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Current and Future Nuclear Desalination Opportunities Highlighted by IAEA Technical Working Group

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Nuclear Desalination Plant at the Karachi Nuclear Power Complex (KANUPP) in Pakistan. (Photo: PAEC)

Both small modular and advanced nuclear power reactors could be attractive energy sources for future large-scale seawater desalination and other cogeneration applications, the Technical Working Group on Nuclear Desalination (TWG-ND) acknowledged at its recent meeting at the IAEA.

Small modular reactors are especially suitable for remote areas with limited infrastructure. The members of the TWG-ND agreed that it would be useful to examine the techno-economics and prospects for non-electrical applications using micro- and small modular reactors. Advanced nuclear power reactors provide unique features for electricity generation, such as higher temperatures and thermodynamic efficiencies, which could also enable their larger deployment in nuclear desalination.

Cogeneration involves the integration of nuclear power plants with other applications. Aside from its use for desalination and hydrogen production, the heat generated by nuclear power plants can be used to produce a vast range of other products, such as cooling, heating and process heat.

"There is growing interest and a quest for new sources for potable water in several nuclear newcomer countries, as well as countries with existing operating nuclear power plants," said Ibrahim Khamis, IAEA Scientific Secretary of the TWG-ND. “The IAEA, with the support and guidance of the Technical Working Group, has been conducting several activities on nuclear desalination as a promising option to face current and future global water scarcity issues”. Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development focuses on ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. "The IAEA is playing an active role in cooperating with the international community on achieving a sustainable future for water resources," said Mr Khamis.

The TWG-ND, which consists of 14 internationally renowned experts in desalination and the use of nuclear power for potable water production, also recommended that the IAEA consider setting up an information exchange platform on nuclear desalination issues, and encourage Member States to share their experience on construction, retrofitting, and operation of nuclear desalination projects.

IAEA and Member States' activities since the 2015 meeting of the TWG-ND indicate a consensus that the optimum technology solution for nuclear desalination is the hybrid of Multi-Effect Distillation (MED) with reverse osmosis (RO), coupled with nuclear energy. This technology has demonstrated that it can produce 50,000 m3 of fresh water per day, a number that may even increase to 91,000 m3 per day in the near future. The electrical energy consumed during this process is only between 0.9 to 1.3 kWh per m3. Seawater RO can produce water needed during different phases in a nuclear power plant.

"The IAEA has been continuously soliciting the views and ideas of Member States on nuclear desalination and other non-electric applications of nuclear energy," said Ron Faibish from the Argonne National Laboratory, USA, who chaired the meeting. "There is much knowledge and experience available in Member States which can be shared."

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