Sunday, 8 November 2009

Nuclear Power Stations Fastracked

The UK government is to fastrack the building of many more nuclear power stations to obtain clean energy, in its bid to combat climate change.

1 comment:

David M said...

My main concern here is with nuclear power, which seems to have a very biased account in the book "The A-Z of Global Warming". Unlike the rest of the book, nuclear power does not seem to be well researched. Very few figures are given to support the statements made.

While it's true (almost) that "nuclear power stations do not generate greenhouse gases" [p147], this is misleading. I say 'almost' because some stations do emit radioactive Krypton, which is thought to be a greenhouse gas, and they do emit a lot of water vapour. But the significant fact is that the power stations necessitate other processes which do generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases - more than renewable sources of energy. These are uranium mining, milling of the ore, transportation, fuel enrichment, decommissioning and dealing with the highly radioactive nuclear waste. All of these require energy inputs, and some of them use fossils fuels for this. Of course renewable sources also require energy and material inputs, but they are not as large (per watt output) as nuclear power.

"Nuclear power is the only mature technology with potential to supply large amounts of power without emissions of CO2 and other pollutants." [p239] This is simply untrue. Nuclear power (not just the power stations) does produce CO2 and radioactive waste is a highly toxic pollutant. Uranium reserves are estimated at between 30 and 60 years at current rates of use (less if many new stations are built). And although nuclear power may produce 16% of world electricity, electricity is a minor fraction of power. So even doubling generating capacity - which is very unlikely - would still make only a few percentage points difference to total energy usage.

"Nuclear energy will play a significant role in helping to provide Earth's future electricity demand as it produces zero green house gas emissions." [p245] This is factually incorrect (as already explained), and we can't predict what might happen. Nuclear fusion is still nowhere in sight after 50 years of research; and it has cost billions which could have more usefully funded lower-tech renewable sources.

On p248 we read "renewable energy sources such as nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass". The resource for nuclear power is not renewable, and nuclear should certainly not come first in any such list. The nuclear fast breeder programmes have not been successful, and the UK one at Dounreay has been abandoned.

It is true that action is needed in the critical period of the next 10 years. But nuclear power stations take at least 10 years from initial planning to becoming operational, so new build will be of no help in this crucial decade.

There are many other ills of nuclear power which I have not mentioned as I have kept this to the issue of global warming, but they are significant: damage to human health, accidents (eg. Chernobyl and Fukushima), government subsidies, and the long-term problem of nuclear waste.