Nuclear reactors across the U.S. Southeast could be forced to slow production or shut down in the near future due to the effects of continuing drought in the region. Nuclear power plants require massive amounts of water to cool steam that turns the generators; the water usually arrives via large intake pipes from nearby rivers and lakes. However, with water levels at drought-induced lows, a growing number of reactors are inching closer and closer to the water levels that would hamper plant operation. Pumping water from shallower depths, even when available, can also lead to forced shutdowns due to the water’s increased temperature. “You need a lot of water to operate nuclear plants,” said Jim Warren, executive director of a North Carolina green group. “Water is the nuclear industry’s Achilles’ heel.” By our count that makes at least four such heels: water, the legacy of radioactive waste, nuke plants’ appeal as terrorist targets, and the enormous costs of nuke plant construction.
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