If you do not drink water for three days you will die but it's not just for staying alive that water is an essential requirement.
It is a vital lubricant for the wheels of any economy. For example, it takes up to 15,000 litres of water to produce just one kilo of beef a single cotton t-shirt also takes 2,000 litres of water to manufacture
I've been thinking a lot about water recently, indeed, the latest recommendation in my newsletter Outstanding Investments is a play on the crumbling water infrastructure in the US.
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H2O really is more important than gold or oil and as the world population explodes it is going to become scarcer and more valuable. I am not just referring to desert countries in the Middle East and Africa; I believe that the problem will be global.
The lack of a decent water supply impedes a country's development. It is no coincidence that some of the poorest areas of the world are also the driest.
It has been calculated that one-fifth of the world's population does not have access to safe drinking water. The situation is only going to get worse as population growth accelerates. On Monday I spoke about war over access to resources such as oil I believe that wars over access to water are also conceivable.
We all take water for granted. We turn the taps on without thinking We reach out for the Evian or Perrier and never give it the slightest consideration But, with the world population expected to be more than 8 billion souls by 2030, where will the water come from then?
Why desalination is the only answer
The answer is obvious the water will have to come from the sea. Desalination will be the only way to keep all those thirsty people alive but Houston; we have a problem
Most desalination methods eat up fossil fuels. Traditional energy sources are going to get more expensive and they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions significantly. So, an alternative is needed, particularly in hot countries that are going to see their populations explode over the next few years such as Saudi Arabia.
The answer is to go nuclear. Small and medium sized nuclear reactors are suitable for desalination AND electricity generation.
The feasibility of integrated nuclear desalination plants has already been proven with over 150 reactor-years of experience in Kazakhstan, India and Japan.
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is fostering research and collaboration on the issue, and more than 20 countries are involved.
One obvious strategy is to run nuclear reactors at full capacity all the time, but use the energy purely for power provision as peak times. When electricity demand is low, the duel desalination mode can be utilised.
China is currently looking at the feasibility of a nuclear seawater desalination plant in the Yantai. Russia has embarked on a nuclear desalination project using floating reactors and Pakistan is continuing efforts to set up a demonstration desalination plant coupled to its KANUPP reactor. Tunisia is also looking at the feasibility of a cogeneration (electricity-desalination) plant in the southeast of the country, treating slightly saline groundwater.
All these projects are happening now. We may be procrastinating on our nuclear strategy in the UK, but some countries have much more to lose than us if they are left behind. However, we cannot sit around consulting on the matter for too long or we will be the ones left eating Tunisian dust.
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