Nuclear power makes climate change worse
Coal inputs for the fuel cycle, tremendous heat generated, energy to babysit the wastes for econs
Nuclear reactors boil water to generate electricity.
Nuclear power cannot displace the use of oil (which mostly powers transportation, very little oil powers the North American electric grid).
An enormous amount of coal power is required to run the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium mining, milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication. The amount of energy required to babysit the wastes for millennia cannot be calculated, but it is arrogance beyond description to assume future generations will be able to take care of our problems.
August 13, 2008
Climate scientist James Hansen was on the Charlie Rose show tonight (Aug 12, 2008, aired locally on Aug 13), saying how we need to leave some of the fossil fuels in the ground to save the air. He clearly said that we are essentially at Peak Oil.
But when he was asked about alternative energy, he said that nuclear energy had "good potential to be part of the solution," claiming that fear was the real problem with nuclear reactors. He did say afterwards that solar and wind are good and have lots of potential.
He doesn't seem to understand that making electricity and making liquid fuels are two very different things.
His promotion of nukes is for a new design that supposedly doesn't make long lived nuclear waste. "We wouldn't have to mine more uranium in the next few hundred years if we used the nuclear waste" we already have - in other words, he is promoting reprocessing of nuclear waste to extract the leftover U and Pu. Dissolving nuclear fuel rods into acids to precipitate out the fissionable materials is the single most toxic technology yet invented, even garbage incineration, paper mill chlorinated wastes and chlorinated herbicides don't have as long lasting health impacts on future generations. Some of the isotopes make the timelines of ice ages seem very short in comparison.
Hansen also said that "we shouldn't rule out nuclear because it scares us," which is a remarkably ridiculous point of view for a scientist internationally famous for being attacked by the Bush administration for daring to tell the truth about climate change.
He claims that "fourth generation" nuclear reactors would supposedly eliminate the problem of long lived nuclear waste, although the process of fissioning uranium is not substantially changed by the type of reactor design -- all fission reactions create hundreds of isotopes not present on Earth before 1938, some of which have very long half lives and all are toxic to life.
Fourth generation nukes would still poison distant generations, would require massive fossil fuels to build and fuel, they are not in commercial operation (so they're untested) and the resources that would be spent on building lots of reactors would be better invested in energy efficiency, relocalization and renewable energy.
The 1975 "Barton Report" from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission admitted that a police state would be needed to safeguard the nuclear materials if "reprocessing" was used to "recycle" nuclear fuels.
Perhaps, like James Lovelock, he merely doesn't understand the climate (and health) impacts of running nuclear reactors. If we were a planet of peaceful robots this might have some more validity, but DNA and ionizing radiation are incompatible and all reactors give bomb materials to their operators (even fourth generation nukes would still do this, especially if reprocessing of irradiated fuel rods was done to provide some of the new fuel).
I look forward to the day when people who get on TV to talk about moving "beyond oil" understand that electricity and liquid fuels are not the same things, that fossil fuels are more concentrated than alternatives, and that renewable energy that doesn't destroy DNA can power a stable state society but not a growth based economic system.
A 150 million kilometer (93 million mile) evacuation zone is needed for all nuclear power (the sun).
It takes a lot of fossil energy to mine uranium, and then to extract and prepare the right isotope for use in a nuclear reactor. It takes even more fossil energy to build the reactor, and, when its life is over, to decommission it and look after its radioactive waste.
As a result, with current technology, there is only a limited amount of uranium ore in the world that is rich enough to allow more energy to be produced by the whole nuclear process than the process itself consumes. This amount of ore might be enough to supply the world's total current electricity demand for about six years.
Moreover, because of the amount of fossil fuel and fluorine used in the enrichment process, significant quantities of greenhouse gases are released. As a result, nuclear energy is by no means a 'climate-friendly' technology.
At 10:28 PM, Rice Farmer said...
Lovelock is of course right about renewables. They can't prop up what petroleum has built.
But I'm disappointed to see that he thinks nuclear is different. Even if there were no problem with the waste, nuclear is dependent on fossil fuels just as much as renewables are.
Uranium in its natural state is in fact so high in entropy that it's useless as fuel. It can't start or sustain a nuclear reaction. That's why much fossil fuel energy has to be expended in processing the ore and enriching the uranium. Then comes nuclear plant construction and everything else, finally to the colossal energy expenditure needed to manage the waste for 20,000 years.
In reality, renewables and nuclear are heavily dependent on the "entropy subsidy" provided by fossil fuels. Without that boost, it is impossible to exploit such high-entropy, low-density energy sources in appreciable quantities.
Long after what's left of humanity has returned to a pre-modern lifestyle, we will be looking at the wreckage of renewables and at nuclear waste. The former I can live with (at least it can be salvaged for other purposes), but the latter is going to be ruining the planet for a long time to come. And all for what?
New Environmentalism, Or Backdoor to Nuclear Power?
OAKLAND, USA, May 24 (IPS) - Mainstream U.S. environmental groups, injured by political defeats, public indifference and budget cuts, are weighing alliances with neo-conservatives -- improbable rightwing bedfellows in the struggle to rein in global warming who want to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil. In the process, some greens are reconsidering their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. ....
Several leading environmentalists, including Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defence, Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, and James Gustave Speth, dean of Yale University's school of forestry and environmental studies, are encouraging research into the economic, safety and security, waste storage, and proliferation issues surrounding nuclear power.
In a piece published this month's issue of the journal Technology Review, entitled ''Environmental Heresies,'' Stewart Brand, the longtime environmentalist who founded the ''Whole Earth Catalogue -- a telephone directory-type consumer guide to the goods and services needed to forge an alternative lifestyle -- argued that perhaps the only solution to global warming, a reality the Bush administration has not openly embraced, is nuclear power.
Earlier in the year, Robert Bryce, the author of ''Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate'', reported in the online publication Slate on a developing alliance between greens and neo-conservatives. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, president of the ultra-right Centre for Security Policy, two big-time advocates for President Bush's war with Iraq, enthusiastically advocate fuel-efficient vehicles as a way of reducing dependence on Middle East oil.
The coupling of such top ''neo-cons'' -- the architects of the Iraq war -- with environmentalists -- many of whom have voiced concern about the devastating effects the war has had on the Iraqi environment -- materialised sometime late last year when they backed a proposal from the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based think tank tracking energy and security issues. The neo-cons are ''going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones,'' Bryce concluded.
A bill that would give ''significant financial incentives for the development of three new nuclear technologies,'' sponsored by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Connecticut Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman is being circulated in draft form.
''As the world approaches peak oil and a future of rapidly escalating energy costs, increasing support for nuclear power amongst some environmentalists was predictable,'' Scott Silver, executive director of the Oregon-based grassroots environmental group Wild Wilderness, said in an interview.
''The unwritten mission of many organisations is 'sustainable growth' which translates into supporting economic growth while minimising associated ecological damage,'' Silver told IPS. ''In keeping with this mission, the fight against global warming will not be waged by attempting to decrease the ecological footprint of man or by reducing the demands we put upon this planet, but by growth.
''By tightly framing the issue in terms of 'too much carbon dioxide', nuclear power becomes an obvious solution,'' Silver added. ''For industry and the neo-cons, the problem has nothing to do with climate. For the neo-cons, the problem is one of sustaining economic growth during a period of energy scarcity.'' .... This campaign ''appears to have been invented for the purpose of killing off traditional, naturally-evolved, grassroots-based environmentalism and replacing it with a synthetic, pro-development, focus-group tested collaborative partnership between 'new environmentalists,' industry, and those who hope to collect crumbs thrown off from unfettered growth,'' he said.
Published on Friday, April 15, 2005 by the Australian
Nuclear Power is the Problem, Not a Solution
by Helen Caldicott
There is a huge propaganda push by the nuclear industry to justify nuclear power as a panacea for the reduction of global-warming gases.
In fact Leslie Kemeny on these pages two weeks ago (HES, March 30) suggested that courses on nuclear science and engineering be included in tertiary level institutions in Australia.
I agree. But I would suggest that all the relevant facts be taught to students. Mandatory courses in medical schools should embrace the short and long-term biological, genetic and medical dangers associated with the nuclear fuel cycle. Business students should examine the true costs associated with the production of nuclear power. Engineering students should become familiar with the profound problems associated with the storage of long-lived radioactive waste, the human fallibilities that have created the most serious nuclear accidents in history and the ongoing history of near-misses and near-meltdowns in the industry.
At present there are 442 nuclear reactors in operation around the world. If, as the nuclear industry suggests, nuclear power were to replace fossil fuels on a large scale, it would be necessary to build 2000 large, 1000-megawatt reactors. Considering that no new nuclear plant has been ordered in the US since 1978, this proposal is less than practical. Furthermore, even if we decided today to replace all fossil-fuel-generated electricity with nuclear power, there would only be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for three to four years.
The true economies of the nuclear industry are never fully accounted for. The cost of uranium enrichment is subsidised by the US government. The true cost of the industry's liability in the case of an accident in the US is estimated to be $US560billion ($726billion), but the industry pays only $US9.1billion - 98per cent of the insurance liability is covered by the US federal government. The cost of decommissioning all the existing US nuclear reactors is estimated to be $US33billion. These costs - plus the enormous expense involved in the storage of radioactive waste for a quarter of a million years - are not now included in the economic assessments of nuclear electricity.
It is said that nuclear power is emission-free. The truth is very different.
In the US, where much of the world's uranium is enriched, including Australia's, the enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt coal-fired plants, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for 50 per cent of global warming.
Also, this enrichment facility and another at Portsmouth, Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93 per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted yearly in the US. The production and release of CFC gas is now banned internationally by the Montreal Protocol because it is the main culprit responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. But CFC is also a global warmer, 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In fact, the nuclear fuel cycle utilises large quantities of fossil fuel at all of its stages - the mining and milling of uranium, the construction of the nuclear reactor and cooling towers, robotic decommissioning of the intensely radioactive reactor at the end of its 20 to 40-year operating lifetime, and transportation and long-term storage of massive quantities of radioactive waste.
In summary, nuclear power produces, according to a 2004 study by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, only three times fewer greenhouse gases than modern natural-gas power stations.
Contrary to the nuclear industry's propaganda, nuclear power is therefore not green and it is certainly not clean. Nuclear reactors consistently release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water each year. These releases are unregulated because the nuclear industry considers these particular radioactive elements to be biologically inconsequential. This is not so.
These unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon and argon, which are fat-soluble and if inhaled by persons living near a nuclear reactor, are absorbed through the lungs, migrating to the fatty tissues of the body, including the abdominal fat pad and upper thighs, near the reproductive organs. These radioactive elements, which emit high-energy gamma radiation, can mutate the genes in the eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease.
Tritium, another biologically significant gas, is also routinely emitted from nuclear reactors. Tritium is composed of three atoms of hydrogen, which combine with oxygen, forming radioactive water, which is absorbed through the skin, lungs and digestive system. It is incorporated into the DNA molecule, where it is mutagenic.
The dire subject of massive quantities of radioactive waste accruing at the 442 nuclear reactors across the world is also rarely, if ever, addressed by the nuclear industry. Each typical 1000-megawatt nuclear reactor manufactures 33 tonnes of thermally hot, intensely radioactive waste per year.
Already more than 80,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to the 103 US nuclear power plants, awaiting transportation to a storage facility yet to be found. This dangerous material will be an attractive target for terrorist sabotage as it travels through 39 states on roads and railway lines for the next 25 years.
But the long-term storage of radioactive waste continues to pose a problem. The US Congress in 1987 chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 150km northwest of Las Vegas, as a repository for America's high-level waste. But Yucca Mountain has subsequently been found to be unsuitable for the long-term storage of high-level waste because it is a volcanic mountain made of permeable pumice stone and it is transected by 32 earthquake faults. Last week a congressional committee discovered fabricated data about water infiltration and cask corrosion in Yucca Mountain that had been produced by personnel in the US Geological Survey. These startling revelations, according to most experts, have almost disqualified Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, meaning that the US now has nowhere to deposit its expanding nuclear waste inventory.
To make matters worse, a study released last week by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the cooling pools at nuclear reactors, which store 10 to 30 times more radioactive material than that contained in the reactor core, are subject to catastrophic attacks by terrorists, which could unleash an inferno and release massive quantities of deadly radiation -- significantly worse than the radiation released by Chernobyl, according to some scientists.
This vulnerable high-level nuclear waste contained in the cooling pools at 103 nuclear power plants in the US includes hundreds of radioactive elements that have different biological impacts in the human body, the most important being cancer and genetic diseases.
The incubation time for cancer is five to 50 years following exposure to radiation. It is important to note that children, old people and immuno-compromised individuals are many times more sensitive to the malignant effects of radiation than other people.
I will describe four of the most dangerous elements made in nuclear power plants.
Iodine 131, which was released at the nuclear accidents at Sellafield in Britain, Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the US, is radioactive for only six weeks and it bio-concentrates in leafy vegetables and milk. When it enters the human body via the gut and the lung, it migrates to the thyroid gland in the neck, where it can later induce thyroid cancer. In Belarus more than 2000 children have had their thyroids removed for thyroid cancer, a situation never before recorded in pediatric literature.
Strontium 90 lasts for 600 years. As a calcium analogue, it concentrates in cow and goat milk. It accumulates in the human breast during lactation, and in bone, where it can later induce breast cancer, bone cancer and leukemia.
Cesium 137, which also lasts for 600 years, concentrates in the food chain, particularly meat. On entering the human body, it locates in muscle, where it can induce a malignant muscle cancer called a sarcoma.
Plutonium 239, one of the most dangerous elements known to humans, is so toxic that one-millionth of a gram is carcinogenic. More than 200kg is made annually in each 1000-megawatt nuclear power plant. Plutonium is handled like iron in the body, and is therefore stored in the liver, where it causes liver cancer, and in the bone, where it can induce bone cancer and blood malignancies. On inhalation it causes lung cancer. It also crosses the placenta, where, like the drug thalidomide, it can cause severe congenital deformities. Plutonium has a predisposition for the testicle, where it can cause testicular cancer and induce genetic diseases in future generations. Plutonium lasts for 500,000 years, living on to induce cancer and genetic diseases in future generations of plants, animals and humans.
Plutonium is also the fuel for nuclear weapons -- only 5kg is necessary to make a bomb and each reactor makes more than 200kg per year. Therefore any country with a nuclear power plant can theoretically manufacture 40 bombs a year.
Because nuclear power leaves a toxic legacy to all future generations, because it produces global warming gases, because it is far more expensive than any other form of electricity generation, and because it can trigger proliferation of nuclear weapons, these topics need urgently to be introduced into the tertiary educational system of Australia, which is host to 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the world's richest uranium.
Helen Caldicott is an anti-nuclear campaigner and founder and president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, which warns of the danger of nuclear energy.
© 2005 The Australian
Nuclear Power is NOT the way out of the Global Climate Crisis!
by David Weisman
Nuclear power process contributes to CO2 pollution
Mark Donham - Brookport, Ill.
USA TODAY's editorial on nuclear power repeats the common misperception that nuclear power doesn't contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere ("As globe heats up, nation warms to nuclear power," Our view, Atomic energy debate, May 16).
A nuclear plant itself may not generate greenhouse gases, but that distinction is meaningless because the process required to create the fuel — from the mining of the uranium to the waste disposal — does create carbon dioxide pollution, according to a recent report by the Oxford Research Group.
There is no easy way to change the fact that nuclear power is dependent upon fossil fuels.
Nuclear power is not the answer to our power problems, but renewable energy is a good solution. We need to get serious about ending wasteful usage and institute an immediate program that uses wind and solar power whenever possible. We can make a huge difference. To see change, we need national dedication equivalent to that of our country during World War II. We need to do it now.
(Photo -- Sheer energy: The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in east Tennessee began operating in 1996. Nationally, as many as 11 applications for new units could be filed this year. / Tennessee Valley Authority via AP)
Josephus wrote:225d ago
While Mr. Donham did refer to CO2 as a by product of nuclear energy his focus was greenhouse gases in total. The enrichment of uranium which is the fuel used in nuclear reactors is responsible for over 90% of the CFC's produced in the U.S. CFC's were banned years ago but exceptions were made for the nuclear industry. CFC's are exponentially more potent than CO2 in causing climate change. And this doesn't even address the other effluents besides CFCs and CO2.
Also, contrary to JHC's opinion that CO2 produced by uranium enrichment is insignificant compared to the electricity produced, a significant amount of greenhouse gases, including CO2, produced in the Ohio Valley Region comes from uranium enrichment. The process, in Paducah, Ky. alone, uses more electricity daily than the city of St. Louis. Citizens in the Ohio Valley are used to seeing miles long railroad coal cars everyday that are necessary for the process. Much of the effluents from this massive burning of coal affect the NE U.S. as well. Nuclear power is more dependent on fossil fuels than any other viable option.
If Mr. Lamb is correct, that nuclear power is a good business risk, then he shouldn't object to allowing free market forces to come into play. The first step should be to repeal the Price/Anderson Act which requires the taxpayer to indemnify the nuclear industry. However, anyone familiar with the issue will know that without the Price/Anderson Act, nuclear power would not even be on the table as an option. No corporation would touch it because of the liability alone.
The fact is that the issue of climate change is beginning to look like a windfall to multi-national corporations, which have proven by their actions that climate change is the least of their concerns. Many of the current solutions being offered are designed to be little more than sources of more windfall profits for corporations only concerned with quarterly profits than long term solutions to our energy problems. Thus the emphasis on centralized power plants using biofuels (a sham), nuclear power, "clean" coal, etc. None of which solves the problem.
A beginning to our energy problems should begin with decentralizing the grid, which admittedly would require a paradigm shift. We presently have the technology to outfit every home in the nation with the tools to be net energy producers instead of net energy users. Enough energy could be produced by this system to provide needed power for electric autos as well. This would also have the added benefit of contributing to our national security by denying saboteurs the targets that centralization gives them. And getting free from M.E. oil goes without saying. All we need is the will and leadership to accomplish the task as evidenced by other national programs like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program.
Given the time frame of 10+ years for nuclear reactors (especially the new breeder reactors) to come online, the intractable problems of the waste produced, the toxicity of the byproducts, and more; nuclear energy is not a viable alternative, even in the short term, to our energy problems.
At this late date, any new energy option should be first and foremost CO2 neutral. In that regard, nuclear energy is a technology that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Bell Smith wrote:225d ago
Nuclear power is a solution to our energy problems the same way suicide is a solution to mental health problems.
Until we have a reliable way to neutralize the mind-boggling waste which is generated by the nuclear power industry, we cannot sanely consider creating more such waste.
Mr. Donham's observations are accurate and well-founded. To pretend otherwise for the sake of business does us all a disservice. First and foremost, we must not attempt to solve our problems by creating worse problems.
Energy conservation and alternative energy technologies are given short shrift. As this discussion clearly demonstrates, the current energy crisis will not be solved by the minds who created it.
MarkD wrote:225d ago
It it true that solar and wind do have impacts during construction, but where they differ from nuclear is that once they are constructed, there is little or no waste from the electrical generation process. Obviouly, the same can't be said of nuclear. The nuclear industry continues to be one of the most highly subsized industries in the nation - so much so that certainly the industry meets the definition of "corporate welfare."