• Otávio Santiago

Climate Change Could Make Nuclear Power Plants Useless

Updated: Aug 4

Nuclear power is incredible when you think about it. We can harness the power of atomic degradation and utilise Einstein’s theory of special relativity (E=MC²) to create powerful on-demand low carbon energy. Such technology has the potential to halt our rampant fossil fuel consumption and negate the horrific effects of climate change.

However, recent heatwaves have highlighted a significant problem with our current reactors that will only get worse as climate change escalates and could even make some nuclear reactors useless in the future. So what is this Achilles heel? Is nuclear power doomed? Or can we solve this issue?

France recently had to curtail six of its nuclear reactors. One such example is the Golfech nuclear power plant, which had to reduce output by 1000 MW. To give some context on those numbers, that is the same amount of energy used to power 2,000 homes. This widespread problem left the French national energy grid in turmoil, especially given the entirety of Europe is in an energy crisis at the moment. But what caused this issue?

It may seem a little silly, but the culprit was the intense heatwave that recently swept across Europe and the UK. That’s right, all it took was some abnormally hot weather to kneecap these reactors. But how? Well, it is all to do with river temperatures. Let me explain.

Nuclear reactors need to be cooled. We achieve this in our current reactors by using water, which is converted to steam once in contact with the scorching reactor. This massive increase in pressure forces the steam out of the reactor and through a turbine, which spins and generates electricity. This steam is then passed through a condenser, where it is cooled and returned to a liquid state and fed back to the reactor to start the cycle again.

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