Freshwater from the Seas

Photo: J.A. Kraulis/Masterfile

Tapping the world's seas to produce freshwater for cities and towns takes energy, and countries are looking at nuclear electricity plants to provide it. India is among countries looking to couple a nuclear power plant to a desalination facility, working through international cooperative projects supported by the IAEA.

The technology of desalination -- or desalting seawater -- is not new. Over the past fifty years, its use has grown, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where freshwater is scarce. The facilities are energy intensive, and usually draw the steam or electricity they need from conventional fossil-fueled plants. But as environmental concerns grow over greenhouse gas emissions, other cleaner sources of energy are being sought.

The technology of coupling nuclear energy and desalination plants already has taken hold in Japan and Kazakhstan, where commercial facilities have been operating since the 1970s. India is seeking to expand the base of national and international experience through a demonstration plant it is building at Kalpakkam in the southeast of the country. Other countries involved in nuclear desalination projects include the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia, Argentina, Canada, France, and China.

In 2002, the IAEA is planning an international symposium to review and update the global status of nuclear desalination. As more experience is gained and shared, the technology's use could help more countries meet rising demands for electricity and for freshwater. About two-thirds of the world's population is projected to face shortages of clean freshwater over the coming decades.

Last update: 11 November 2014