Published: 2007-08-29 11:52:37
Updated: 2007-08-29 11:52:37
Posted August 29, 2007 11:52 a.m. EDT
By Andy Power
MIKE MOSS SAYS: Andy, I'm certainly no expert on the engineering or economics involved, but you are correct that sea water can be desalinated to create fresh water for drinking and other purposes like washing, industry and irrigation. As you mentioned, it is a technology that is readily applied aboard a submarine with the built-in energy supply available from a well-fueled nuclear reactor and an ocean all around in which to dispose the extracted salt or brine. The costs in terms of infrastructure, energy, maintenance and distribution to make desalinated ocean water available to a substantial inland or even coastal population, though, are probably prohibitively high (some references note the cost as about 5-10 times the expense of other water treatment/supply processes) until such time that no reasonable alternatives exist - I suspect we're still a ways off from reaching that point, although again I can't offer many specifics. There are places in the world where desalination plants do provide a significant fraction of the water supply, in particular around the Middle East, where there is a combination of arid conditions, limited fresh water supplies, growing populations and abundant petroleum/energy resources. Kuwait, for one example, began supplementing water supplies with desalination plants in the late 1950s and has expanded these operations ever since. Frequent drought in recent years, again coupled with population increases, has driven parts of Australia to increase desalination efforts as well - here is an address to a fact sheet from the Australian Water Association on desalination with a nice overview of the methods, benefits and drawbacks involved, and some links to more detailed information sources...