Nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate.
Utility officials say such shutdowns probably wouldn't result in blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills for millions of Southerners, because the region's utilities could be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy companies.
Already, there has been one brief, drought-related shutdown, at a reactor in Alabama over the summer.
"Water is the nuclear industry's Achilles' heel," said Jim Warren, executive director of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an environmental group critical of nuclear power. "You need a lot of water to operate nuclear plants." He added: "This is becoming a crisis."