Sandia labs working on water reduction options at 3.3-GW Palo Verde nuclear plant

Leaders at America’s largest nuclear power plant are working with national lab researchers on significantly and safely reducing water use in the facility located in an arid region.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are teaming up with Palo Verde Generating Station. The 3.3-GW facility produces about 32 million MWh in carbon-free electricity annually, according to reports.

Cooling nuclear reactors takes a tremendous amount of water, and operators are hoping to cut water use at Palo Verde by nine million gallons (34 million litres) per day, according to the company. Palo Verde is owned by Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project and several other utilities.

Most nuclear power plants are located alongside rivers or lakes for extensive water access. Due to its desert location, however, Palo Verde uses treated wastewater for cooling.

Those water resources have been more expensive as other customers have emerged, according to the company.

Sandia National Laboratories has developed a first-of-its kind system dynamics analysis which reveals how power plants can reduce water use in cooling. The Sandia researchers say they have redesigned and patented an air-cooling system to make water less cooling more energy efficient and useful in a broader range of operating conditions, according to the release.

“This is an exciting and innovative approach as we explore the most efficient and cost-effective strategies to reduce water use,” said Jeff Brown, consulting engineer at Palo Verde. “This partnership with Sandia is in line with our continuing commitment to lower costs and protect precious natural resources, and we’re looking forward to potential solutions that could serve not only Palo Verde but other plants in the APS fleet.”

If the water savings goal is achieved, the reduction would be equivalent to a 16 square-mile pool of water one foot deep, according to the release.

Sandia researchers have developed the analysis software to complete the first phase. Next, they will use the software to identify most promising water saving technologies, including alternative water treatment, dry and hybrid coolers, then test those with the goal installing a solution by 2026.

“We jumped at the opportunity to tackle this problem for Palo Verde because solutions that work for Palo Verde could also work for other plants too,” said Sandia Nuclear Engineer Bobby Middleton.

APS recently announced that Maria Lacal was succeeding Bob Bement as chief nuclear officer and operations head for Palo Verde. Lacal is the first woman ever to run operations at Palo Verde and only the second nationwide to be a chief nuclear officer.

The three-unit Palo Verde was completed in the 1980s, about 10 years after construction began. Palo Verde reportedly uses close to 20 billion gallons (75.7 billion litres) of treated wastewater for cooling annually.

Sandia National Laboratories is focused on research and development in energy technologies and other issues, with facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.