Reduced water from warmer weather could cripple nuclear and coal-fired power plants

Coal and nuclear power plants rely heavily on water for cooling, but a warmer climate could reduce the availability of water and limit power output.

Nature Climate Change published the findings on Sunday. The lead author is Michelle T. H. van Vliet.

The report looked at 61 power plants in the US and 35 in Europe with a lifetime of 50-60 years.

"The summer average usable capacity of power plants with once-through or combination cooling systems is projected to decrease by 12–16% (US) and 13–19% (Europe) for the 2040s," writes the report authors.

Power plants face two problems when warm weather hits: water flow is reduced, and the water released back into the river after cooling can't exceed a regulated temperatures.

The power sector is one of the largest users of water in the US and Europe, says the report's authors, and changes ". . . in water availability and surface water temperature directly affect thermoelectric power generation potential and reliability."

Warm weather has impacted power production in the past. The authors notes that warm, dry summers in 2003, 2006 and 2009 in Europe reduced power consumption and led to a rise in electricity prices.

"In the US a similar event in 2007–2008 caused several power plants to reduce production, or shut down for several days owing to a lack of surface water for cooling and environmental restrictions on thermal discharges. "