- This PhD dissertation describes and evaluates a geographical analysis of candidate areas for siting nuclear plants utilizing a wet cooling tower in the Columbia River Basin (CRB). It focuses on the analysis of water availability for cooling and how it may be limited by climate change effects on river streamflow.
The CRB, which includes portions of OR, WA, ID and MT, is projected to require more sources of energy in the future. Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are projected to have a total energy shortfall of 58,676 MWe by 2050. Given the limitations on alternative low-carbon energy sources, nuclear power is a potential source of renewable low-carbon energy in the CRB.
This study applied siting criteria required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and a GIS-based multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) approach to identify candidate areas of the CRB appropriate for constructing nuclear reactors. Only 4.6% and 3.1% of the CRB were found to be suitable for siting small and large reactors, respectively. The two main candidate areas are Middle Columbia River, and Snake River plain. One of these regions already contains a nuclear power plant (Columbia Generating Station, WA), and the other site is currently under consideration for a nuclear plant (Payette County, ID). Water availability for cooling was the most important factor restricting nuclear power plants, but earthquake hazards and landslide hazards were also significant limiting factors. The restricted area available means that future nuclear plants could meet only a portion of the projected future energy shortfall in the Pacific Northwest.
This study examined the possible effects of climate change on minimum streamflow requirements for siting nuclear power plants in the CRB, by analyzing projected future daily discharge data from several CMIP3 and CMIP5 climate models, downscaled using three different techniques under high (A1B/RCP8.5) and medium (B1/RCP4.5) emission scenarios. Projected future streamflow eliminated small clusters of potential sites in several parts of the CRB, while the two main candidate areas appeared to be relatively resilient to it, because of high initial streamflow.
Finally, the study discussed the uncertainty associated with the siting process for nuclear power plants, with the potential future effects of climate change on water availability necessary for cooling, and with overall public perceptions of nuclear power. While siting criteria and projected changes in streamflow may significantly reduce the number of potential sites, public opposition to nuclear power could entirely prevent construction of reactors within areas that are physically and economically suitable for siting.