ECONOMIC TIMES (India)
SUNDAY 25 MAY 1997

Nuclear-powered potable water
R Senthilnathan (IANS)


VIENNA 24 MAY
A GROWING shortage of fresh water for the world's increasing population has countries looking keenly at the option of using nuclear power to desalinate sea water.

An international meeting is to be held in Taejon in South Korea next week to discuss how best the problem of short supply of fresh water can be solved by using nuclear energy.

The week-long meet, to begin on Monday under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will bring together more than 300 experts from all over the world to discuss the current status of experiments in nuclear-powered desalination and its future.

The meeting is being convened following requests from a number of countries which are struggling to meet the increasing demand for fresh water, Mr Toshio Konishi of the nuclear power technology development section of the IAEA said. India is among the core group of countries that have progressed quite far in producing potable water through nuclear energy and Indian scientists are expected to submit presentations at the deliberations about their experiences in the field.

The IAEA was studying the feasibility of using nuclear energy for sea water desalination in the sixties, but interest died in subsequent years, only to be revived in 1989. Mr Konishi, who is also the official in charge of the coming meeting, said that whereas world population grew three times between 1900 and 1995, water consumption grew six times in the same period and is set to increase.

The world's largest desalinator is nature itself. Each year the solar system takes through evaporation about 400,000 cubic kms - about 100 times the global annual water consumption - of sea water, purifies and then sends it back to earth in the form of rain, sleet or snow in different parts of the world, experts say.

But a number of countries, notably in the Middle Eastern region, don't get enough rain and so have built their own water desalination plants. The largest of them - capable of cleaning about half a million cubic metres of sea water each day - is located in Saudi Arabia.

Fossil fuels as a source of energy for such an exercise are now losing favour because they emit high amounts of greenhouse gases and their reserves are limited. Even though interest in nuclear energy for desalination has been around for years and there are more than 400 nuclear reactors generating electricity, not many countries have actually used them to purify sea water.

The only country so far to use a nuclear reactor for desalinisation is Kazakhstan, Mr Konishi said. India and Japan also have nuclear power reactors desalinating water, but the fresh water produced is used within the plant itself, he said adding he knew that the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre has been conducting research in this field for a number of years. At present, India is experimenting with using waste heat produced at a nuclear power plant to desalinate water, the IAEA official said.-IANS

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