expanded in two stages: first to increase capacity to 150,000 m3/d; and second to provide 125,000 m3/d irrigation water. In addition, a further increase to 450,000 m3/d is envisaged. The value of the project is now €309 million, including €250 million for the actual desalination facilities. The cost of potable water will be about $0.52/m3.

Oman relies on large-scale desalination for 76% of its water (20% is from wells). It has had a 128,000 m3/d plant at Sur since 2009. It commissioned a 45,460 m3/d seawater RO plant at Barka in November 2013 as a BOO independent water project (IWP), expanding an existing facility to 136,000 m3/d. Barka 2 will add 120,000 m3/d. Another BOO project is the 191,000 m3/d Muscat RO plant with commercial operation from February 2016, replacing the old Ghubrah plant serving the city. The Salalah plant was opened in May 2013 – a 69,000 m3/d seawater desal plant with 445 MWe gas-fired generation. Another seawater RO plant at Sohar is planned to produce 250,000 m3/d, on top of 150,000 m3/d since 2007. Oman Power & Water Procurement Company (OPWP) awarded a BOO contract to Hyflux for a 200,000 m3/day IWP at Qurayyat, to be operating by May 2017. The 225,000 m3/d Suwaiq IWP is planned and will bring supplies to over 1.2 million m3/d. Contracts for Salalah III were expected in 2016, followed by Salalah IV of 100,000 m3/d.

Pakistan: A 10,000m3/day RO plant costing US$ 3 million has been commissioned in the drought-ridden Sindh province, where the government is installing 300 RO plants of about 40 m3/day. A 2000 m3/day plant was commissioned in 2015 at Karwat, for Gwadar city, Balochistan, and another RO plant of 189,000 m3/d is planned there, 90% funded by China.

Qatar has been considering nuclear power and desalination for its needs, and water demand reached about 1.3 million m3/day in 2010. The Ras Abu Fontas A2 144,000 m3/d MSF seawater desalination plant built by Mitsubishi Corporation for $504 million was commissioned in 2015. The $467 million Ras Abu Fontas A3 project – with a 164,000 m3/d RO plant also built by Mitsubishi is due to operate from March 2017 as the country’s first large RO plant. In May 2015 Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (QEWC, Kahramaa) selected a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Corporation and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), named K1 Energy, to build an electricity and water plant comprising a 620,000 m3/d desalination facility and a 2.4 GW gas-fired power station at Umm Al Houl, 20km south of Doha, to come online in 2018.

Russia: A new 10,000 m3/d seawater RO plant is being built offshore near Vladivostok, for commissioning over 2011-12. It is designed for severe climatic conditions.

Saudi Arabia's Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) increased its desalinated water output in 2014 by 10%, to more than 1.1 billion cubic metres. In 2016 the government said it would sell SWCC’s entire portfolio of 29 desalination plants with capacity of 4.6 million m3/day and 7305 MWe on the east and west coasts. It would then build seven new projects totalling 2.6 million m3/day through public-private partnerships by 2020. The largest of these (million m3/d) are Jubail – 1.17, Rabigh 3 – 0.6, Yanbu – 0.45 and Shuqaiq – 0.38.

SWCC was expanding its Yanbu desalination plant to supply the Medina region. Phase 1 is a 146,000 m3/d hybrid plant, mostly MSF using heat recovered from a gas turbine power plant, but with two RO units. Phase 2 upgrades this and adds a 68,000 m3/day MED plant from Doosan using the heat from an associated 690 MWe power plant, all costing over $1 billion. It will be the world's largest MED plant. Doosan is also building Yanbu 3, a 550,000 m3/day MSF plant due for completion in 2016. Samsung Engineering had the $1.4 billion EPC contract for 3100 MWe turbines in connection with this, but that contract was cancelled at the end of 2016. In May 2017 Sepco III Electric Power & Construction from China took over the 60% complete work.

A 600,000 m3/day RO plant is planned at Rabigh in the west to serve Mecca, with potential for double this capacity, and developers for unit 3 are being sought.

In April 2017 Doosan was awarded a $422 million EPC contract by the SWCC for a 400,000 m3/d RO plant at Shuaibah/Shoaiba on the Red Sea coast south of Jeddah. Also in April 2017 Abengoa was contracted to build a 250,000 m3/d RO plant at Shoaiba III, 90 km south of Jeddah for $257 million. This adds to 150,000 m3/d of existing RO capacity and 850,000 m3/d of MSF capacity there, and will make Shuaibah/Shoaiba 3 into the world’s largest desalination complex.

The world's largest thermal desalination plant is Saudi Arabia’s 1,025,0003/d Ras Al Khair (Ras Azzour) MSF project northwest of Jubail, costing SAR 27 billion ($7.2 billion) and built by Doosan. The project includes a 2.6 GWe power plant. The hybrid desalination facility has a capacity of 727,000 m3/d multi-stage flash (MSF) evaporation and 307,000 m3/d RO membrane filtration. It will supply water from the Gulf to 3.5 million people in the Riyadh area. The 880,000 m3/d Shuaibah 3 plant was formerly the largest. Veolia has a $402 million contact to build a 178,600 m3/d ultrafiltration and RO plant for Marafiq at the $19.3 billion Sadara petrochemical complex, to come on line in mid-2015. The water will be for two cooling towers and as boiler feedwater.

The first of three phases of the King Abdullah Solar water initiative was operating by 2014. Phase 1 involved construction of two solar plants to generate 10 MWe of power for a 30,000 m3/d reverse-osmosis (RO) desalination plant at Al Khafji, near the Kuwait border. Phase 2 involves construction of a 300,000 m3/d desalination plant over three years. The third phase aims to implement the solar water initiative throughout Saudi Arabia, with the eventual target of seeing all the country's desalination plants powered by solar energy by 2020. One of the main objectives of this initiative under King Abdullah City for Science & Technology (KACST) is to desalinate seawater at a cost of less than Riyal 1.5/m3 (US$ 0.40/m3) compared with the current cost of thermal desalination, which KACST says is in the range Riyal 2.0-5.5/m3 (US$ 0.53-1.47/m3), and desalination by RO, which is Riyal 2.5-5.5/m3 (US$ 0.67-1.47/m3) for a desalination plant producing 30,000 m3/d.

Saudi Arabia's General Establishment for Water Desalination (GEWD) is, over the four years to 2019, implementing new projects with a total production capacity of up to 2.5 million m³/d in the Makkah region and the eastern province.

Singapore's water agency PUB in 2005 commissioned a large RO seawater desalination plant supplying 136,000 m3/day – 10% of needs, at 49 cents US per cubic metre, and in 2013 commissioned the 318,500 m3/d Tuaspring RO plant as the second desal plant on a BOO basis, costing US$ 700 million, to provide water at US 36 ¢/m3. A Chinese 228,000 m3/d RO plant at Changi, built by an 80% subsidiary of Beijing Enterprises Water Group on a BOO basis for 25 years at a first-year price of SGD 0.276/m3 (US$ 0.22), opened in January 2017. A fourth desalination plant, the new Marina East 137,000 m3/d plant using RO and other membrane technology is being built by Keppel, and will draw on both seawater and reservoirs to supply water at a first-year price of SGD 1/m3.

South Africa: Veolia is building a 1700 m3/d seawater desalination plant at Lamberts Bay, Cederberg municipality, upgradable to5000 m3/d. This will be the seventh plant along the west and south Cape coasts installed by Veolia. A 450,000 m3/d plant costing $1.23 billion is planned for Koeberg, near Cape Town.

Spain is building 20 RO plants in the southeast to supply over 1% of the country's water. Spain has 40 years of desalination experience in the Canary Islands, where some 1.1 million m3/day is provided.

Tunisia is looking at the feasibility of a cogeneration (electricity-desalination) plant in the southeast of the country, treating slightly saline groundwater. It plans a tender for a 150,000 m3/day plant at Sfax.

The UAE uses a lot of MSF capacity compared with others. It is planning a 68,000 m3/d plant at Ras Al Kaimah. Sembcorp is expanding the Fujairah 1 136,000 m3/d RO plant, to bring its UAE capacity to 591,000 m3/d of which 307,000 is RO and 284,000 m3/d is MSF. Also the Shuweihat S2 IPP and seawater desal plant at Al Ruwais started full operation in 2011 and provides 1510 MWe and 454,000 m3/d by MSF. The Fujairah 2 plant is hybrid SWRO-MED and produces 454,600 m3/d. The Taweelah A1 cogeneration plant produces 1430 MWe and 385,000 m3/day and Umm Al Nar produces 394,000 m3/day. The 91,000 m3/d Al Hamriya RO desal plant with 400 MWe power station opened in June 2014 to supply Sharjah near Dubai, as part of a 636,000 m3/d and 2500 MWe complex. The 136,400 m3/d Al Zawra seawater desal plant is planned at Ajman. GdF Suez has a 25-year power and water supply agreement with Abu Dhabi for the Mirfa project, including a new 136,380 m3/d RO plant and 1100 MWe power plant, costing $1.5 billion, alongside three existing 34,095 m3/d MSF units and a power plant.

The Emirates' Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) announced in April 2016 that it plans four further desalination facilities at a cost of more than Dh 3 billion (US$ 750 million) to produce 600,000 m3/day. The first RO plant of 205,000 m3/day and costing $260 million but privately financed will be in Umm Al Quwain emirate for operation from 2020. The second will be 136,000 m3/day costing $170 million in Ajman emirate, also to start in 2020 (this may be the same as mentioned above). The third will be identical, taking capacity at Ghalilah in Ras Al Khaimah emirate from 68,000 to 205,000 m3/day and to operate from 2026. The fourth is planned as a 180,000 m3/day, $260 million plant operating from 2023 with location to be determined.

In Dubai the Jebel Ali M cogeneration plant opened in 2013 with 6x243 MWe gas turbines and 8 MSF units providing 640,000 m3/day. Earlier, Dubai invited bids for constructing a 450,000 m3/day (165 GL/yr) seawater desalination plant as part of its Hassyan independent power project, but then announced its deferral.

In the UK, a 150,000 m3/day RO plant is proposed for the lower Thames estuary, utilising brackish water.

USA-Mexico: The 375,000 m3/day Rosarito seawater plant in Baja, California, is to supply potable water on both sides of the border. A 22,000 m3/day seawater desalination plant is contracted for San Quintín, Baja.

USA: San Antonio, Texas, is building a 60,000 m3/day RO desal plant for brackish water from aquifers, to operate from 2016 and costing $193 million. Additions are planned to take capacity to 150,000 m3/day by 2026.

A $1 billion, 200,000 m3/day salt water desal plant at Carlsbad, California, opened in 2015. It will require about 40 MWe in full operation and can provide 10% of the San Diego county’s potable water. San Diego has ordered a 415,000 m3/day RO wastewater treatment plant costing $3.5 billion. It is expected to meet one-third of the city’s daily drinking water requirement by 2035, making it the second largest potable reuse plant in the USA.

Most or all these have requested technical assistance from IAEA under its technical cooperation project on nuclear power and desalination. A coordinated IAEA research project initiated in 1998 reviewed reactor designs intended for coupling with desalination systems as well as advanced desalination technologies. This programme, involving more than 20 countries, is expected to enable further cost reductions of nuclear desalination.

Other CO2-free desalination

Renewable energy sources are able to be used for desalination more readily than for most electricity supply, since the product can be stored on any scale, unlike electricity. Also electricity can be borrowed from the grid and repaid when the wind is blowing or the sun shining. A 45 GL/yr RO plant at Perth, Western Australia is powered by electricity ostensibly from a wind farm. A new 100 GL/yr RO plant is powered by 65 MWe of dedicated renewable energy (10 MWe solar PV, 55 MWe wind).

Main Sources:
IAEA 1997, Nuclear Desalination of Sea Water, proceedings of 1997 Symposium.
IAEA 1998, Nuclear heat applications: design aspects and operating experience, IAEA-TECDOC-1056.
Konishi & Misra, Freshwater from the Seas, IAEA Bulletin 43, 2; 2001.
IAEA Nuclear Desalination, paper on web.
International J of Nuclear Desalination, 2003, vol 1, 1.
UN World Water Development Report 2003.
Seneviratne, G 2007, Research projects show nuclear desalination economical, Nuclear News April 2007.
Khamis, I, 2010, Nuclear Desalination
New Technologies for Seawater Desalination Using Nuclear Energy, TecDoc 1753, International Atomic Energy Agency (January 2015)
ANS Nuclear Café, Nuclear Agro-Industrial Parks (20 January 2016)


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