Rivers are Being Stressed by Electricity Production

By B. McPherson

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a report on water usage by power plants in the US.

The picture they have painted is grim. If power plants are not made more efficient or alternate forms of electrical production are used, the choice between living rivers and electricity will have to be made soon. While conventional power generating plants return the bulk of cooling water to the rivers they use, the water temperature is elevated. The scientists found in some cases that water was hot enough to parboil the critters living in the river.

“The report also showed that power plants are stressing water bodies by discharging water at temperatures harmful to fish and other wildlife. In 2008, 350 power plants across the country reported discharging water at temperatures of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and some at temperatures over 110 degrees, according to the report.” Union of Concerned Scientists
Some areas of the US endured a lengthy drought this year, Texas being notable for its record setting high temperatures. Water volumes in rivers drop as rainfall patterns change. Power plant operators will have to choose between decreasing energy production and killing off the river.

Some water used for cooling is lost to evaporation. Nuclear power stations return a much lower, heated volume of water because much more water is converted to steam and lost into the atmosphere.

As populations increase, they demand more of everything: clean drinking water, energy, food. These take water.  Some hard decisions will have to be faced in the short term if there is to be enough for people’s needs as well as the environment’s, especially in the light of growing evidence of climate warming and increasing drought conditions.

Currently nations are meeting in Durban South Africa to discuss climate change, climate warming and the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide that appears to be pushing the changes. Those that are following the conference are increasingly gloomy about the chances of any real changes.


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