New Scientist posted an article by Natalie Kopytko of the University of York. Ms. Kopytko says:
The bottom line is that if nuclear power is to be used to mitigate the effects of climate change, it must also be capable of adapting to them. There are serious doubts that it can.
Nuclear power is inherently subject to some very specific requirements:
Two facts that everyone should now know about nuclear power are that it needs access to large volumes of water to cool the reactor and a supply of energy to move the water. For this reason nuclear power plants are typically sited near large bodies of water, often seas or estuaries. It is this attachment to water that makes nuclear power vulnerable to climate change….
The water requirements and subsequent site decisions subject nuclear reactor to a couple of risk factors, Ms. Kopytko says:
First of all, coastal areas are highly dynamic: storms batter, sea levels rise, and land shifts. This already poses problems for the safety of nuclear plants, and is only going to get worse. Secondly, nuclear power can be disrupted by water scarcity and rising water temperatures.
Location and water requirements have already led to a number of problems with existing reactors:
This is not to say an accident will happen every time a hurricane passes by a nuclear power plant. Unlike earthquakes, hurricanes can be predicted, allowing time for preparation. Still, preventative measures are not always taken. For instance, during hurricane Francis in 2004 doors designed to protect safety equipment from flying debris at the St Lucie nuclear power plant in Florida were left open.
Flooding is also a significant concern:
This isn’t a hypothetical future scenario. In 1999 the Blayais nuclear power plant on the Gironde estuary in France flooded due to a high tide and strong winds that exceeded anything it was designed to withstand. Two of the reactor units on site were severely affected by flooding.
Kopytko also says that heat waves are an ongoing concern:
Heat waves are another serious concern, for two reasons. One, the colder the cooling water entering a reactor, the more efficient the production of electricity. And two, once the cooling water has passed through the system it is often discharged back where it came from in a much warmer state.
During the 2003 heat wave in Europe, reactors at inland sites in France were shut down or had their power output reduced because the water receiving the discharge was already warmer than environmental regulations allowed. Citing “exceptional circumstances”, the French government relaxed the regulations to maintain the supply of electricity. After subsequent heat waves it became a permanent measure during the summer months.
The relaxing of the regulations causes thermal pollution that reduces the ability of aquatic ecosystems to adapt to warmer temperatures. Some may argue these regional impacts are insignificant compared to the global ramifications of climate change, but they illustrate that nuclear power can actually worsen its impact.
Power outages due to not enough cooling water for nukes has a human impact:
As the heat wave wore on, French consumers were asked to conserve energy, and exports to some countries, especially Italy, were reduced. While France, which generates over 75 per cent of its electricity from nuclear sources, avoided blackouts, Italy did not. The heat wave caused an estimated 40,000 deaths, around half of them in Italy. These deaths cannot be attributed directly to the failure of nuclear power but energy conservation and blackouts surely made people more vulnerable.
Drought is also a problem:
The final problem is droughts, which climate models predict will become longer and larger. Legal battles have already been fought in the US over scarce water resources in regions with nuclear power plants, including the Catawba river basin in the Carolinas and the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint river basin in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. These battles show us that adapting our systems – including nuclear power – to a reduced supply of water will not be easy.