Nuclear and coal power plants use a tremendous amount of water. These plants use cool water “drawn from rivers, lakes, or seas” to condense steam back into liquid water. That water–heated to a high temperature–then is used in the plants to turn turbines “which convert heat energy into electricity.”
Climate change-driven heatwaves, however, raise the temperature of water (just as they raise the temperature of the air) which can then prevent the use of the usual cooling water sources by power plants. The water temperature becomes too high. The result is power plant shutdowns. During this summer’s (2018) heatwaves, Europe has seen nuclear plant shutdowns in France and Sweden, while plants in Finland, Germany, and Switzerland have had to curtail power production. “Heatwaves [also] forced nuclear shutdowns or curtailment across Europe in 2003, 2006, and 2015.”
And, it will get worse. Research indicates that climate change driving both heatwaves and droughts (meaning enough water for cooling is not available) will make nuclear and coal plants increasingly susceptible to shutdowns or power reductions. The research focused on the effects in Europe, but these impacts can happen anywhere including the United States. Even as more nuclear and coal plants are retired due to natural gas and renewable energy sources and water use for cooling decreases, the impact of climate change will force shutdowns and curtailments on the remaining nuclear and coal plants. “Climate change makes many fossil-fuel plants stranded assets. Water stress only adds to the problems.”
Read the article (Akshat Rathi, Quartz, August 6, 2018).