Scientists’ New Breakthrough May Have Just Solved the Drought Problem
Kalpakkam, India — Indian nuclear scientists have developed a new method to remove salt from seawater, spurring hope for regions around the world ravaged by drought.
In India, 13 of 29 states are currently suffering from a lack of clean, fresh water — with conditions expected to worsen — but the scientists have devised a method to make otherwise heavily salinated water safe to drink. They have also developed tools to purify contaminated groundwater to make it safe to drink.
New Delhi Television (NDTV), a popular news organization in India, recently visited Kalpakkam, a small town in Tamil Nadu that houses a pilot plant built by nuclear scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), a division of the Indian government’s Department of Atomic Energy located in Mumbai.
The plant in Kalpakkam is one of the country’s main nuclear facilities.
As their video report shows, the scientists “have quietly been working on finding solutions to desalinate sea water and to purify water laced with chemicals.” Using waste steam from one of the nuclear reactors, the scientists say they are able to successfully remove salt from the water.
As the reporter for NDTV noted, “this reporter tasted the purified water – it tasted like fresh water, not saline at all.” The freshwater is currently being used at the Kudankulam power plant. Though the India Times reports the water is safe to drink, it has not yet been distributed to communities.
While they do not offer extensive details on how the process works, BARC’s website notes they have “developed and demonstrated several types of thermal and membrane-based desalination and water purification technologies.” Further, they say BARC boasts expertise in building both small and large-scale desalination plants.
Indeed, according to Dr. Shri Kamlesh Nilkanth Vyas, Director of BARC, the desalination process at Kalpakkam has the capacity to remove salt from 6.3 million liters (over 1.6 million gallons) of seawater every single day. They have since launched similar plants in both Punjab and West Bengal, Rajasthan.
These developments are particularly important as millions of people in India struggle to obtain clean water. They are also far-reaching; historic droughts are sweeping the globe, from California to Brazil, and South Africa to North Korea.
These dire conditions have inspired efforts to make salt water safe to drink. In 2015, for example, MIT scientists won an award for developing a low-cost, efficient process to remove salt from water using solar power. While solar power may be ultimately preferable to nuclear power, this method is currently small-scale, expensive, and requires intricate technologies to implement — in contrast to the BARC scientists’ 6.3 million liters per day.
In addition to using steam to desalinate water, the Indian scientists have also developed strategies to purify groundwater.
“Besides, BARC has developed several membranes, by which, at a very small cost, groundwater contaminated by uranium or arsenic can be purified and make fit for drinking,” Dr. Vyas told NDTV.
Indeed, as the outlet reported, India’s prime minister recently visited the plant. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pedalled a bicycle that had a water purifier installed on it. It turns dirty contaminated water into potable water. Turning the pedals produces the energy the purifier needs.”
This is particularly vital for India, considering, for example, a 2011 report by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) found as much as 70 percent of water in Delhi, India’s densely populated capital territory, was contaminated.
As BARC’s website points out, they have been able to drastically reduce the levels of harmful toxins in water. “Uranium content in groundwater of some of the wells in Punjab was reported above permissible limit of 60 ppb,” they note. “The uranium content in product water was brought down to 6 ppb using BARC developed UF-RO technology giving clean water as per IS 10500/ WHO limit.” (These foundations of these filtration techniques could ultimately also be useful in cleansing desalinated sea water, though it is reportedly already safe to drink; water from parts of the world’s ocean system is, unfortunately, filled with many manmade chemicals considered unsafe for humans to consume.)
The scientists have also produced household water purifiers, which are currently being marketed to residents of drought-stricken Marathwada, one of five regions in the state of Maharashtra.
Though many may rightfully balk at nuclear power — BARC is better known for producing nuclear weapons — in this situation, the scientists might have found a redeeming quality with their ability to generate clean drinking water, as well as water to use on crops. To its credit, BARC stresses its “commitment to the focus on cutting edge research for the unique diverse requirements of our country including the rural adaptability of the technology.”
“The demand for water in the country is increasing rapidly,” they observe. “The existing water resources are diminishing,” and, consequently, “technological intervention has become a necessity for a reliable and sustainable availability of clean water.”
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