NUCLEAR + WATER

Nuclear power plants—which must draw water from seas, rivers, lakes, or reservoirs to cool their reactors—are logically situated near water, putting them in the path of sea level rise and storm surges, Paskal said.

Flooding has already affected production in some plants in the U.S., France, and India. For instance, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew caused major damage to the Turkey Point nuclear power plant on Biscayne Bay, Florida.

But perhaps more troubling for nuclear facilities are heat waves, which will be commonplace in Europe by 2040—well within the life spans of reactors now coming online, according to the Met Office Hadley Centre, a climate-research facility in the U.K.

In a normal scenario, as cold water from nearby water bodies enters the plant, it's circulated to absorb excess heat and released from the plant at a higher temperature, Paskal said.

But during a heat wave, hotter air warms the water even before it goes into the plant. So when the waste water is pumped back into the environment, it can reach temperatures blistering enough to kill off ecosystems.

That's why the French government has set a temperature limit—77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) on how hot nuclear-plant water outflow can be. When waste water exceeds this temperature—for instance during a heat wave—reactors must shut off or power down, which means keeping the plant running at a lower energy level.

But sometimes governments will temporarily allow waste water to exceed that temperature limit: During a record-breaking heat wave in France in 2003, the government lifted the temperature maximum to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

Eventually, though, France decided to shut down or power off 17 nuclear reactors during the 2003 event, costing the country about U.S. $408 million (300 million Euros). More recently, during a 2009 heat wave, a third of the country's plants powered down, requiring France to buy energy from the United Kingdom.
. . . .THIS ARTICLE EXERPT IS COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC feb 26 2010.

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