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Nuclear Energy Taps Seas for Safe Water

Currently, the International Water Management Institute estimates that one fifth of the world population, or more than 1 billion people worldwide, do not have access to drinkable water. This results in more than 3 billion cases of illness and two million deaths per year because of water related diseases.

As the world's population grows, water scarcity will increase. The industry and agriculture needed to support growing populations will also require larger amounts of water. In many areas, the rate of water usage already exceeds the rate of replenishment. In the United States, severe water shortages have already occurred in California, Florida, and Texas

It is anticipated that by the 2025, 33% of the world population, or more than 1.8 billion people, will live in countries or regions without adequate supplies of water.

However, the threat of inadequate water supplies can be halted with new nuclear desalination plants. Nuclear reactors have already been used for desalination on relatively small-scale projects. In total, over 150-reactor-years of operating experience with nuclear desalination have been accumulated worldwide. Expanded use of nuclear technology can increase available water supplies safely and economically.

Several nations have demonstrated the use of nuclear energy for desalination.

  • China
    Nuclear-powered desalination project in Yantai City in east China's Shandong Province, with a designed capacity of producing approximately 35 million gallons of fresh water per day.1
  • India
    Desalination plant capable of producing 1.7 million gallons of fresh water per day that is coupled to two 170 megawatt pressurized heavy water reactors at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam.2
  • Japan
    Eight nuclear reactors coupled to desalination projects are currently in operation.

Nations also using or developing nuclear desalination plants include United States, China, India, Japan, Egypt, Russia, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iran, South Korea, Indonesia, and Argentina.3

The great majority of the more than 7,500 desalination plants in operation worldwide today use fossil fuels. For developing countries facing water crises, the economics make nuclear desalination an attractive solution. Advanced reactor designs are now promising reduced costs in turning seawater into freshwater.

  1. China to Build Nuclear-Powered Desalinator Project, PEOPLE'S DAILY ONLINE, July 24, 2003, at (last visited Oct. 28, 2003).
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Beller, Dr. Denis E. "Atomic Time Machines: Back to the Nuclear Future," Journal of Land, Resources, and Environmental Law, 24, 1, University of Utah, S. J. Quinney College of Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2004, pp. 41-60.

Faibish, R. S. & Konishi, T., "Nuclear desalination: a viable option for producing fresh water." IAEA, Desalination, 157 (2003) 241-252

International Atomic Energy Agency, "Isotope Techniques in Water Resources Development and Management." Proceedings of an International Symposium, 1999.

"Nuclear Desalination," Information and Issue Brief by the World Nuclear Association. August 2004.

"Projected Water Scarcity in 2025" by the International Water Management Institute.

Last updated July 10, 2012, 8:54am CDT.

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