Wednesday, March 16, 2011

11 reasons to oppose nuclear power

I'm going to attempt to summarise the reasons why we should abandon nuclear power. I'll give a summary and then try and go into more depth.

1. The sourcing of uranium leaves a terrible legacy and can never be sustainable or carbon neutral. This is the elephant in the room that no one ever discusses.
2. Nuclear power stations can never be totally safe. Even though designers cater for every foreseeable event, it is the unforeseeable ones which have created the disasters of the last 50 years in Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island and many other smaller ones
3. Nuclear waste remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years. It already costs in the UK £3 billion or £1000 per person per year to look after the existing legacy. How can it be safe, responsible or cost-effective to bequeath this to a distant and unknown future population?
4. It is not carbon neutral, or low carbon, but emits in its life-cycle about 30% of the carbon of gas generation, not including mining and looking after the radioactive tailings that results
5. It is highly centralised and so more vulnerable than a decentralised system
6. The nuclear industry has a reputation for secrecy and dissembling of the truth. This includes information about safety and costs which invariably rise. We need a power supply from sources we can trust.
7. We can satisfy our power needs from a mixture of existing and almost market ready renewable technologies, implementing the smart grid, low- and zero-carbon building design and refurbishment, better planning, more efficient transportation and other energy and resource efficiency.
8. New reactor designs are commercially unproven and improperly costed.
9. Uranium supplies will run out within 70 years - sooner as more plants are built. Why not invest instead in developing the renewable technologies whose fuel we will be able to use for much longer into the future?
10. Many power stations are on the coast. They will not be safe in 50 or 100 or more years' time when the sea level has risen as the Antarctic ice cap and glaciers melt.
11. Renewable energy (the source of it, i.e. the fuel) is free, and there is plenty of solar power - which fuels the wind, the waves, the tides and biomass growth - to supply the energy needs of the planet many times over. This means operating costs are in general lower as there is no fuel requirement. If only resources and subsidies currently channeled into nuclear and fossil fuels were channeled into renewable energy technologies, we could easily meet our needs this way.

Below, find some notes supporting some of the above statements. I will hopefully add to these in future posts.

Safety


None of the four Generation III designs submitted to the UK regulators for pre-licensing assessment have been proven commercially; they are design concepts without working prototypes to test their safety.

Nuclear waste


Are we expected to believe our energy companies will be around in any time over a few decades hence, for thousands of years, to pay for the full cost of management of the new radioactive waste produced?

How many companies are here now that were here 500 years ago let alone tens of thousands? None.

Existing nuclear waste is currently managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Its 2010-11 budget is £2.8bn, of which £1.69 billion comes from the taxpayer via DECC. DECC's overall budget in this year is £2.9bn. This means that the cost of managing existing radioactive waste is a staggering 58% of the Department's total expenditure.

The cost of looking after the waste for each new power station is estimated to be about £1 billion.

Uranium mining


The World Nuclear Authority admits that in "emerging uranium producing countries" there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring.

It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing Principles of Uranium Stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Safety Guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores are not legally binding on operators.

To produce enough uranium fuel - about 25 tonnes - to keep your average (1300 MW) reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.

The conversion plant will generate a further 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste. To supply the number of power stations worldwide expected to be online in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residue every single year.

Uranium mining has often been a disaster for indigenous peoples. this includes as just one example the people in Niger around Areva's mines. The area has suffered conflict for ownership due to the huge profits involved, and the water table has dried up leaving cattle dead and farmers destitute. Radioactive contaminated goods have been found in street markets in villages.

British Energy is responsible for purchasing uranium in the UK.

Costs


Insurance: Nuclear plant operators have limited liability in the case of an accident. Any cost over £700m is covered by the taxpayer. Are taxpayers prepared to take on board the full insurance liabilities, which in the case of Chernobyl have already run to several tens of billions?

The cost of the new generation plant being constructed in Finland, which was alleged to be cost-effective and show what could be done by the new generation designs, has soared during the construction phase.

The same is true of its sister plant in Flamanville in France, now under construction.

Nuclear is not low carbon


Nuclear power produces roughly one quarter to one third of the carbon dioxide as the delivery of the same quantity of electricity from natural gas.

This is according to the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) by The University of Sydney, which concludes that the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of nuclear power varies within the range 130-160 g/kWh.

A second estimate (below) by Storm van Leeuwen and Smith (SLS) is higher because it reflects best practice, especially for waste treatment and disposal, and because the reality of errors and problems in the nuclear cycle typically raises the energy cost well beyond the planned level. ISA’s estimate includes all GHG emissions from the nuclear cycle.

Breakdown:
Construction: 12-35 CO2 g/kWh
Front end: 36 CO2 g/kWh
Back end: 17 CO2 g/kWh
Dismantling: 23-46 CO2 g/kWh
Total: 88-134 CO2 g/kWh

To compare: GHG emissions from gas-fired electricity generation are about 450 g/kWh.

By contrast, the U.K. Government’s 2007 Nuclear Power Consultation accepts industry estimates that, across its whole life-cycle, nuclear power emits 7 - 22 g/kWh.

Additionally, no one can convince me that the mining and the care of the huge piles of tailings at uranium mines is carbon-free. It takes a lot of – almost certainly fossil-fuelled - energy to move that amount of rock and process the ore. But the carbon cost is often not in the country where the fuel is consumed - certainly in the case of the UK. So that's why it's called ‘carbon free’.

The threat of rising sea levels


The Met Office has said that rising sea-levels, increased wave height and increased storm surge height must all be considered in the planning of the UK's future nuclear stations.

Their report was commissioned by British Energy. It concludes future power plants will need to be further inland and may need added protection.

At Sizewell in Suffolk, for example, site of Britain's most modern reactor, the prediction is for the most severe storm surges to be 1.7 metres higher in 2080 than at present. But that's only if the Greenland ice sheet doesn't melt. If it does, much of it will be underwater.

At Dungeness in Kent, the storm surge increase could be up to 0.9 metres. Already this plant, which is sited on land only two metres above sea-level, is protected by a massive wall of shingle which needs constant maintenance in the winter. Waves erode so much of it that it needs to be topped up constantly with 600 tons of shingle every day.

Renewable alternatives


Britain doesn’t need to build major new power stations to keep the lights on and maintain security, according to, for example, this report by independent consultants Pöyry.

Space and water heating counts for 83% of domestic energy use and about the same for office use. Together, offices and homes account for around 35% of UK energy use. Ie, 28% of total UK energy use.

Providing 40% of this by passive solar, solar water heating, heat pumps, domestic CHP, and woodchip/pellet boilers, would account for a significant proportion of the amount of power requirement as that required to compensate for the loss of old nuclear power stations.

It would have almost as great an impact in a shorter time scale and far cheaper but with little environmental impact than building new nuclear power stations, as well as creating more, sustainable jobs.

39 comments:

Tim Worstall said...

"Renewable energy is free,"

How can you write something so blitheringly stupid with a straight face?

If renewable energy is free why does it need a 46 p feed in tariff?

The rest of what you've got here is no better. Waste from uranium mining dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years? How the hell could that happen when you've just reduced the actinide content of the original rock? It's got to be less dangerous than the rock which was there in the first place!

Jeepers matey, you really have gone off the edge here.

Cornflake Girl said...

Gwyneth Craven claimed yesterday on Talk of the Nation, that "people die from wind turbine blades that go flying." "that worldwide, per terawatt hour, nuclear power is safer than any other large-scale power source and actually safer than wind if you look at terawatt hour harm that has been done. This is according to a Europe - the European Union's internee study." I find this claim difficult to believe, and possibly a far stretch to claim that nuclear is the best new source of energy in the US. Can you please explain what she is talking about?

Tom Jablonski said...

I like your first 10 reasons, but number 11 leaves me questioning.

"11. Renewable energy is free."

Windmills, solar panels, electrical grids, and other devices designed to capture and convert renewable energy all take resources to make, which have costs. I think we are only fooling ourselves if we think we can substitute are current energy demands provided by fossil fuels with renewable. Renewable energy indeed needs to play a large role in providing our energy needs, but the bigger key is to identify what are our real energy needs. These needs need to be a small fraction of what we currently use or any substitutions will bring along problems of their own. Scaling back is the answer, not simply substitution.

Anonymous said...

If its so expensive and harmful, why are nuclear power companies in the Forbes Fortune 500?

Also, you should do some more research before posting subjective information designed to distort the actual truth of the matter.

You arent going to post this, but I want you to read it.

Anonymous said...

"It is not carbon neutral, or low carbon, but emits in its life-cycle"

Those living in unheated glass houses shouldn't throw stones: perhaps you'd like to tell us what the life-cycle CO2e emissions are for wind and PV solar? It's not zero, is it?

Hello? Hello? Yes? You've got those figures haven't you? After all, you wouldn't be criticising nuclear without making a fair comparison, would you?

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

I am happy to oblige. There have been quite a few studies on the overall life cycle emissions of different methods of energy generation. No form of energy generation is without emissions of some sort.

The Elsevier academic publication Energy Policy, Vol. 36, 2008, p. 2950 contains a paper which is a meta-study, and more recent than the one I quoted above. It has the following figures, all in g CO2e/kWhe:

Offshore wind 9
Onshore wind 10
Polycrystalline PV 32

Interestingly, and in the interests of honesty, it quotes a different figure for nuclear than the one I quoted which was from just one paper. It takes an average of many different studies which range in their conclusions from 2-288 g CO2e/kWhe. The differences depend on the type of reactor and what is included in the study.

This average is 66 g CO2e/kWhe

As you can see this makes wind power between six and seven times more low carbon than nuclear power, and solar PV is more than twice as low carbon.

Does this satisfy you, Mr Anonymous?

David said...

Reply to Tom Jablonski: I mean that the energy itself is free, which is to say the fuel - the sunshine or the wind or the waves. Of course the power that we get from that energy is not free. The renewable energy source arrives also freely where ever we happened to put our generation plant.

David said...

To The other Anonymous: "If its so expensive and harmful, why are nuclear power companies in the Forbes Fortune 500?"

It doesn't follow that because it's harmful it shouldn't make lots of money. Another example: the tobacco industry or the arms industry.

It makes money because governments have put in place policies which require nuclear power stations. I am asking governments to think again, and the EC is doing so. See: http://www.euractiv.com/en/climate-environment/brussels-nuclear-debate-goes-meltdown-news-503173

David said...

Dear Cornflake girl. Gwyneth Craven is talking nonsense. There is no such study.

David said...

Tim Worstall: as I said above - it's the fuel - sun, wind, marine energy - which is free. For the other point, see my soon to be published next post. It's you who are not looking hard enough at the evidence, Tim.

BarryS said...

Point 3 - The NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) state costs as £73.6Bn over a HUNDRED YEAR period not per year as in your article.

Ltw said...

"I mean that the energy itself is free, which is to say the fuel - the sunshine or the wind or the waves. Of course the power that we get from that energy is not free."

You meant the fuel is free. Then say so. Don't say the energy is. Tim and Tom are correct - whatever you meant, it's a stupid thing to say, it implies a cost saving that doesn't exist.

Technically even the fuel isn't free - you have to have access to it, which means some control over the land or water on which you're setting up your plant. Especially for such a diffuse source this is significant. And that land use displaces other uses.

Alessandro said...

To Mr Anonymous who asked "If its so expensive and harmful, why are nuclear power companies in the Forbes Fortune 500?" you answered "because governments have put in place policies which require nuclear power stations."

Not only policies. Governments put in the horrendous amount of money necessary to develop the technology in the first place. And, as it happens, they did so only because it was a by-product of the research into the atomic bomb. If solar or wind could be weaponised we would have had 100% renewable energy a few decades ago.

David said...

I apologise for my use of language.
I understand energy, electricity and power as different things.

Power is produced by a generator; the form of the power can be electricity. It needs energy to produce power. The energy is in the fuel. The fuel can be renewable, nuclear or fossil based.

Nuclear and fossil fuels have to be mined, processed and transported to the generator. This involves both environmental and financial costs.

Renewable fuels arrive at the generator freely delivered and cost the owner of the plant nothing and have zero environmental cost in their delivery - they are there anyway.

(The plant itself will have costs)

This is why it is important to compare the levelized (lifetime) cost of renewable power generation with that of a same sized fossil fuel plant or nuclear plant.

Often renewable installations have higher upfront capital costs, but because the fuel is free over the lifetime of the generator the overall cost of the power produced is less.

David said...

BarryS - fair, but it is still £1000 per household per year.

Mr Potarto said...

"But that's only if the Greenland ice sheet doesn't melt. If it does, much of it will be underwater."


Yes, and if dinosaurs emerge from the centre of the Earth and attack, we will become T-Rex kibble.

The Greenland ice sheet is 700,000 cubic miles of ice, it won't melt in the next 50 years unless we plunge into the sun. It's currently melting at a rate of 0.007% per year and even the most extreme analyses consider it would take more than 500 years.

David said...

Dear Potartohead

I hope you're right, but my reading of recent reports from Greenland are not so confident.

I have investigated the Greenland icesheet. This is what I uncovered (sorry if the links are in code, the comments function of the blogspot doesn't allow html):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/27/Rate_of_change_in_Ice_Sheet_Height.jpg

Edited from the Wikipedia entry:

The Greenland ice sheet melt zone, where summer warmth turns snow and ice into slush and melt ponds of meltwater, has been expanding at an accelerating rate in recent years. When the meltwater seeps down through cracks in the sheet, it accelerates the melting and, in some areas, allows the ice to slide more easily over the bedrock below, speeding its movement to the sea.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Greenland_ice_sheet_thinning_rate.jpg

Researchers monitoring daily satellite images have discovered that a massive 11-square-mile (29-square-kilometer) piece of the Petermann glacier in northern Greenland broke away between July 10 and July 24, 2008. The last major ice loss to Petermann occurred when the glacier lost 33 square miles (86 square kilometers) of floating ice between 2000 and 2001. Between 2001 and 2005, a massive breakup of Sermeq Kujalleq erased 36 square miles (94 square kilometers) from the ice field.

Wikipedia continues: "The second mechanism is a force imbalance at the calving front* due to thinning causing a substantial non-linear response. In this case an imbalance of forces at the calving front propagates up-glacier. Thinning causes the glacier to be more buoyant, reducing frictional back forces, as the glacier becomes more afloat at the calving front. The reduced friction due to greater buoyancy allows for an increase in velocity. This is akin to letting off the emergency brake a bit.

"The reduced resistive force at the calving front is then propagated up glacier via longitudinal extension because of the backforce reduction. For ice streaming sections of large outlet glaciers (in Antarctica as well) there is always water at the base of the glacier that helps lubricate the flow. This water is, however, generally from basal processes, not surface melting."

The article gives examples. It adds: "An examination of 32 outlet glaciers in southeast Greenland indicates that the acceleration is significant only for marine terminating outlet glaciers. That is glaciers that calve into the ocean. Further, noted that the thinning of the ice sheet is most pronounced for marine terminating outlet glaciers."

Calving of Greenland's glaciers produce 12,000 to 15,000 icebergs each year alone.

"An examination of 32 outlet glaciers in southeast Greenland indicates that the acceleration is significant only for marine terminating outlet glaciers. Further, it noted that the thinning of the ice sheet is most pronounced for marine terminating outlet glaciers."

"Since the surging nature of ice sheet motion is a relatively recent discovery, and is still a long way from being entirely understood, no models have yet made a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of climate change. However, it is clear that climate change will act to destabilise ice sheets by a number of mechanisms.

"Rising sea levels will reduce the stability of ice shelves, which have a key role in reducing glacial motion. Some Antarctic ice shelves are currently thinning by tens of metres per year, and the collapse of the Larsen B shelf was preceded by thinning of just 1 metre per year." - Ice sheet dynamics, From Wikipedia.

I can send you a list of ice sheet models on the web which space doesn't permit here.

Phil Walker said...

I mean that the energy itself is free, which is to say the fuel

Well, if you want to put it like that, uranium and coal are free: we never pay for them, but for the right to dig them up and for the tools and labour to do so and for the transport to take them to the plant and for the plant and labour to to generate electricity from them and for the maintenance of the infrastructure along the way.

I think what you're really driving at is that the marginal cost of generating an extra kilowatt-hour of electricity from what we normally call a renewable source is essentially negligible, whereas the marginal cost of doing so from a fuelled source is not.

The notorious drawback, of course, is that we have absolutely no control whatsoever as to when that marginal unit of electricity arises, and no way to store it at peak production to use at peak consumption. In other words, we get what we pay for: paying for fuelled sources gives us greater control over when we have electricity.

David said...

Phil: You are right that solar photovoltaic and wind power are intermittent and unpredictable. However there are many other kinds of renewable energy which are quite predictable and also storage of energy is possible.

And by the way the problem of electricity storage is common to all kinds of electricity generation.

One way of managing this is to manage demand and reduce peaks so fewer power stations are necessary to meet peak demand. This is being tackled with smart grids as I'm sure you're aware.

Predictable renewable electricity is supplied by hydroelectric power (above the micro scale), marine current turbines, anaerobic digestion - producing methane which is then burnt in a combined cycle gas power station - and geothermal power, to name one off the top of my head now.

In modern concentrating solar thermal power station technology, the sun’s heat is concentrated using (a) highly reflective surface(s) and sometimes lenses to a medium to high temperature. The troughs or parabolic reflectors concentrate the incident solar radiation 80-fold. The heat is converted to mechanical and then electrical energy, using a steam or gas turbine, or a Stirling engine.

The heat energy collected during the day is in some cases stored in liquid or solid media, such as molten salts, ceramics, water or concrete, and released at night to keep the turbines running.

For example, the 49.9MWe Andasol plants in Spain have 209,664 mirrors and, besides running turbines, are hooked up to thermal storage, with an outlet temperature of about 290°C and a top temperature of 390°C, increasing their annual availability by about 1000 to 2500 hours.

The storage is achieved with 28,500 tonnes of molten nitrate and potassium salt storage that keeps it operational up to 7.5 hours after sunset, or during a cloudy period. Each plant has two tanks to hold the salts, built like Thermos flasks to preserve this temperature for several weeks.

This means they can generate almost round the clock in the summer months. In order to charge the storage at the same time as operating the turbines, the solar field is significantly larger than it would otherwise be.

In Australia there is a plant which combines coal burning with this technology.

These plants are designed for arid sunbelt areas. It is a proven technology and many plants are in development or construction, but not enough - yet. There is huge potential in these areas. The Desertec project (Google the word for details) is one example of how a consortium in Europe hopes to revolutionise renewable energy supply by creating a super grid linked to a great many of such plants across North Africa and the Middle East.

It has been calculated that is just six plants in the hottest area of the world, which are currently unpopulated, could produce enough electricity to power the world. See .

Anaerobic digestion predominantly produces gas, and could potentially contribute, according to the UK National Grid company, 50% of our mains gas supply within 20 years. It is predictable because the production of farm slurry, crop waste and food waste is predictable and frequent. The gas can be also burnt to create electricity or used as a transport fuel.

Marine current technology is also nascent, but seeing my other blog today regarding this. Any technology using tidal energy is regular and predictable.

Pumped storage is also an option, as used in North Wales, which incidentally was built to store surplus nuclear energy at night for use during the day at peak times.

Mr Potarto said...

It comes to something when an environmentalist is arguing that we should ignore the IPCC and go with Wikipedia as our authority.

I can condense your comment to three words: Greenland is big.

The fact that your three 'massive' pieces measuring 80 square miles fell into the sea can also be written as 0.01% was grazed from an infeasibly enormous entity. A piece so small has no more bearing on the likelihood of the whole thing sluicing into the Atlantic as me losing 10 grams of weight would indicate I'm wasting away.

0.01% is assuming that the ice on these glaciers was 1.25 miles thick like the average, which of course it wasn't.

All this is getting off the point. You can't use the melting of the Greenland ice sheet as a reason not to build a nuclear power plant, because it will have shut-down at least 400 years before any significant effects
occur.

This is not a controversial statement, all reputable scientists agree.

David said...

John: perhaps thorium (don't you love how it's named after the Norse god of thunder?) plants will work. But they are still a nascent technology. Just like a lot of the new renewables we are talking about.

We are really at the beginning of a revolution in how we generate power. Think of the early cars. Our feeble attempts at renewable energy generation are comparable in their stage of development.

It is a race against time. My feeling is that with enough will and investment we can do it with renewables alone.

It's the political will that is required and there is a huge amount of lobbying from the nuclear industry which distorts political will. Just as there is from the fossil fuel industry.

David said...

The IPCC has underestimated the degree of global warming before. I'm also thinking of new scientist articles I've read last year which I can't link to here. Anyway, as you say, this is a minor point.

Cornflake Girl said...

Thank you David. I assumed she was as much of everything else she said seemed ridiculous as well.

Anonymous said...

A couple of days ago someone posted a table of deaths / TeraWattHour for different energy sources. I can't vouch for the veracity of the data but as published nuclear was the safest. Wind and hydro were close but solar suffers from installers falling off roofs! This somewhat counters your point #2.

Here's the link...http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

Tom Jablonski said...

David,

The bigger issue I have is not whether or not sunshine and wind are free as compared to uranium, coal or petroleum, but that that the process of converting them into usagable forms of energy results in waste. The waste can come about in the mining processes used to harvest the fuel or it can come about in the harvesting of the minerals needed to manufacture the infrastructure needed to transform the energy into a usable form. Waste also occurs when the infrastructure or fuels reach the end of their useful lives. So, unless we look at scaling back our energy usage, we will face other environmental problems from our excessive energy use, no matter what the energy source. In other words lets not sugar coat renewable energy sources, they have their impacts and costs as well. Whether we fill the earth with the wastes from conventional fuels or fill it with the wastes from renewable sources in the end still fills the earth with waste.

David said...

Anonymous - Come on, you can't be serious!

Even the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the trade body for the ten companies that make up 90% of the industry, admits that in "emerging uranium producing countries" there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring.

It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing Principles of Uranium Stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Safety Guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores are not legally binding on operators.

The problem is that transparency is not a value enshrined in the extractive or the nuclear industries. Put the two together and you have a major quality of information problem. Access to the truth is, to say the least, uncertain. Journalists and others trying to obtain reliable information find themselves blocked. Recently, to tackle this issue, Panos Institute West Africa (IPAO) held a training seminar for journalists in Senegal which highlighted that only persistent investigation - or, in the case of the Tuareg, violent rebellion - has a chance of uncovering the truth.

The co-editor of The Republican in Niger, Ousseini Issa, said that only due to local media campaigns was there a revision of the contract linking Niger to the French company Areva. "We realized then that the country drew little benefit from uranium. As a result of our efforts, the price of a kilogram of uranium increased from 25,000 to 40,000 CFA francs," he said. This means that the local community receives a decent income from the extraction of their resources.

IPAO has plenty of evidence that in Africa the legacy of mining is often terrible health, water contamination and other pollution problems. The health and safety of workers and local communities is frequently a low priority. IPAO would laugh at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an Orwellian creation.

What is the effect of uranium mining specifically? Under current world market conditions, nuclear fuel from fresh uranium is cheaper than from recycled uranium or recycled plutonium (MOX), which is why there is a uranium rush going on worldwide.


Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply the number of power stations worldwide expected to be online in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residue every single year.

The milling process recovers about 95% of the uranium. The residues, or tailings, contain naturally-occurring radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and radon-222 emissions. In countries like the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.

The current market prices of nuclear fuel do not include all of the costs incurred. For uranium mill tailings, the long-term management cost that is not covered by the uranium price may be as high as the uranium cost itself. The situation for the depleted uranium waste arising during enrichment even may be worse, says the World Information Service on Energy.

And we haven't even begun to talk about the safety of leaving radioactive waste in custody of hundreds of future generations...

David said...

Tom - life-cycle studies are done these days on most products. Do you seriously think you can compare the impact of, say, wind turbines with the radioactive waste?

Upon decommissioning the metal will be reprocessed and recycled. The concrete bases present more of a problem, and will either be crushed and transported elsewhere for hard-core, or left to deteriorate naturally. If they do deteriorate they will release no toxic elements.

Radioactive waste on the other hand is around for tens of thousands of years and will pose a threat to future generations who may not even be aware what is contained inside a dump, for example.

If the current bill of £1000 per UK citizen per year to look after existing nuclear waste does not give you a clue as to the problems of its legacy, then I don't know what does.

Phil Walker said...

Thanks for the reply. Don't misunderstand me: I find this all fascinating and potentially very interesting. I hadn't heard about the thermal energy storage solutions before, so I'm interested to read about them. I've often wondered whether we couldn't basically carpet the Sahara with solar plants and use them to power half the globe. We'll see how applicable those solutions are to solar in due course!

David said...

Hi Phil - you'll find a lot more about concentrating solar thermal, and other solar technologies, in my Solar Technology book, out in two months! Use the link on the right to preorder...!

Tom Jablonski said...

David,

I think your still missing my point that the issue is not so much about what the energy source is, but rather how much energy we use. Assuming your assumption is that replacement of our current energy sources (fossil or nuclear fuel) with renewable with the same generating capacity is somehow going to be better for the earth leads me to believe your lifetime assessments are lacking. The impacts from a wind turbine are obviously different then a nuclear power plant, but I would not agree that the impacts are something to ignor, especially over a lifetime. Turbine blades constructed of fiberglass and resin releases VOC and other hazardous air pollutants in the mfg process. Generators consume large quantities of rare earth metals (which the mining and processing of releases radiation. And the concrete bases you mention require large amounts of energy to produce the cement. And recycling takes energy and produces more waste. Unless we figure out how to scale back in energy usage, replacing the energy source will simply replace the impacts.

David said...

Tom, I do understand your point that all energy generation has some environmental impact. However, if you look into the impact of nuclear power there is really no comparison in terms of lifecycle pollution.

The lifecycle of a windfarm may be 30 years. Of a nuclear pant it is tens of thousands of years

The potential risk from VOCs for example are zero. VOCs only pose a hazard in an enclosed environment.

Rare earth metals are used everywhere in power generation. The hazards of mining every middle except for radioactive ones are common to all energy generation.

But nuclear has an additional problem.

Here where I live, Trawsfynnydd nuclear power station has been in the process of being dismantled for some years. Many many loads of lorries take low-level and medium level waste up to Windscale for storage. The core of the reactor is to be encased in concrete. It must remain this way for many thousands of years.

The cost of the management of this waste, extended to all of the nuclear power stations in this country consumes an unbelievable 60% of DECC's budget and will cost £1000 per household per year for the rest of the century.

Even if it is not subsidised by the taxpayer (for future newbuild) it will come from higher bills at a projected £1bn per power station (I believe t will be many times more eventually, based on past experience).

Existing nuclear waste is currently managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Its 2010-11 budget is £2.8bn, of which £1.69 billion comes from the taxpayer via DECC. DECC's overall budget in this year is £2.9bn.

No other form of waste from any other energy generating technology has anywhere remotely like this impact.

I think you in common with many other people are remarkably ignorant about the lifecycle impacts of nuclear power. I wonder why that is?

Tom Jablonski said...

David,

Labeling folks as "ignorant" is not going to help your cause.

I agree with you that of all our energy sources nuclear by far has the potential to outweigh the impacts of the others. You don't need to sell me that nuclear power is not a good thing. But if you are going to really evaluate energy options you need to look at the impacts from all sources and include those from "renewables".

The issue I have is trying to sell "renewables" as the salvation to our energy needs. The facts are they are not. What will save us is scaling back our energy usage big time. Once that happens, renewables will indeed play a big role, along with some of our existing conventional energy sources.

An interesting summary of what needs to evaluated regarding alternative and conventional energy sources can be found in the paper at the following link.

http://www.postcarbon.org/Reader/PCReader-Fridley-Alternatives.pdf

David said...

Tom. Sorry I did not mean to be insulting. Thank you for your link. Regarding the use of rare earth metals in wind turbines, the UK energy minister has just made a statement: Charles Hendry said yesterday: "I understand that the proportion of wind turbines installed in the UK which use direct drive technology derived from rare earth metals is negligible (less than 1%)-and only 4% to 5% of turbines worldwide use this technology."

Anonymous said...

When you talk about the cost of storing and cleaning up nuclear waste, you are talking about the cost of cleaning up and storing the accumulation of the entire UKs (and parts of the rest of the world) history of nuclear waste, including all the prototype reactors and technologies from the very beginnings of the industry, hospital/medical devices and waste, university laboratory equipment and materials etc.

The majority of the clean up costs is due to this historical waste/equipment/buildings/technologies from the 1950s - 1970s, and these costs will remain whether we build more nuclear power plants or not. Future nuclear power generation will be so much cheaper and more efficient and is designed to be decommissioned much easier and miles cheaper than this historical waste. People need to stop comparing nuclear technologies and wastes of the 1950s and 60s with the technologies that would be implemented in the present. Any wastes generated by another generation of reactors in the UK would be fairly insignificant compared to the historical waste that we already have.

Nuclear is certainly not ideal but it is far preferable to building lots of new fossil fuel reactors which is unfortunately what would happen without nuclear, at least in the short term, which could be disasterous for our climate.

David said...

Did you read this post about nuclear waste? I do not share your feelings - the waste includes the power stations being decommissioned now - it is emphatically NOT mostly from the 50s and 60s!

As this post details, the body of experts responsible for deciding what to do with the waste doesn't think itself that we should be building more power stations until the issue is solved. What is the basis for your thinking otherwise?

Secondly, as there are many other safer alternatives, why should we even consider this? Energy efficiency can remove the need for any new nukes, and make further savings, and 3GW of marine current turbines can be installed by 2020. Two projects have been announced in the last month. See my other recent posts for more info.

Dirk Campbell said...

Regarding all the negative comments here: you should know that the nuclear industry pays people to get on line and post negative comments about renewable energy on every discussion board they can find. Not to worry though, their comments are so stupid and biased they don't convince anyone. Solar is popular because it makes sense and nuclear isn't because it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the 11 reasons are really necessary --if you are fannatically antinuclear, you don't need a single one. In all these "dissasters" not a single dead in West in 50+ years of nuclear power generation, and if new reactors start burning the "waste" they'l power the civilization without nedd to mine a single ton of fresh Uraniom. But fanatical mind does not ballance pros and cons, but blasts absolutes -- something that in reall world simly doesn exist -- demanding "absolute safety", and making nuclear power "absolutely" bad. I never heard any proponent of nukes to demonize any form of power generation, what's positive proof tha they are rationsl people. Advantages of nuclear energy for large scale power productions are, however, so obvious to any informed person, that its triumphal march could be slowed (not stopped!) only by desinformations, fear mongering, and unshamed laying. But the biggest lie of them all ist that nuclerar energy in just one of "also runs". Nuclear power is in its potential a thing totaly incomparable with any other power-generating scheme, and it's impossible even to imagine humanity progress without it. I could accept reserves to this of that form of nuclear power generaton, but the idaa that it must be dissmissed definitly and generally to make room to Fenitian invention of windmils, is something that simply deffy the imagination. What kind of witchunt is that?

Predrag Raos, Croatia

David said...

Dear Anonymous in Croatia. Well I'm not a fanatic, I look at all the evidence and consider it.

Here is one more reason: look at these photos of victims of Chernobyl radiation and ask if you wold like this to happen next door to you.

http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essay/chernobyl