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Why nuclear power is not the answer to climate change

The Nuclear debate rages on year after year, there is obviously more to the debate than most people hinge their arguments on…

So is this a viable option for reducing carbon emissions , see the full story below.

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TOO MANY REACTORS AND NOT ENOUGH CARBON REDUCTION

Nuclear Reactor

Studies performed by MIT, Commission on Energy, and International Atomic Energy Agency all agree that approximately 1500 to 2000 new atomic reactors would have to be built to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to make a meaningful difference.

There are currently 449 nuclear power stations (approx), If we were running around 2000 reactors in total we would exhaust our main uranium reserves in a few decades. We would then need to mine lower grade uranium, this would itself cause more greenhouse emissions. If the potential 2000 reactors were used to replace the coal stations, we would have a 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions. If used as a new capacity to replace true renewable sources, then our emissions would actually increase.

TOO MUCH MONEY

1500 more reactors would cost trillions of dollars. New reactors going online in the US in the 1980s and 90s cost on average 4 billion dollars each. Reactors to recently come online in Japan in the last few years were in the order of $2000 / KW.

Taking an average larger power plant of 1200MW and an average conservative cost of $1250 / KW, this gives a construction cost of 1.5 billion.

Yearly costs per 1000kg of avoided CO2 emmisions are $68.9 for wind and $132.5 for nuclear power.

TOO MUCH TIME

Construction of 1500 new reactors means that we will need to open a new reactor every 2 weeks beginning today, for the next 60 years. This is impossible as the current nuclear manufacturers are only capable of doing half this amount if they are pushed to their absolute capacity. Climate change cannot wait for Nukes.

TOO MUCH WASTE

Nuclear Waste

Operating another 1500 or more new reactors would create the need for a new Yucca Mountain sized radioactive dump site somewhere in the world every 3 to 4 years. Yucca Mountain has been in progress for almost 20 years and still is at least 10 years from being finished. The state of Nevada has also vigorously opposed the construction of the Yucca facility.

Due to the opposition to radioactive dump sites many countries including the US are attempting to reprocess the nuclear waste, as a means of managing the waste. This is a dangerous technology, linked with increased Leukemia rates amongst children living nearby reprocessing plants as a result of increased radiation being released into the surrounding environment.

TOO LITTLE SAFETY

Abandoned Pool Chernobyl
Abandoned Pool Chernobyl

Accidents have continued to happen regardless of what the nuclear industry tell us. The odds of a major nuclear accident are about 1 in every 10,000 reactor years. With 2000 total reactors we could look forward to a significant accident every 5 or so years.

TOO MUCH PLUTONIUM

Operation of another 1500 nuclear plants would require at least 10-12 new uranium enrichment plants and would result in thousands of tonnes of new plutonium ( each reactor produces about 500 pounds of plutonium per year as a waste product of it’s operation ). We don’t need more plutonium to deal with.

NUCLEAR EMITS CARBON TOO

The process of mining uranium, along with he milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and long term radioactive waste storage are all essential components of Nuclear Power generation and along with the construction are all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

NUCLEAR IS NOT SUITED FOR A WARMING CLIMATE

Nuclear power does not work well in warming climates. During the 2004 European heat waves many reactors were forced to reduce output and some even shut down due to reduced river levels. The nuclear reactors require huge amounts of water to cool themselves done.

Solar cells may need a wipe down with a damp cloth from time to time if they manage to get a bit of dust build up on them!

NUCLEAR CANNOT REPLACE CARS

Nuclear cannot successfully replace fuel in cars, however solar systems can charge electric or hybrid cars.

So there you have it, Nuclear is not the Saviour of the planet. For an outline of what can be done to save our PaleBluDot, please stay tunned for our future post on what we can do to save our planet.

## Additional information since posting

Ken makes a good point that I had forgot to expand upon

“Nuclear Proliferation is a huge concern and we don’t need any more crazy people, governments or rouge states getting hold of nuclear technology or nuclear weapons material in any form”. Thanks for the comment Ken.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ken

    February 21, 2008 at 4:13 am

    You forgot proliferation concerns, although it’s implied in point number 6.

  2. Ken

    February 21, 2008 at 7:38 am

    First, I agree that safety is the primary concern, the MIT study says that newer designs are expected to have a 10E5 accident rate. I also agree that the economics are a problem. The report states that this may not be insurmountable.

    Here are some points that need attention:

    “Studies performed by MIT, Commission on Energy, and International Atomic Energy Agency all agree that approximately 1500 to 2000 new atomic reactors would have to be built to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to make a meaningful difference.”

    Then what hope do the alternative forms have of doing anything?

    “There are currently 449 nuclear power stations (approx), If we were running around 2000 reactors in total we would exhaust our main uranium reserves in a few decades. We would then need to mine lower grade uranium, this would itself cause more greenhouse emissions. If the potential 2000 reactors were used to replace the coal stations, we would have a 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions. If used as a new capacity to replace true renewable sources, then our emissions would actually increase.”

    This assumes slavish utilization of virgin uranium. It ignores the potential of breeder reactors, either a U238 or Th232 based fuel cycles which would last thousands of years.

    “Construction of 1500 new reactors means that we will need to open a new reactor every 2 weeks beginning today, for the next 60 years. This is impossible as the current nuclear manufacturers are only capable of doing half this amount if they are pushed to their absolute capacity. Climate change cannot wait for Nukes.

    Begs the question of how long it would take to implement the alternatives, Cape Wind won’t be up and running for years either. Also the answer really isn’t nuclear or something else, its nuclear and something else, like conservation, greater efficencies and alternative energy sources. Also, if you look down the list of the 500 plants currently in use, there are a lot that are only rated at 400 MW. These are going to be replace with reactors three times their power in this equation.

    “Due to the opposition to radioactive dump sites many countries including the US are attempting to reprocess the nuclear waste, as a means of managing the waste. This is a dangerous technology, linked with increased Leukemia rates amongst children living nearby reprocessing plants as a result of increased radiation being released into the surrounding environment.”

    Due to opposition by people ill informed of the risk.

    The Sellafield site was used for munitions manufacturing and population mixing during WWII and this is seen as a more likely cause for the up tick than the re-processing plant.

    There are reports that children living around nuclear plants in France have a lower incidence of leukemia (ie British Journal of Cancer (2004) 91, 916-922), I could use this as evidence that the “radiation” given off from nuclear power is protective. One possibility is that they aren’t exposed to as many heterocyclic compounds, mercury or radiation due to lower coal usage in their envrionment. I won’t suggest this because its may be a perversion of the statistics to suit my preconceived notions and the fact that I only read the abstracts. Think about it this way, if the Love Canal community was built next to a nuke plant, it would probably be hard to convince the anti-nuke crowd that the problem wasn’t the radiation leaking from the plant. In similar situations you could imagine that a real killer is ignored because you’re so cock sure that its the bad atom. The conspiracy theorist would say that the Nuke industry payed for the counter studies. Which studies show an increased risk in CL? Just asking for a reference. Chernobyl and Nagasaki in the decades after the war doesn’t count

    “The process of mining uranium, along with he milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and long term radioactive waste storage are all essential components of Nuclear Power generation and along with the construction are all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The net per KWhr compared between wind, solar and nuclear would allow the reader to determine if this is relatively a lot of a little.

    “Nuclear cannot successfully replace fuel in cars, however solar systems can charge electric or hybrid cars.”

    If you think about this for two seconds, this doesn’t make sense. In addition, ethanol can be made from rubbish but it takes a lot of electricity to produce the SynGas to feed the bioreactors. Driven by anything but coal, this makes sense, take your pick of power source, I don’t care, but this is a way that nuclear could fuel your car. Doing this you could potentially take waste out of landfills and fill your tank at the same time.

    So there you have it, alternatives are not the savior of the planet if Nuclear can’t perform this function.

    Read the MIT report, it says that Nuclear energy has its problems but should be kept on the table as a means of combating global warming along with three other efforts. It also backs up much of what Craig says here, but it gives you the impression that these are problems to be solved, at least in my opinion.

    http://www.mit.edu/afs/athena/org/n/nuclearpower/

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