Nuclear Energy's Climatic Achilles Heel

Thu, 2006-08-10 08:22Ross Gelbspan
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Nuclear Energy's Climatic Achilles Heel

While many experts, including Britain's James Lovelock, have been promoting nuclear energy as a greenhouse-gas-free method of generating electricity, recent shutdowns in of nuclear plants in Europe due to overheated cooling water and low-flowing rivers have exposed a very serious danger to a reliance on nuclear energy – and one which will only become worse as the planet continues to heat up.

Previous Comments

One thing that all power plants using a steam cycle have in common is that they need a place to put their waste heat. In terms more familiar to those people that have taken thermodynamics, all Rankine cycle machines need a heat sink and that heat sink is normally water.<p>
The need to reduce power to keep within prescribed limits for discharge water temperature is not limited to nuclear steam plants; it affects coal, oil, gas and even waste to energy plants.<p>
The only power systems in use today that are essentially unaffected by elevated water temperatures are diesel or gasoline internal combustion engines, simple cycle gas turbines, wind and solar power.<p>
Of course, wind and solar power have their own weather based limitations.<p>
Also, to be perfectly fair, it is possible to engineer mitigating systems that allow power plants to be able to function better in hot climates - the decision to use these techniques is often a cost-benefit decision that depends on predicted weather patters.