On a dramatic front page this morning, The Age reports:

AN ALARMING new report on the impact of climate change in Victoria has warned of risks to some of our most basic services and necessities — including water, electricity, transport, telecommunications and buildings …

Commissioned by the Bracks Government, the report is the first comprehensive risk assessment of its kind prepared for an Australian government. Key risks highlighted include …

· Less water for hydro and coal-fired power plants, and more erratic wind generation.

Meanwhile, News Limited reports that Australians are warming to nuclear power, with 44% of people now feeling more comfortable with the idea of nuclear power plant within 100 kilometres of the homes, a rise of 8.2% on responses to related questions in December last year. (For an entertaining critique of The Australian’s coverage of its nuke-based Newspoll’s, read this report by The Australia Institute.)

If we accept that Australians are “warming” to a nuclear future, and given we already know coal-fired power can’t compete with nuclear power on Greenhouse gas production, how much water does nuclear power need?

The answer is heaps and none, and depends on whom you ask. A federal parliamentary research note published in December 2006 acknowledges that “Nuclear power plants need more cooling water than fossil-fired power stations” because they “are less efficient at using the heat from the reactor and thus require more water for cooling”.

Dr Jim Green, Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner, says they use “20-83% more water than coal-fired power stations. Water consumption for nuclear reactors is typically 13-24 billion litres per year, or 35-65 million litres per day. There are also huge issues with uranium mining and water. Roxbury Downs uses 33-35 million litres per day, plus a desalination plant, taking it up to 150 million litres per day. I think it’s fair to say it’s the most water-intensive energy source.”

But Clarence Hardy, of the Australian Nuclear Association, has a different view.

“One very simple way of dealing with the water needs of a nuclear power plant is siting it on the coast and you use sea water cooling. The beauty of that in an Australia is that we are so short of fresh water that it would be a big advantage to build on the coast and use sea water cooling. It will be as clean going out as it is going in. It never comes in contact with radioactive material because it’s effectively cooling the steam turbines.”

Which is good news in a way. With our oceans rising as our glaciers and polar regions melt, water for cooling nuclear power plants is one natural resource that’s actually growing.