Imad Makhzoumi, president of the International Desalination Association (IDA), said at the Global Water Summit 2010 in Paris: "Nuclear is enjoying a resurgence. We must reach out to the nuclear sector - where all nuclear projects are being considered, desalination must be taken into account [where appropriate]."
Speaking to Water & Wastewater International (WWi) at the summit, Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of Black & Veatch's global water business, said: "I've heard leaders in the energy business say that nuclear has to be a large part of their portfolio for the future. If you think about combining that with reverse osmosis, forward osmosis or any of the technologies, that could be a fairly efficient way to deliver water supply."
Past studies from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have found that there are no technical impediments to the use of nuclear reactors as an energy source for seawater desalination.
"Nuclear reactors could provide electricity or heat, or both, as required by the desalination processes. Regarding nuclear safety, the same principles, criteria, and measures would apply as to any nuclear power plant. An additional requirement is that the product water would have to be adequately protected against any conceivable contamination," said the Agency.
The World Nuclear Association said that the feasibility of nuclear desalination plants has been proven with over 150 reactor-years of experience, chiefly in Kazakhstan, India and Japan.
In Aktau, Kazakhstan, the BN-350 fast reactor is said to have successfully produced up to 135MW of electricity and 80,000 m³/day of potable water over some 27 years. About 60% of its power is being used for heat and desalination and oil/gas boilers were used in conjunction. Total desalination capacity through 10 MED units was 120,000 m³/day.
Russia has embarked on a nuclear desalination project, the association said, using dual barge-mounted KLT-40 marine reactors (each 150 MWt) and Canadian RO technology to produce potable water.
Steve Kidd, director of strategy and research at the World Nuclear Association, later told WWi: "There are quite a few other countries interested in nuclear powered desalination - Jordan, for one. These applications might be using smaller reactors. It's something for the future but dependent on countries establishing a nuclear programme to start with."
Back in 2007 France and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding to build a nuclear-powered desalination plant in Libya with French reactor supplier, Areva, supplying the technology.
It is hoped that powering desalination through nuclear energy will help make it less energy-intensive - a common criticism of the process.
McCarthy went onto say: "The US definitely seems to be leading that nuclear is going to be a large part of the generation going forward. The Obama administration is promoting the government-backed loan guarantee so that that the oil companies can embark on these massive projects, recognising that they'll have the support of the government should they get financially challenged."
He said that part of the challenge in the US has been the costs to develop such projects, sometimes in 10-year development cycles, where utilities have struggled to make a return on their investment.
"I think developed countries will get there more quickly with the nuclear side but developing countries will go with whatever is the cheapest [option]."
Also commenting at the event on the development of desalination, professor Asit Biswas, director of the Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico City, said: "In 10 to 12 years' time, we will see a completely new way of desalination; less energy intensive and more publically acceptable."