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What is in the water that comes from the Brunswick Nuclear Plant at Southport?

Julian March

Just water, mainly.

Progress Energy’s Brunswick Nuclear Plant pumps water from the Cape Fear River through a 2.5-mile intake canal, according to Ryan Mosier, a Progress Energy spokesman.

The water passes through screens and into the plant, where it cools steam back to a liquid state.

The cooling water exits the plant through a 5.5-mile outflow canal to an Oak Island pumping station, where two 13-foot diameter pipes pump the water 2,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mosier said the water coming out the plant pumps out the “exact thing we took in the Cape Fear,” although he added sediment could be picked up along the way.

Some readers have wondered about the foam and color of the water coming out of the plant.

Mosier explains:

“The foam present in the Brunswick Plant outflow canal is a natural phenomenon caused by the interaction of naturally occurring organic molecules in the lower Cape Fear River water and air bubbles.  The air bubbles in the water are formed when water from the plant’s cooling system drops approximately 15 feet to the head of the outflow canal.  It is this churning action, just like waves crashing along the beach that creates the foam that floats on the plant’s outflow canal water.

“Agitation of water (waterfalls or waves crashing on the beach) tends to trap air bubbles in the water.  Most bubbles quickly pop, especially when the water is relatively pure (i.e. drinking water).  Seawater and brackish water contain relatively high concentrations of organic molecules, and therefore create more foam when agitated.

“ The lower Cape Fear River water contains naturally high levels of sediment.  It is this river sediment that causes the brown appearance of the foam in the outflow canal.  Seawater usually contains very little sediment, so beach foam is usually white.”

The temperature of the water exiting the plant is regulated by the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

User-contributed question by:
R. Fennessy

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4 Responses to “ What is in the water that comes from the Brunswick Nuclear Plant at Southport?”

  1. On June 3, 2010 at 7:38 am Robert wrote:

    It is also brown due to the natural tannins in the water.
    The slow moving rivers and creeks of the NC coastal plain pick up these tannins from the leaves and needles of the trees that line their shores. This is why we refer to the water in these waterways as “black water”.Tannins are the same organic chemicals that make tea and coffee brown.

  2. On June 3, 2010 at 2:47 pm Ted Outwater wrote:

    don’t you have an obligation to mention that it contains small amounts of metal cleaning fluids as shown in their monitoring reports and permits. and also that on occasion it has contained small amounts of radioactive tritium?
    see your news story: http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20080308/NEWS/803080384

  3. On June 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm john potter wrote:

    if only natural river water ! how do they control oysters, barnaccles &other sea life that should be clogging their pipes

  4. On December 20, 2015 at 10:52 am GREG McLEAN wrote:

    What is the water temp difference between the intake canal and the output canal at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant? I was recently and pleasantly surprised to discover that Manatees
    have been spotted in and around the South Port Marina
    area. I know they favor warm, shallow ,slow moving bodies of water with algae growth. Sounds like a win win for everyone.


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