There was a time when the United States and the Soviet Union would compete with each other to see who could build the bigger hydrogen bomb. Those were some crazy times with spy vs. spy to see what the other side was doing. Well eventually the US outspent the USSR and it collapsed financially and lost control of its satellite states/countries and world super power status. But like the US did for Germany and Japan after WWII, we spent billions to help Russia recover. We did that through the Megatons to Megawatts program which was initiated in 1993 and successfully completed in December 2013. A total of 500 tons of Russian warhead grade HEU (high enriched uranium, equivalent to 20,008 nuclear warheads) were converted in Russia to nearly 15,000 tons of LEU (low enriched uranium) and sold to the US for use as fuel in American nuclear power plants. During the 20-year Megatons to Megawatts program, as much as 10 percent of the electricity produced in the United States was generated by fuel fabricated from Russia.
However, you have got to love those Russians because they took the billions we pumped into their economy and they continued building nuclear, not warheads, but power plants. Those nuclear power plants were not just your standard land based sites alongside of a river or some shore line type of nuclear power plant. They were floating power plants with the ability to power their fleet of ice breakers in the polar region, as well as floating barges that could produce electricity and desalinate water. Now that the billions are no longer coming in from the US from the Megatons to Megawatts program, Russia has turn to the open markets with integrated floating nuclear desalination power plants. Their primary market is the Middle East, including Israel (hint, hint, Obama).
It is not well known that the U.S. Army deployed the first floating nuclear power plant on a barge, the Sturgis, at the Panama Canal from 1968 to 1976. At the time, there was an electricity shortage as water for hydroelectric power was diverted to accommodate increased military ship traffic through the Canal Zone due to the Vietnam War and the closing of the Suez Canal. What a great concept and again the US decided not to continue the investment in more and larger barges to be used off both coastlines of the US as temporary or permanent electric power stations. And what is more amazing was that California was having one of its worst droughts ever at that time.
Well, here we are again – Déjà vu. California is having its ‘worst drought ever’ all over again but this time it is a ‘mega-drought condition’ and looks like they are going to flat run out of water in its dam reservoirs according to NASA. “Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are unsustainable.” Note: Parts of CA Central Valley land mass has dropped over 30 feet since 1925.
What can California do? Sacramento politicians allowed the anti-dam, anti-nuclear and anti-fossil Sierra Club to grossly influence the stoppage of all new hydroelectric dams, decommissioned all but one nuclear power plant (still trying) and even held up expansion of the gas and oil industry with limits on fracking. That leaves California’s energy future limited to just wind and solar. Is that enough? Probably not for desalination, because It Never Rains in Southern California.