The Argonne National Laboratory, through Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) funding, will explore “Plan B” options for cooling nuclear reactors, in an effort to future-proof new reactors in the face of a changing climate.

Argonne says the best way to cool a reactor is by using nearby waterways like lakes or rivers. However, hotter and drier days caused by climate change threaten to affect the volume, flow, and temperature of rivers, the lab said. In response, a “dry” cooling design would use ambient air circulated across a reactor’s heat exchangers, causing cool air to get sucked in and lower the reactor’s overall temperature.

Energy Northwest, which owns and operates Washington’s nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, decided to develop a cooling contingency plan in case these climate-fueled changes end up occurring. Enter Argonne National Laboratory, which will now work with Energy Northwest to create impact analyses, climate model projections, and a potential dry cooling method for nuclear reactors.

“It’s a very commendable way of thinking about climate change — to plan before doing something versus not thinking about it and trying to adapt afterwards,” said Rao Kotamarthi, senior scientist in Argonne’s Environmental Science division, of Energy Northwest’s efforts. ​“A lot of people are confused about how to use the global climate data that exists, to make it actionable. At Argonne, we are working to provide very regional climate data in a form that industry can act on.”

Argonne says its teams can perform impact analyses of climate risks, including drought, heat waves, and wildfires, as well as translations for what this data means for immediate decisions and decisions aimed at 25-50 years from now. Additionally, Argonne says its teams are well acquainted with the pros and cons of wet and dry cooling methods. Dry cooling will not be as efficient as wet cooling, but without wet cooling options, it’s a suitable choice, Argonne says.

“One of the biggest changes in the U.S. is going to be how precipitation like rain, snow and other precipitation events happen,” Kotamarthi said. ​“We may have really intense events with large amounts of rainfall in a very short time, followed by periods of no rain. These flash floods and flash droughts will make managing water a completely different task.

This post appeared first on Power Engineering.