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Nuclear power and water consumption

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The amount of water used in uranium mining is similar to that used in coal mining, and the problems of water pollution are also similar. However, uranium requires much more processing than coal to become a usable fuel for electricity production. The process of converting uranium ore to finished reactor fuel involves several steps that use water, including milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These additional processing steps make uranium a much more water intensive fuel than coal, per unit of electricity produced.

The above citation is from a newly released report in which it is stated that nuclear power needs large amounts of water: for example four times as much water compared to a combined cycle gas plant. Table 1 (on page 23 of the report) shows the Water Consumption in Thermoelectric Power Plants, which tells us that nuclear power plants need 2,700 liters per MWh. Conclusion of the report in short: increasing pressure on Freshwater resources will require more efficient water use in the extraction, transformation and delivery of energy.

Water is increasingly moving from an operational issue to one of strategic significance, according to Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century, a new report by the World Economic Forum and Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA). The report warns, “Energy’s share of water is likely to be squeezed in the future in many parts of the world.” According to Climate of Hope (a documentary produced in 2007 by Scott Ludlam and Jose Garcia for the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia) the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia consumes 33 thousand tons of water a day, making it one of the largest water users in the country.

’Thirsty Energy’ offers a broad perspective on water’s role in energy production, the energy used in water provision, and the new risks and opportunities inherent in the “ancient relationship” between energy and water. The report illustrates water-related challenges and potential solutions with perspectives from distinguished leaders in energy, water provision, engineering, and academia, concluding that local solutions must be found to optimize the use of both of these resources around the world. “Water availability and water stress are local issues, and the possible impact of water scarcity on the energy industry is similarly local,” according to the report.

Accidentally, water use of nuclear power is one of the arguments opposing the proposed new nuclear reactor which the government of Jordan is pushing hard for. Jordan is the 4th most water poor country in the world, "we do not have the luxury of wasting our precious resource on cooling the reactor", writes the Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS).

The JREDS is asking for assistance in trying to develop and launch a campaign to oppose the nuclear plans by the government of Jordan. Since Jordan has a huge potential for renewable energy production (wind & solar) there really is no justification for nuclear, writes Princess Basma bint Ali.

Although the report is commissioned by the World Economic Forum (not the most progressive forum, to put it mildly) it offers some interesting figures. Another very interested (not-nuclear related) figure on page 27 (‘Efficiency loss due to Carbon Capture and Storage at Typical Power Plant’) says that “Capturing and sequestering CO2 emissions can cost a power plant about 30% of its power.”

The report ‘Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century’ is available at

Contact: Laka Foundation at

HRHP Basma bint Ali at the Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS) can be reached at: