Friday, April 01, 2005

Caldicott off the Mark on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

In a March 16 interview that appeared in the Toldeo Blade, Helen Caldicott of the Nuclear Policy and Research Institute made a number of erroneous statements concerning the environmental impact of the nuclear fuel cycle.

In today's edition of the paper, the Blade published a letter from NEI Vice President for Communications, Scott Peterson, refuting her claims:

Helen Caldicott's March 16 diatribe against the Nuclear Energy Institute was loaded with false claims about the nuclear fuel cycle.

Her claim that uranium enrichment plants use electricity generated from "two coal plants" is untrue. There is only one enrichment plant in the United States - in Paducah, Ky. By contract, it obtains electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority's fleet of power plants, so about 40 percent of its electricity comes from non-emitting nuclear and hydroelectric power plants.

Ms. Caldicott also mangles the truth with her claim of CFC gas emissions from the uranium enrichment process. The Paducah facility doesn't produce CFC-114, more commonly known as "Freon." It uses it as a coolant for safety purposes in its enrichment operations. There is some leakage into the environment, but this amount is well within Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. In addition, Freon is no longer manufactured in the U.S. The enrichment plant uses Freon recycled from cars and home air conditioning units.

USEC, the company operating the Kentucky facility, has an active Freon leak-reduction program under way and has applied for a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to a build and operate a centrifuge enrichment plant that will not use any CFCs.

Although all industrial and manufacturing activities have environmental impacts and produce waste byproducts, nuclear power has one of the smallest environmental impacts of any source of electricity and manufacturing processes.

In fact, a study by the International Energy Agency in 2003 showed that the entire nuclear energy life cycle resulted in the second-lowest emissions of greenhouse gases next to wind, which is hardly a technology Americans can rely on today to provide the round-the-clock, bulk electricity supplies that nuclear power plants provide.

For an NEI fact sheet on emissions life-cycle analysis for sources of electrical generation, click here. For more on the nuclear fuel cycle, visit USEC.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: The nuclear energy life cycle study we refer to above was done in 2000, not 2003. Again, it can be found by clicking here.

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