A cautionary tale for all those who think nuclear is the answer to climate change. The Washington Post reported yesterday that drought conditions are affecting nuclear production capacity.

[Plants] could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.

But wait, there’s more …

An Associated Press analysis of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines.

And the irony just keeps on coming …

“Currently, nuclear power costs between $5 to $7 to produce a megawatt hour,” said Daniele Seitz, an energy analyst with New York-based Dahlman Rose & Co. “It would cost 10 times that amount that if you had to buy replacement power … especially during the summer.”

Now how do we fit this kind of uncertainty into our assumptions about the benefits of nuclear power to combat climate change? Since both curbing carbon and bringing nuclear plants online will take decades, we could find ourselves building plants that can’t deliver on their promises (as if they ever have, but that’s another story).