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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

- Water

Nuclear power and water

Effects of uranium mining and nuclear power on water.

Overuse of precious fresh water.One of the greatest dangers of the nuclear/uranium industry is in its use of water.  Both uranium mining and nuclear reactors require enormous amounts of water.  This is a threat to the world’s scarce resources of fresh water.

Pollution. Both uranium mining and nuclear reactors also pollute water.  In uranium mining, water is often used to pour over radioactive dust tailings: radioactive water can leach down into groundwater. In the “in situ leach” process, radioactive water is disposed of into the aquifer.

Flooding rain can cause overflow and radioactive pollution of waterways.

Nuclear reactors use water for cooling – the resulting hot water is released into the source, river, or coastal sea, to thermally pollute the area, damaging plants and fish.

Effects of water (too little or too much) on nuclear reactors.  

Water scarcity, and hot water.. In heat waves, nuclear reactors often will need to be shut down, as their river sources of cooling water become too warm to function as a coolant.

As global warming brings about a rise in average temperatures and ocean levels, inland reactors will increasingly contribute to, and be affected by, water shortages. During the record-breaking 2003 heat wave in France, operations at 17 commercial nuclear reactors had to be scaled back or stopped because of rapidly rising temperatures in rivers and lake. Spain’s reactor at Santa María de Garoña was shut for a week in July 2006 after high temperatures were recorded in the Ebro River.

Paradoxically, then, the very conditions that made it impossible for the nuclear industry to deliver full power in Europe in 2003 and 2006 created peak demand for electricity, owing to the increased use of air conditioning.   http://chellaney.net/2011/03/14/paradox-of-nuclear-power-water-guzzler-yet-vulnerable-to-water/

Seawater can be used to cool reactors, but it has to be purified. Corrosive elements in the seawater would otherwise ruin the reactors – so seawater is  a last resort for cooling. As in the case of the Fukushima emergency – seawater was used, as  ruining the reactors was preferable to a catastrophic nuclear meltdown.

Too much water.  It is a laugh that nuclear power is touted as a solution to global warming More likely, global warming is the death knell for nuclear power.

Very many nuclear reactors are located along coastlines, where they are vulnerable to storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis. With climate change and rising sea levels, these events are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

So far, we have considered water only as it relates to only the normal operations of nuclear reactors.  Even then, nuclear reactors have leaks, especially as they age, allowing radioactive substances to disperse into water systems.

Uranium mines are vulnerable to flooding. When this happens, the disaster is an economic one, as well as environmental. Canada’s Cameco company and Energy Resources of Australia have found this out to their cost. Both uranium companies are still in financial plight due to the Cigar Lake (Canada) floods of 2006, and 2008, and the Ranger mine (Australia) floods of 2011.

But Fukushima has shown the world how a natural climate event can disrupt nuclear power.  In the event of a nuclear accident the effects of nuclear power on water are hugely damaging, catastrophic.

Some figures and facts on nuclear/uranium and water.

URANIUM MINING  Water use in a typical uranium mine is approximately 200 to 300 gallons per minute, In water-short Australia, BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine has been for years taking 35 million litres of water each day from the underground aquifer, at no cost whatever.  When BHP digs its new biggest hole in the world, it will pay a small fixed price for removing even greater amounts, exceeding 42 million litres.

A typical 1000-megawatt pressurized-water reactor (with a cooling tower) takes in 20,000 gallons of river, lake or ocean water per minute for cooling, circulates it through a 50-mile maze of pipes, returns 5,000 gallons per minute to the same body of water, and releases the remainder to the atmosphere as vapor. A 1000-megawatt reactor without a cooling tower takes in even more water–as much as one-half million gallons per minute. The discharge water is contaminated with radioactive elements in amounts that are not precisely known or knowable, but are biologically active.

Some radioactive fission gases, stripped from the reactor cooling water, are contained in decay tanks for days before being released into the atmosphere through filtered rooftop vents. Some gases leak into the power plant buildings’ interiors and are released during periodic “purges” and “ventings.” These airborne gases contaminate not only the air, but also soil and water.

200 billion gallons of water withdrawn from America’s water supply each day for every terawatt of electricity produced by nuclear reactors,

At least 20 USA nuclear plants have admitted leakage of radioactive tritium into the groundwater.

Spills and leaks are common at In Situ Leach  mines. The South Australian  Department of Primary Industry and Resources lists 59 spills at Beverley mine from 1998 to 2007.

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FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR PLANT and WATER – present state

That nuclear core is in direct contact with tons of water. And that containment, while not leaking down, is leaking out the sides. That contaminated water is going into every other building on site. And there is literally thousands and thousands of tons of water in other buildings. That water contains radioactive cesium, radioactive strontium, and it also contains nuclear fuel. There will be uranium in that water and plutonium in that water as well. We know for sure that that water is leaking into the ground water and into the Pacific Ocean. So while it is important to know that we are not going to release the nuclear core directly into the center of the earth, the problem is not over. And as a matter of fact, the problem will last for tens, perhaps even as long as 30 years because this contaminated water is in the basements of all the buildings on site. And not only does it contain cesium (that hangs around for 300 years), strontium (hangs around for 300 years), but it also contains plutonium and uranium and they have half lives of tens of thousands of years.

So the problem is, what do we do with all that water that is contaminated? It is already leaking into the groundwater. It is already leaking into the ocean. TEPCO is frantically catching it and putting it into tanks. But just today, TEPCO announced that they are running out of tank space on site, and eventually they are going to have to release those tanks into the Pacific Ocean. Now they will try to clean up some of the isotopes like cesium. But they have been unable to capture all the strontium. Strontium is a bone seeker that causes leukemia… http://fairewinds.com/content/fukushima-could-it-have-china-syndrome

NUCLEAR REACTORS  – WATER USE : Per megawatt existing nuclear power stations use and consume more water than power stations using other fuel sources. Depending on the cooling technology utilised, the water requirements for a nuclear power station can vary between 20 to 83 per cent more than for other power stations.”

- Dep of Parliamentary Services research note, 4 December 2006, no. 12, 2006–07, ISSN 1449-8456 Water consumption figures:

Nuclear: 2.3 L/ kWh
Solar (PV): 0.110 L/ kWh
Wind: 0.004 L/ kWh
(American Wind Energy Association estimate & US DOE)

A typical 1000-megawatt pressurized-water reactor (with a cooling tower) takes in 20,000 gallons of river, lake or ocean water per minute for cooling, circulates it through a 50-mile maze of pipes, returns 5,000 gallons per minute to the same body of water, and releases the remainder to the atmosphere as vapor. A 1000-megawatt reactor without a cooling tower takes in even more water–as much as one-half million gallons per minute. The discharge water is contaminated with radioactive elements in amounts that are not precisely known or knowable, but are biologically active.

Some radioactive fission gases, stripped from the reactor cooling water, are contained in decay tanks for days before being released into the atmosphere through filtered rooftop vents. Some gases leak into the power plant buildings’ interiors and are released during periodic “purges” and “ventings.” These airborne gases contaminate not only the air, but also soil and water. http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/routineradioactivereleases.htm

NUCLEAR REACTORS  -IONISING RADIATION to GROUNDWATER   In USA the nuclear industry has contaminated groundwater with radioactive tritium at nuclear power plant sites all across the country.  Nuclear plants that have admitted leaking tritium into the groundwater include:

  • Braidwood, Byron, Dresden and Quad Cities in Illinois;
  • Indian Point and Fitzpatrick in New York;
  • Yankee Rowe and Pilgrim in Massachusetts;
  • Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania;
  • Callaway in Missouri
  • Catawba in South Carolina
  • Oyster Creek in New Jersey
  • Hatch in Georgia
  • Palo Verde In Arizona
  • Perry in Ohio
  • Palisades in Michigan
  • Point Beach in Wisconsin
  • Salem in Delaware
  • San Onofre in California
  • Seabrook in New Hampshire
  • Shearon Harris in North Carolina
  • Watts Bar in Tennessee
  • Wolf Creek in Kansas
  • Connecticut Yankee in Connecticut
  • Vermont Yankee in Vermont
Unfortunately, rather than hold nuclear plant owners to the terms of their licenses, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to exercise its authority and instead has handed the problem of radioactive tritium leaks over to the industry lobbyists’ in a voluntary program. Nuclear Power’s Threat to Clean Water | Greenpeace USA
URANIUM MINING – OPEN CUT or UNDERGROUND    It is very difficult to find figures on the amounts of water used.  All mining is water intensive, but uranium mining is the greatest guzzler Water is extensively used to suppress airborne dust levels, to try to reduce the radioactive clouds that would otherwise emanate constantly  from the uranium tailings.
 – “The Olympic Dam mining and processing operations currently use up to 35 megalitres per day of water. “it is estimated that an additional 120 Ml per day may be required for the expanded project.” - Olympic Dam Environmental Impacts Statement, Seawater Desalination Plant Information Sheet #4, August 2006

IN SITU LEACHING – Uranium Mining Process  in-situ leaching uses a hydrogen peroxide mixture to strip the uranium from the rock, which kills tissue and destroys cells in human and animal life. The addition of oxygen and sodium bicarbonate called oxygenates causes uranium and other radioactive substances and trace metals to be liberated from the rock into the groundwater.

.. judges have too often taken the stance that they are judges who know nothing of the mining industry and accept the data of corporations, claiming the corporations are in the know.

..the water taken from the extremely pristine Westwater Canyon Aquifer near Crownpoint for uranium mining and used for flushing out chemicals would not be replaced in our lifetimes.

It takes hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, to transform aquifer water back into a drinkable condition.  Virginia Against Uranium Mining: Scientists Back Navajos’ Uranium Mining Fight: Tribe fears contamination of drinking water

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