Nuclear desalination provides clean water without greenhouse gas emissions

  • Nuclear energy has a central role to play in achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation. 
  • Desalination of seawater using heat generated by nuclear reactors produces pure, clean water, without the greenhouse gases emitted by the fossil fuel plants that power desalination units.

Clean and accessible water supplies are essential for economic development and human health. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

Desalination of water can address the challenges water-stressed areas face, but most desalination plants are powered by fossil fuels, resulting in the emission of greenhouse gases. Nuclear reactors, in addition to providing electricity, can be a source of clean water.

Nuclear reactors produce steam heat that drives turbines to make electricity, and leftover heat can be used to boil ocean water. The steam that condenses is clean, and the remaining salt can be returned to the ocean.

Nuclear science can also be used to clean water. The textile industry consumes huge amounts of water and chemicals, such as dyes, starches, acids, salts, and detergents. These would normally be treated chemically, creating secondary waste. However, nuclear electron beam technology is used instead. The electron beams break apart the chemical bonds of clothing dyes and removes pollutants, allowing recycling of the water for reuse. At one textile factory in Southern China the technique saves up to 4.5 million m3 of fresh water annually, equivalent to the water consumed by about 100,000 people.

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