Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Repeated repetition that nuclear power is "zero-carbon" does not make it true

Letter  sent to the Financial Times:
Jonathan Ford’s latest column on nuclear power (“Nuclear liabilities need to be put in clearer perspective,” Financial Times, 18 November 2019; https://www.ft.com/content/1b632592-0925-11ea-b2d6-9bf4d1957a67) compounds several errors he made in an earlier column on radiation risks and decarbonization of power supplies (“Net-zero world must conquer its irrational fear of nuclear power, 4 November 2019; www.ft.com/content/32e052e2-fcca-11e9-a354-36acbbb0d9b6) Mr Ford is entitled to his personal views on nuclear energy, but not to misrepresent facts.


Ford describes nuclear power as a “reliable zero-carbon source” in the earlier article, and in his new column as “reliably generating zero-carbon electricity.” But repetition does not make inaccurate statements true, and this assertion is not correct

A comprehensive Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of greenhouse gas emissions from differing power generation technologies by Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, California - and director of its Atmosphere/Energy Program -  indicated that nuclear CO2 emissions are between 10 to 18 times greater than those from renewables. (Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security† Energy & Environmental Science, 1 December 2008; 


Prof Jacobson is very qualified for such analysis, being also Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and at the Woods Institute for the Environment, where he has developed computer models to study the effects of fossil fuel and biomass burning on air pollution, weather, and climate.


In a newly completed chapter for a forthcoming energy book, ‘Evaluation of Nuclear Power as a Proposed Solution to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security,’ in 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything [Textbook in Preparation, https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/WWSBook/WWSBook.html”) he argues cogently:


 “There is no such thing as a zero- or close-to-zero emission nuclear power plant. Even existing plants emit due to the continuous mining and refining of uranium needed for the plant. However, all plants also emit 4.4 g-CO2e/kWh from the water vapor and heat they release. This contrasts with solar panels and wind turbines, which reduce heat or water vapor fluxes to the air by about 2.2 g-CO2e/kWh for a net difference from this factor alone of 6.6 g-CO2e/kWh. 


Overall, emissions from new nuclear are 78 to178 g-CO2/kWH, not close to 0, he concludes


Similar conclusions were reached in a meta-study by Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the School of Business, Management, and Economics, part of the University of Sussex, who serves as Director of the Sussex Energy Group and Director of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand [which also involves the University of Oxford and University of Manchester]


He concludes the following: “This article screens 103 lifecycle studies of greenhouse gas-equivalent emissions for nuclear power plants to identify a subset of the most current, original, and transparent studies.


It begins by briefly detailing the separate components of the nuclear fuel cycle before explaining the methodology of the survey and exploring the variance of lifecycle estimates. It calculates that while the range of emissions for nuclear energy over the lifetime of a plant, reported from qualified studies examined, is from 1.4 g of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh (g CO2e/kWh) to 288 g CO2e/kWh, the mean value is 66 g CO2e/kWh.


The article then explains some of the factors responsible for the disparity in lifecycle estimates, in particular identifying errors in both the lowest estimates (not comprehensive) and the highest estimates (failure to consider co-products). It should be noted that nuclear power is not directly emitting greenhouse gas emissions, but rather that lifecycle emissions occur through plant construction, operation, uranium mining and milling, and plant decommissioning.

( “Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey, Energy Policy, 36, 2940-2953, 2008. https://www.nirs.org/wp-content/uploads/climate/background/sovacool_nuclear_ghg.pdf


Mr Ford - The FT's City Editor no less- needs to expand his reading list.

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