Friday, June 09, 2006

Nuclear: Still the wrong choice

via Dave Roberts at Gristmill, this is a fantastic argument against further nuclear expansion. It neatly breaks down all of the arguments against new nuclear construction, from the paucity of remaining uranium reserves, to the ugliness of technical alternatives (such as breeder reactors.) Not to mention the cost!

[edited out some extraneous suff. - June 10th.]


Anonymous said...

Hi John. You have to be careful with some of these arguments. I think for example the energy balances are wrong. Uranium from sea water not yielding net energy was true of early experiments, but later experiments have show that it is possible to get a net energy yield from seawater extraction. Similarly I think you would find the same would be true in the breeder cycle reactor. I made the same mistake myself in a comments page and replies by other commentators led me to conclude that I was wrong -that both seawater extraction of uranium and large scale use of breeder reactors do in fact yield net energy. Possibly extraction from granite does as well.

I'm open to correction on this. But I've run into similar arguments on renewables which generally turn out to be wrong. A good rule of thumb is that most arguments claiming that a source of energy consumes more energy than it yields are wrong.

On the other had it is quite true that nuclear power requires immense costs, public subsides that bring is price up to something comparable to or exceeding that of renewables. It is only true that greenhouse gases over and above CO2 from nuclear plants are a very real problem - and you are right that these may well match coal or at least natural gas. Natural gas produces about 60% of the emissions of coal (even allowing for unburned methane). So if nuclear puts out 30% of the co2 -then other gases could easily bring that up to the same as natural gas.

Gar Lipow

berlynn said...

You may want to take a look at this, particularly Section 8, page 20.

Ronald Brak said...

I'm a little bit sceptical of Dave Roberts' arguements against nuclear power plants. I find his discussions about the amount of CO2 they produce unconvincing. I don't see how a nuclear plant could produce even 5% of the CO2 of an equivilant coal power plant. (Feel free to send me your math if you disagree.)

The nuclear industry has been able to get taxpayers contribute to their costs, which is wrong on several levels, but in terms of slowing the build up of CO2 in the air it has probably been worth it. The danger is that nuclear power will get subsidies while wind and other alternatives won't.

As for running out of uranium that's not really a problem at the moment. We're not faced with the question of "should we use nuclear power for everything?" but rather, "should we build one more nuclear reactor, and should we build one more after that?" As long as there appears to be affordable uranium for the lifetime of reactors that get built there is not a problem.

Wind power is currently cheaper than nuclear. Solar hot water is cheaper than water heated by nuclear generated electricity. I think it makes sense to invest in these until their marginal costs raise higher than that of nuclear power, but after that I think the use of nuclear power is accepable if there are no cheaper clean alternatives available. I hope that cheaper alternatives will become available, but if not I think that the increased use of nuclear power for 30+ years is worth the risks if it reduces the amount of CO2 dumped in the atmosphere. I see rapid climate change as a very big threat, especially to people in the third world and to animal and plant life.

Ronald Brak said...

I wrote "third world." Don't know why I did that. The world doesn't divide up into thirds so neatly. Someone once suggested that instead of "third world" we should say "real world" instead because people there have real problems, but usually I use the term developing word.