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Nuclear power has been used in desalting plants. As a precedent for such an idea there are combination steam-electric and water-conversion plants such as that operating on the island of Aruba in the West Indies. Here the by-product heat from a power plant is used to desalt the island's drinking water. The first nuclear-powered desalination plant was built by the United States at its military base at McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic. This is a small unit, producing 14,400 gallons of fresh water daily, and not economically competitive with conventionally fueled distillation plants. However, since it is very costly to import fuel to this distant base, the nuclear desalting plant was judged to be advisable. Experts feel that to compete with coal, oil, or gas, nuclear power must produce at least 50 megawatts of power and ten million gallons of fresh water a day.
Russia seems to have a lead on the United States in the field of large nuclear desalination plants. In the city of Shevchenko on the and east shore of the Caspian Sea, there is a conventional power-plant-desalination combination supplying 1 1/2 million gallons of fresh water a day. The Russians have immediate plans for another desalination plant at Shevchenko, this one to be supplied with heat from a nuclear power plant. Our country is planning for such nuclear combination plants by the middle of the next decade. In March 1964, the Office of Science and Technology reported the findings of its study of large nuclear-powered desalination plants. Suggested as feasible by 1975 were installations producing from 1000 to 1500 megawatts of power and from 500 to 800 million gallons of water per day. Fresh water would be produced at a cost of less than $0.30 per 1000 gallons. Sites suggested for these giant dual-purpose nuclear-energy plants were Southern California, Arizona, the Gulf Coast, and the New York City area.
The firm of Atomics International has proposed a combination nuclear power plant and desalination plant for erection in California. This sodium graphite reactor would produce 400,000 kilowatts of electricity and 50 million gallons of byproduct fresh water daily -- at a cost of only $0.26 per 1000 gallons. On a shorter-range basis, a joint committee of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Department of the Interior began investigation of smaller plants producing between 5 and 100 million gallons of fresh water a day and from 150 to 750 megawatts of electricity. These smaller plants are foreseen as early as 1970.