Nuclear Desalination

David Wilczynski
March 5, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Introduction to the World's Water Supply

Fresh water is a major priority in the development of the world and the survival of humanity. If access keeps becoming restricted then what sort of consequences will our future hold? We must turn to some alternative methods of cleansing otherwise non-drinkable water in order to provide enough water security for generations to come. One of these developing techniques utilizes nuclear energy and is called nuclear desalination.

What is Nuclear Desalination?

Nuclear desalination uses heat created by nuclear power plants to evaporate the salt and other unnecessary minerals from seawater and condense the water. Reverse osmosis drives the pumps which pressurize the water and force it through tiny, semi-permeable membranes. [1] After this occurs, purified water exits through the membrane, and the salt is left by itself on the other side. This whole procedure is facilitated by nuclear energy, using it to drive the entire process. Although this form of water purification hasn't completely skyrocketed in popularity, many people feel that it soon will because of all the positives it brings to the table.

What are the Positives?

For those countries that already have established nuclear power plant programs (especially smaller to medium sized ones), this form of purification is almost already done. All that these areas will have to do is just equip these plants with some more materials in order to desalinate the salt water. Additionally, nuclear desalination is a promising alternative to using fossil fuels because of the absence of emerging, harmful emissions. [1] Nuclear energy doesn't emit dangerous substances into the air; therefore, it is quickly becoming the preferred choice of fueling in processes like desalination.

What are the Negatives?

Although this whole process of nuclear desalination may sound too good to be true to some, there are some negatives that help put this whole process into perspective. Because this technique involves using the nuclear power plants as energy to desalinate the water, there are possibilities that some of the radioactive materials could be released into the water itself. [1] Even though most plants already have safety precautions put into place, nuclear energy is a dangerous ingredient that could find its way into this potable water by way of an accident or even through leakage.

Concluding Thoughts

Perhaps nuclear desalination may not be good enough of a tactic to last humans for eternity, but at least it can serve as a temporary solution. Seventy percent of our world is covered in water, but only two and a half percent of that comes as fresh water. [1] Why shouldn't we pour more time and effort into researching methods such as this one when purifying water is obviously a problem in our world today?

© David Wilczynski. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Economics of Nuclear Desalination: New Developments and Site Specific Studies," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-TECDOC-1561, July 2007.