Can Nuclear Energy Solve the World Water Crisis

I just watched an episode of VICE, HBO’s answer to what 60 Minutes used to be. The subject matter was the growing water crisis worldwide. A Professor commented on the effect of the loss of vast portions of the Amazon Rain Forest and the environmental effects on the diminished creation of moisture flowing into the atmosphere as a result. It seems that the moisture given off by trees as they grow breathes water vapor into the atmosphere. Ultimately that water vapor forms a river of moisture laden air until it is released back to the land as rain. It does not take a scientist to figure out that if trees release the moisture that falls as rain somewhere else, remove the trees and rainfall diminishes. Add to that dynamic the fact that we are using water in irresponsible ways, draining our aquifers to pay for today at the expense of tomorrow, Add to that we live in a world where population growth increases demand at a time when we are actively diminishing supply and at some point in the not too distant future we will reach a tipping point where there won’t be enough water to go around.

That got me to thinking that if trees put moisture into the atmosphere and we are not adding trees what else can we do to put vast quantities of moisture back into the atmosphere. For those who remember the China Syndrome movie or for that matter any number of apocalyptic stories about the dangers of nuclear plants overheating and boiling away their cooling systems leading to a meltdown of the core which gets so hot it melts anything meant to contain it and a catastrophe results. Ok so what happens, I have to ask, if the water supply is such that it can never be boiled away it just keeps making steam and releasing it into the atmosphere.  It isn’t going to just stay there, it is going to turn into rain somewhere.  We use nuclear plants to drive steam turbines so the technology is already here. Add to this the sad fact that we have so much nuclear fuel already that this might be a good way to use it, turning seawater into steam and releasing it into the atmosphere. Now admittedly there are a couple of problems that we need to solve first, Seawater has salt dissolved in it and the salt does not stay with the steam so we need to figure out how to keep the salt from literally gumming up the works, not I think, an insurmountable problem. The second and more challenging hurdle is where to place these things where they would do the most good.

I don’t think we want to create more rain over the ocean and managing weather patterns has been the dream of climatologists for years.  We are getting sophisticated enough and technologically powerful enough to solve that problem too if we start soon enough to get to the answers before the problem turns into a crisis.  I suspect that given the relatively small amounts of heat needed to run a nuclear electric plant we are looking for a quantum leap in scale but that is merely a matter of size.  The simple truth is that if we do not solve this problem while there is still time, when time starts to run out, solutions will be much harder to come by. 


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