The Straits Times (Singapore)
MAY 26 1997
Promise of fresh water with help of nuclear power
By R. Senthilnathan in Vienna
A NUMBER of countries, including China, India, Japan, South
Korea and Russia, which have been successful in using nuclear
technology to provide fresh water, will make presentations at a
meeting on this issue in South Korea this week. Organised by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the week-long
meeting beginning today will bring together more than 300
experts to discuss the present status of desalination using nuclear
technology, and how to proceed in the future.
The meeting, in the city of Taejon, was planned after requests
from a several countries which face the problem of meeting
increasing demands for fresh water, said Mr Toshio Konishi of
the IAEA's nuclear power technology development section.
The IAEA had been studying the feasibility of using nuclear
energy for desalinating sea water in the 60s, but interest died out
soon afterwards, only to be revived in 1989, fuelled largely by
rapid population growth.
Mr Konishi, the main official responsible for the meeting, said
that whereas world population grew three times between 1900
and 1995, water consumption had grown six times, and was set to
The world's largest desalinator is nature itself. Each year,
through evaporation, about 400,000 cu km of sea water -- about
100 times the global annual water consumption -- is purified and
returned to earth in form of rain, sleet or snow. However, rain is
not equally distributed, so while some countries have abundant
fresh water, others do not. Therefore some countries resort to
The biggest of them, capable of desalting about 500,000 cu m of
sea water daily, is in Saudi Arabia.
The most commonly used fuel for the desalination plants are
fossil fuels, oil gas and coal. But these are not infinite and emit
relatively high amounts of greenhouse gases like nitrogen and
Even though interest in using nuclear energy for desalination has
been there for years, and there are more than 400 nuclear reactors
generating electricity, not many countries have used them.
The only country so far to use a nuclear reactor to desalt sea
water for its population is Kazakhstan, Mr Konishi said.
Two others, India and Japan, also have nuclear power reactors
desalinating water, but the water produced is used within the
The number of countries using nuclear energy to desalinate is
small but the list of those wishing to use it is longer.
Morocco is to undertake a joint study with China on a
desalination plant and Indonesia has also showed an interest in
using nuclear power to provide water to some of its regions.
South Korea itself is designing a 330 MW multi-purpose nuclear
power plant which can also be used for desalination.
One problem with using nuclear reactors is that they are usually
large -- in average with a power generating capacity of more than
But Mr Konishi said several countries are now working on new
concepts with smaller reactors with only heat generation capacity,
since desalination plants need just heat to evaporate sea water.