Saturday, 28 December 2019

Atomic cheerleaders ignore nuclear's significant carbon content

Letter submitted to the Financial Times:
Your correspondent Dr John Law from the Clean Energy Revolution organization (“A nuclear option to aid the fight for the planet,” December 27; makes a very similar erroneous argument as he did three months ago in an earlier letter (“Merkel can meet emissions targets with tweak to energy mix,” September 24, 2019;

Both repeat the false arguments promoting presumed low carbon emission benefits of nuclear power deployment made by Dr James E. Hansen and his colleagues in another recent letter you published. (“EU must include nuclear power in its list of sustainable sources”, December 17; ). Dr Hansen is a brilliant analyst of the atmospheric climate change problem, but his suggested solution of more nuclear power is demonstrably misguided

Both old nuclear power plants as mentioned by Dr Law, and new nuclear plants advocated by Prof Hansen require uranium fuel. Uranium is energy intensive in its mining, milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication, all carbon emission-rich processes.

All nuclear plants - whether Gigawatt-scale giants or small modular reactors (SMRs) -will embody huge amount of carbon in their construction materials, especially concrete.

In a newly completed chapter “Evaluation of Nuclear Power as a Proposed Solution to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security”  in a forthcoming energy book 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything’ Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University - and director of its Atmosphere/Energy Program - argues cogently:

There is no such thing as a zero- or close-to-zero emission nuclear power plant. ..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.” (  

He concludes that overall, emissions from new nuclear are between 78 and 178 g- CO2/kWh, not close to the zero atomic advocates often claim.


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