How 1,500 Nuclear-Powered Water Desalination Plants Could Save The World From Desertification

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2019/07/14/megadroughts-and-desalination-another-pressing-need-for-nuclear-power/

How 1,500 Nuclear-Powered Water Desalination Plants Could Save The World From Desertification

By James Conca

July 14, 2019

About 20% of the world’s population has no access to safe drinking water, and this number will increase as the population continues to grow and global freshwater sources continue to decline. The worst-affected areas are the arid and semiarid regions of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

UNESCO has reported that the freshwater shortfall worldwide will rise to 500 trillion gallons/yr by 2025. They expect water wars to break out in the near-future. The World Economic Forum says that shortage of fresh water may be the primary global threat in the next decade.

But 500 trillion gallons/year only requires about 1,500 seawater desalination plants like the ones being built in California and Saudi Arabia. At a billion dollars a pop, that’s a lot cheaper than war and starvation.

Unfortunately, we presently desalinate only 10 trillion gallons/year worldwide.

As reported in the Tri-City Herald and NYTimes, stock exchange mutual funds have even formed surrounding water scarcity and have done quite well, like the AllianzGI Global Water Fund. This fund has averaged almost 10% since 2010 compared to under 6% for its average peer fund. These companies mainly deliver, test and clean drinking water.

In California, the MegaDrought, that ended in 2017 ran for five years, severely straining water supplies, agricultural needs and wildlife. It clarified the need to build new desalination plants like every other modern arid population in the world. Most of Abu Dhabi’s gas-fired power plants provide electricity to their huge desalination plants that deliver over a billion gallons of drinking water a day, at about 40¢/gallon. And it tastes good, too, I’ve tried it.

California needs 30 large desalination plants to deal with future megadroughts. They did recently build one in Carlsbad, but it’s not nearly enough.

Desalination technologies are capable of treating water from a wide variety of sources, including brackish groundwater, surface water, seawater, and domestic and industrial wastewater. While the wastewater from desalination is itself problematic, MIT has developed a process to turn it into useful products.

The two main types of desalination are:

– thermal desalination (using heat energy to separate the distillate from high salinity water), represented by Multiple Effect Distillation (MED), Multi-Stage Flash distillation (MSF) and Mechanical Vapor Compression (MVC), the latter primarily used to desalinate highly salty waters and industrial wastewater for industrial use, not necessarily for drinking.

– reverse osmosis (RO) membrane separation, which uses a membrane barrier and pumping energy to separate salts from the water. These are common in homes and businesses.

Electrical energy is used for membrane-based systems and thermal energy is used for distillation systems. Some hybrid plants combine both membrane and distillation.

Most desalination plants in the world use fossil fuels to power them, but it’s even better to power them with nuclear energy. The new fleet of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) are ideal as they produce both thermal energy and electrical energy without producing greenhouse gases.

But only 15 out of the thousands of desalination plants operating today worldwide are powered by nuclear. A small one is at the Canyon Diablo Nuclear Plant in California, slated to be closed soon. The plant could power several huge desalination plants for decades that could desalinate its own cooling water, removing the most commonly stated problem with the plant.

In contrast, all nuclear-powered naval vessels routinely use nuclear energy to desalinate seawater.

SMRs, like NuScale’s, allow places with smaller electrical grids and limited infrastructure to add new electrical and water capacity in small increments and allow countries to site them as needed at many distributed locations. NuScale’s small power module is in its last stages of licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and will be ready in only a few years.

NuScale’s small power modules are about 60 MW each and up to 12 of them can be put together to make a power plant up to 720 MW – a 12-pack. They use standard 17×17 PWR fuel assemblies, but only at half the height, with an average U235 enrichment of only 3.8%. A single NuScale nuclear power module is 76-feet tall and 15-feet in diameter, and sits in a plant covering 32 acres or only 0.05 square miles.

Refueling of any SMR does not require the nuclear plant to shut down. The small size and large surface area-to-volume ratio of the reactor core, that sits below ground in a super seismic-resistant heat sink, allows natural processes to cool it indefinitely in the case of complete power blackout, with no humans needed to intervene, no AC or DC power, no pumps, and no additional water for cooling.

This reactor cannot melt down.

Studies by Ingersoll and others show how nuclear power and desalination can be coupled, and how much it costs. They coupled a NuScale power plant with eight modules to each of the desalination technologies – Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) and Multi-Stage Flash distillation (MSF) with either high pressure (HP) steam taken before admission into the turbine, medium pressure (MP) steam taken from a controlled extraction of the turbine, and low pressure (LP) steam taken from the exhaust end of the turbine, and reverse osmosis (RO).

They sized the desalination plant to have a production capacity of 50 million gallons per day (190,000 m3/day) of drinking water, typical of a large municipal desalination plant like the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, and that can support a population of 300,000.

The table below summarizes their economic analysis. For drinking water, the NuScale-RO design is the cheapest and produces the most water per energy used, with LP-MED distillation a close second. Since a NuScale power plant will last at least 80 years, the payback­­­ is even better.

There are other technologies that have been, and are ­­being, used as well, including the more economical water reuse. The City of Redlands in California is using a membrane bioreactor technology from GE that recycles over 6 million gallons/day of municipal wastewater.

Whatever technologies are selected, southern California needs to build the equivalent of 30 desalination plants the size of Carlsbad’s to produce over a billion gallons a day, solving most of the water problems of southern California. The Central Valley would need another 30 plants to deal with its agricultural needs as its groundwater is becoming increasingly salty.

Powered by SMRs, these plants would more than pay for themselves by their own revenue, although a small water tax would get them started faster.

California better get moving. It’s been a reasonable two years, but more MegaDroughts are on the way.

January 27, 2022. Tags: , , . Desalination, Nuclear power, Technology. 1 comment.

Attention Natalie Stoclet! Your use of water in the United States does not “affect the water crisis” in Cape Town, South Africa. The real reason that Cape Town has a “water crisis” is because it chose to reject Israel’s offer of help to build desalination plants.

By Daniel Alman (aka Dan from Squirrel Hill)

March 3, 2020

A writer named Natalie Stoclet recently wrote this article, which is called “I lived a week without using any water – and it showed me just how much we’re affecting the water crisis.”

Stoclet describes the “water crisis” with these words:

663 million people in the developing world don’t have immediate access to water, yet the average American household uses more than 300 gallons of water per day.

Stoclet then explains her attempt to address this problem:

There are many simple ways to conserve, from turning off the tap while brushing your teeth to taking shorter showers.

I went a week without water to try and see how much we really use and found the hardest part was the mental challenge.

That is not logical. The water that Stoclet avoided using during that week did not somehow get magically transported to the countries where those 663 million people live. Her week of conservation did absolutely nothing whatsoever to help any of those people.

Stoclet also wrote:

663 million people in the developing world don’t have immediate access to water. Millions of those may have to walk up to six hours to find it. This is a task often reserved for young children and this often means that they don’t even have time to pursue an education.

You think about cities like Cape Town, which just barely avoided the crisis of running out of water.

The reason that Cape Town has a shortage of water has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Stoclet’s use of water.

The real reason that Cape Town has a shortage of water is because it chose to reject Israel’s offer of help to build desalination plants.

Israel itself is a very densely populated country, in the desert, with perpetual drought.

If any country should have a shortage of water, it’s Israel.

But according to this article from haaretz.com, this is what desalination has done for Israel:

Over and Drought: Why the End of Israel’s Water Shortage Is a Secret

Remember all the years of being told to conserve ‘every drop?’ Well, times have changed: Today, Israel has so much affordable water, it can offer to export it. So why is this achievement being kept so secret?

There is now a surplus of water in Israel, thanks largely to the opening of several new desalination plants

Those desalination plants did not appear by magic. Instead, Israel chose to build them.

Cape Town, by comparison, chose to reject Israel’s offer of help to build desalination plants.

And Stoclet’s act of going a week without water will do absolutely nothing whatsoever to help the people of Cape Town.

According to the same article from haaretz.com, the cost of desalination in Israel is only 40 cents per cubic meter. That works out to less than 1/5 penny per gallon.

Stoclet wrote the following:

You think about cities like Cape Town, which just barely avoided the crisis of running out of water… Yet at the same time, the average American household uses more than 300 gallons of water per day.

Israel desalinizes that same amount of water – 300 gallons – for less than 60 cents.

And yet, Stoclet’s article has no mention whatsoever of desalination as a way to solve the “water crisis” that 663 million people are experiencing.

Instead, Stoclet mistakenly thinks that her own water consumption somehow “affects the water crisis.”

The 663 million people suffering from the “water crisis” don’t need Stoclet or anyone else to reduce their own use of water. Instead, what those 663 million people need is desalination.

Stoclet also wrote:

It has been made easy for us to treat water as a limitless resource

While it’s true that the earth has a finite amount of water, it’s also true that that water is infinitely recyclable. The water that we drink today is the same water that the dinosaurs drank 100 million years ago. And as long as we build enough enough desalination plants, and the people who use that water are willing to pay 1/5 penny for each and every gallon that they use, then we can indeed treat water as if it is a “limitless resource.”

Note from Daniel Alman: If you like this blog post that I wrote, you can buy my books from amazon, and/or donate to me via PayPal, using the links below:

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March 3, 2020. Tags: , , , , , , . Desalination, Economics, Environmentalism. Leave a comment.

Even in 2015, the New York Times is still pretending that desalination does not exist

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April 6, 2015. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Desalination, Environmentalism, Media bias, Overpopulation, Politics, Technology. 5 comments.

Why has California chosen water shortages over desalination?

Israel has made the choice to turn its water shortages into surpluses by building lots of desalination plants. Desalination costs less than 40 cents per cubic meter, which is less than 1/6 penny per gallon. It’s so cheap that in addition to using desalinized water for residential uses, Israel also uses it for agriculture.

Meanwhile, California has chosen to have water shortages instead of building enough desalination plants.

Why did California make this choice?

February 1, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Desalination, Technology. 4 comments.

The world’s supply of resources is getting bigger, not smaller

According to the laws of physics, the total quantity of mass and energy is fixed. Therefore, we cannot “create” new mass or energy, and we cannot “use up” the mass and energy that we already have.

But there is something else that we can do – we can invent, build, and use technology to increase our standard of living. For example, petroleum was worthless until someone with a brain invented a way to use it, at which point the petroleum became a valuable resource. Likewise, today we take rocks that used to be worthless, and turn them into computer chips that are worth trillions of dollars.
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July 5, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Desalination, Economics, Environmentalism, Nuclear power, Overpopulation, Politics, Science, Technology. 11 comments.