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Planned power plants in Asia likely to face water shortages

By Brooks Hays
Several hundred new power plants are planned for construction in Asia over the next decade. New research suggests water shortages will make it difficult to cool many of the planned plants. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/743e6cd282f16b226ad6ae8c446380f9/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Several hundred new power plants are planned for construction in Asia over the next decade. New research suggests water shortages will make it difficult to cool many of the planned plants. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Climate activists have raised concerns about the number of power plants planned for development in Asia, but the threat of climate change appears to be just one reason to think twice about building new power plants in the region.

According to a new study, water shortages in Asia could make it increasingly difficult to cool new power plants.

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"One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events -- more torrential downpours and more droughts," Jeffrey Bielicki, an associate professor of civil engineering and public policy at Ohio State University, said in a news release. "The power plants -- coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants -- require water for cooling, so when you don't have the rain, you don't have the stream flow, you can't cool the power plant."

In many parts of the world, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and length of droughts. Prolonged dry spells in the United States have already made cooling power plants in the West problematic.

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According to the latest research, published this week in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, the problem is likely to be worse in places like Mongolia, Southeast Asia and parts of India and China. These regions are set to host more than 400 gigawatts of new coal-fired power production by 2030.

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In calculating the impact on local water supplies, researchers determined the additional power supplies will create new demand for water -- beyond their own demand for cooling.

"Capacity expansion and climate change combined is going to reduce the water available to cool power plants," said lead study author Yaoping Wang, a former doctoral student at Ohio State, now a research assistant professor at the University of Tennessee.

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Power plants aren't the only things being built in Asia. Dozens of dams are also slated for construction over the next decade, and a growing body of research suggests dams and reservoirs can actually exacerbate water shortages.

If power plants can't get enough to cool the machinery, malfunctions can lead to power outages and increased pollution.

Authors of the new study suggest agencies that plan and permit plants need to properly evaluate the availability of renewable water resources.

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"There's often a perceived tension between developing your economy and protecting the environment," Bielicki said. "Some of the results of this study are saying, 'Hey, we expect you're going to run into problems, so you should selectively change your plans, but also thin out your existing power plants, because as you're adding new power plants, you're creating more competition for the water. Your economy needs water, but your ecosystems and people need water, too.'"

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