Skip to main content

Dr. Caldicott vs. Nuclear Power – Round One

During the course of this week I plan to tackle each chapter of Dr. Caldicott’s book and battle the claims made against the nuclear industry. I can probably predict who’s going to win round one, as it is an issue we have beaten to death on this blog and others. But let’s see what I come up with before we declare a winner.

Chapter 1 – The Energetic Costs of Nuclear Power

The first sentence of Chapter 1 starts with:
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the propaganda wing and trade group for the American nuclear industry, spends millions of dollars annually to engineer public opinion.
Don’t we feel special? I guess we should take it as a compliment that we’re mentioned right off the bat because that means we’ve been doing our job of getting nuclear industry messages out to the public.

But according to the author, our clean-air messages are “fallacious and misleading.” If you can guess what the topic of the first chapter is, you’re probably right -- the lifecycle emissions of nuclear power. And the source of hers and every anti’s claims on this issue is none other then Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith.

Last year we began to tackle this issue and have since accumulated more and more data that conflict with the two authors' conclusions. Here’s a post from earlier this month that includes five sources analyzing nuclear’s lifecycle CO2 emissions. Unlike van Leeuwen and Smith, who only compare nuclear to gas, these sources compare nuclear’s results to other fuels, and they reach roughly the same conclusions. And I should note that three of these five sources are non-nuclear.

Just to give you some numbers in this post, van Leeuwen and Smith’s analysis concludes that nuclear emits (Caldicott, Chapter 1, p.6):
one-third as much CO2 emission as gas-fired electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve this reduction are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be exhausted within nine years. Use of the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reactors would produce more CO2 emission than burning fossil fuels directly.
Two points: one is that the sources to which I reference conclude that nuclear’s lifecycle emissions are about 2 percent to 6 percent that of natural gas-fired plants, not 33 percent. And two, rich uranium ores are expected to be around in the “foreseeable future.” According to the World Nuclear Association, the UK Energy Review, the OECD’s “Red Book” and our own Dr. Clifton Farrell to name a few, there’s plenty of uranium to go around, to sustain a “nuclear renaissance” and then some.

Caldicott, Chapter 1, p.17:
With the knowledge about these topics that is now available, however, clearly the nuclear industry is running a public relations scam of massive proportions.
I don’t think so. Numerous sources have been provided here to back up our claims contrary to the only source Dr. Caldicott cites. And our sources reach the same conclusion, independent of each other. Coincidence?

If she thinks we are running a PR scam, I would be curious to hear what she thinks about the Metrobuses in DC that say "This bus is running on clean natural gas."

Stay close for round two; it's on one of my favorite issues -- economics.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments

Randal Leavitt said…
Interesting to read that Dr. Caldicott thinks that the nuclear industry is running a large scale public relations campaign. There sure is not much evidence of it where I live. I frequently urge people in the industry to make more noise, shout out the good news. But they never do. The way I see it everyone in the nuclear field has been really intimidated by all the bad publicity during the past twenty years. Combine this with the culture of safety found in the industry, and you get people who are very cautious about making claims. Nuclear fission is a spectactular discovery and could transform our world into much nicer place than it is at the moment. People just are not ready for all this good news - pessimism is the fashion these days. So if the nuclear industry is about to start shouting, I say go for it, it is about time.
robert merkel said…
I find this argument really silly. If SLS (and by extension Caldicott) are correct, nuclear power will rapidly become so uneconomic that nuclear plants around the world will be shut down, because the cost of buying the fossil fuels burned to generate the inputs to the plant will cost more than the energy generated by the plant is worth.

Personally, I advocate a universal, global carbon charging scheme. If such a scheme is implemented, the carbon emissions involved in producing *every* form of energy, including nuclear, renewables, and fossil fuels, will end up being reflected in the final cost of the energy.
Anonymous said…
Something else to consider when looking at the oft-referenced "lifecycle emissions" paper....note that carbon content for the mining of uranium is included in nuclear's projections, while no such exercise is performed for natural gas. The comparison presented in this paper is patently invalid.
Daniel said…
Thanks for pointing me to Dr. Caldicott's book. I just ordered a copy for my edification. :)

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…