How the nation's largest nuclear power plant stays cool in Arizo - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

How the nation's largest nuclear power plant stays cool in Arizona's summer heat

The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant uses treated wastewater to keep the generators cool. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant uses treated wastewater to keep the generators cool. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
The plant needs 60,000 gallons of treated wastewater per minute. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) The plant needs 60,000 gallons of treated wastewater per minute. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
(Source: KPHO/KTVK) (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
TONOPAH, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

From hospitals to senior centers, there are a lot of places in Arizona that are critically important to keep cool in the summer. But maybe the single most important place to cool in the state sits 45 miles west of Phoenix.

It's the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the largest power plant in the country, and the desert facility uses something no other nuclear power plant in the world does: wastewater.

"Really, it comes from people flushing toilets and taking showers," said Water Reclamation Plant Manager Mark Shobe.

Wastewater from treatment plants in Phoenix and Tolleson is piped to the nuclear facility underground -- essentially in one giant 36.5-mile pipe -- for use in Palo Verde's cooling towers.

So yes, your dirty shower water is helping Palo Verde generate one-third of Arizona's electricity. Without wastewater for cooling, the plant can't operate.

"Obviously, being the largest nuclear generating facility in the nation, we have a lot of people depending on this power. The last thing we want to do is shut down a unit in middle of the summer," Shobe said.

The wastewater moves through the first 28.5 miles of the pipe by gravity alone; it's pumped the remaining 8 miles to Palo Verde. Once on-site at the APS-operated facility, the water is purified again.

"We treat it so we can use the minimum amount of water to keep the plants cool," said APS Senior Vice President Bob Bement. "So by treating it, it allows us to run that water for more cycles, and minimizes the water that we use."

Next, the water is channeled into reservoirs at the facility for temporary storage before it is used in the cooling towers near Palo Verde's three reactors. The plant needs 60,000 gallons of treated wastewater per minute.

While Arizona's summer heat does not affect the nuclear fission inside the reactors themselves, it does affect the all-important cooling system.

"Think of the cooling towers as gigantic swamp coolers," said Shobe. "As anybody that has a swamp cooler knows, in the summer time, when it gets to a certain point in temperature, the swamp cooler is just ineffective."

Plant managers have to maintain a constant flow of wastewater to the on-site reservoirs to make up for water lost to evaporation.

"If you want to help Palo Verde, flush twice," Bement quipped. "We'll appreciate it."

(But really don't do any extra flushing, APS spokesperson Alan Bunnell was quick to say. The company is proud of its efforts in conservation and clean energy. Palo Verde supplies 80 percent of Arizona's carbon-free electricity, he pointed out.)

APS uses underwater robots with electromagnetic sensors to examine the underground pipe for any sign of structural issues, Shobe said. If the wastewater supply were to be suddenly cut off, Palo Verde keeps more than a 13-day supply of water in its reservoirs, designed to give facility staff enough time to fix any issue, he said.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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