The huge carbon emissions and environmental destruction of coal is well known. As are the catastrophic risks with nuclear power should something go wrong. But what's less known with both is the huge water footprint of both, in comparison to renewable energy sources and even in comparison to natural gas—as you can see clearly in the chart below (h/t Climate Progress).
It's based off a new report from the River Network, and highlights a big concern for many places considering the projected effects of climate change, population growth and resource consumption on water supply.
On the horizontal axis is the water consumed, based on the full lifecycle of producing a megawatt-hour of electricity from each source. So, it's not just how much is consumed producing the electricity, but rather in the case of wind power or solar power in making the technology or in the case of coal in mining the coal.
Here's the River Network summary of coal:
A MWh of electricity generated by coal withdraws approximately 16,052 gallons and consumes approximately 692 gallons of water…. On average (a weighted average taking into account the current mix of cooling technologies being used at coal plants in the U.S.), coal-fired electricity requires the withdrawal of approximately 13,515 gallons and the consumption of 482 gallons of water per MWh for cooling purposes.
And nuclear, from Climate Progress:
Nuclear power plants “(withdraw) approximately 14,881 gallons and (consume) 572 gallons of water per MWh.” Large amounts of water are also used in the uranium mining process and for storage of fuel rods. In Georgia, for example, two large nuclear power plants use more water than all the water used by people living in Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah combined.
Read the full report: Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity