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Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Nuclear Energy
consequence, they ignore full nuclear-fuel-cycle carbon-equivalent these options is already implemented at an industrial scale and could
be scaled up further over 50 years”.
Trimming Nuclear-fuel-cycle Emissions via Wind already generates 20% of Danish electricity.
By 2020, Britain will
Unrealistic Assumptions use wind to supply six times more (and solar to supply three times more)
Emissions argument proponents also often trim atomic-energy-related electricity than that from six proposed new nuclear plants.
GHGEs by making unrealistic assumptions about empirical factors that mentioned, the US DOE says that wind now costs three times less than
influence emissions levels. One problematic assumption is that nuclear and by 2015 solar PV will be much cheaper than atomic
nuclear GHGEs arise only from higher-grade (roughly 0.1% energy.
By 2005, the annual global growth rate of non-hydro-
yellowcake) and not low-grade (≤0.01% yellowcake) uranium ores. renewable energy was seven times greater than that of nuclear energy,
However, cleaner, higher-grade ores are nearly gone, and the partly because many renewables are less expensive than nuclear and can
lower-grade, higher-emissions ores are widely used.
be paid off in just 10 years.
US government data for the latest year
available show that wind energy has been responsible for 60% of annual
Nuclear-fuel cycles using 10 times less concentrated uranium ore added new electricity capacity, as measured by peak summer demand.
(<0.01% yellowcake) have total GHGEs equal roughly to those for Thus, the market seems to agree that the DOE, Princeton and British
natural gas fuel cycles; all other things being equal, such nuclear-fuel studies are correct. Regardless, all other things being equal, scientists
should assess and promote the cheapest and least carbon-intensive
energy technologies first. They should not ignore any major technologies.
Scientists should assess and
Consequences of Trimming Nuclear-related Greenhouse
promote the cheapest and least
Gas Emissions – Undermining Renewable Energy
Nuclear fission not only has higher GHGEs than wind and solar energy,
but also may be detrimental to using them. Why? Economic studies show
that capital-intensive, heavily subsidised nuclear plants make energy
capital scarce and undermine funding for renewable-energy and energy
efficiency programmes; as a consequence, they delay more effective and
cycles (using lower-grade uranium ore) release 12 times more GHGEs cheaper electricity production technologies for reducing GHGEs.
than solar cycles and 49 times more GHGEs than wind cycles.
when reactors use lower-grade uranium ores, the full fuel cycle GHGE Germany’s Oko Institute shows that wind energy, gas co-generation
ratio is 112 coal: 49 natural gas: 49 nuclear: 4 solar: 1 wind. With and energy-efficiency programmes all have negative costs of
lower-grade uranium ores, nuclear energy emits 12 times more GHGEs GHGE avoidance. This is because they either cut energy demand or are
than solar power and 49 times more than wind power. Some scientists cheaper than the electricity they replace, or both.
Consistent with the
even claim that lower-grade uranium ore fuel cycles could require more German findings, the pro-nuclear US DOE, the US National Academy of
energy than they produce.
Sciences and the US Office of Technology Assessment all say that using
energy efficiencies alone “the US could cut carbon emissions to 1990
Trimming Comparative Greenhouse Gas Emissions by
Ignoring Low-emissions Renewable Energy
If the preceding university data are correct, solar and wind power
Economic studies show that
appear to be more effective (than nuclear energy) at helping to reduce
GHGEs. However, most industry, government and even the classic MIT
reports analyse comparative GHGEs only from coal, natural gas,
subsidised nuclear plants make
petroleum and fission.
When they use such limited comparative
analyses, emissions argument proponents are inconsistent. Claiming
energy capital scarce.
that atomic energy releases fewer GHGEs than coal, natural gas and
petroleum, they propose increasing the number of reactors in order to
reduce climate change risks. However, if their goal is reducing GHGEs, levels by 2010 with no net cost to the nation’s economy”.
consistency requires that they compare all major low-carbon energy question is why one should promote nuclear energy if it is more
technologies, otherwise trimmed comparative analyses appear to be expensive and less effective (than many renewable energy technologies)
biased in favour of nuclear power. at reducing GHGEs.
It is especially important that GHGE comparisons include all major Objections
low-carbon energy technologies because classic Princeton University Of course, GHGEs are not the only consideration relevant to energy
studies show that more than seven options (including technological choices. Reasonable energy policies require assessing many conflicting
efficiencies, conservation, natural gas, wind, solar PV, biomass and claims, many of which have not been investigated here. Consider
hydrogen) could alone cost-competitively (“at an industrial scale”) several objections to the preceding analysis.
supply as much energy as nuclear tripling. “None of the options is a
pipe dream or an unproven idea,” say the authors. “Today one can buy One might object that because renewable energy technologies such
electricity from a wind turbine, PV array, gas turbine”; “every one of as wind and solar energy are intermittent, nuclear power is needed
MODERN ENERGY REVIEW VOLUME 1