Skip to main content

Energy Outlook on the Gore Testimony

As we noted earlier this week, during his testimony on Capitol Hill this week, former Vice President Al Gore went to pains to say he wasn't reflexively anti-nuclear, though he added that he believed a combination of distributed generation and "smart-grid" technology could obviate the need to build new baseload generating capacity.
Mr. [Gore] worked hard to avoid sounding rigidly anti-nuclear, focusing instead on concerns about waste storage--he opposes the Yucca Mountain waste facility--and the very large capital costs involved in building new nuclear plants. Yet despite these issues, we are likely to see the first new nuclear plant in this country in two decades get its permits within a few years. The cloud of uncertainly that the recent TXU deal has cast over new coal-fired power plants will inevitably improve the prospects for new nukes.

To refine a statistic tossed out by one Senator, in 2005 nuclear power contributed 68% of all the low-carbon electricity generated in the US. As we contemplate a cap on carbon emissions and a carbon tax or an emissions trading system--or both, as Mr. Gore advocated Wednesday--the market value of all those green electrons from wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear will go up significantly. I doubt we can rely exclusively on wind and solar energy to provide all the green electricity we'll need, and efficiency won't eliminate the role of central power plants. I'd be very surprised if the greener world we need to create didn't also feature a bigger contribution from nuclear power.
I'm sure Mr. Gore would be surprised too.


Anonymous said…
Al Gore deserves credit for taking a lot of effort, for a lay person, to study the science behind global warming. I think that he is right that the current evidence is sufficient to support a call to action to reduce our carbon emissions. But now Mr. Gore needs to study the science behind geologic isolation of nuclear wastes, and to reconsider his opposition to the Yucca Mountain repository. Currently for climate change, our predictions for the next 100 years have substantial uncertainty. For geologic isolation of nuclear wastes, we can make scientifically sound predictions for probable behavior over the next one million years. And what does the science tell us? For geologic isolation of nuclear wastes, the worst long term consequence would be contamination of small amounts of ground water tens of thousands of years in the future. If, in the future, our great-great-great-grandchildren were to decide that they have a better approach to manage the materials we would put into Yucca Mountain, they can take them out with little difficultly. If only the same were true for carbon dioxide. Mr. Gore may not want to upset Mr. Reid, but the truth is that the United States needs a safe, secure place to put the residual wastes that come from using nuclear energy, and all of the current evidence says that Yucca Mountain is just fine for this purpose. Let's move forward and get a license application docketed for Yucca Mountain.
Doug said…
Well, the opposition to Yucca is pretty obvious NIMBYism. That said, we'd be a lot better off if we ended the reprocessing ban. We'd be able to stretch the nuclear fuel supply that much longer and reduce both the volume and lifespan of the waste.
don kosloff said…
Vice President Gore needs to read about Oklo, if he is actually worried about the capability of Yucca Mountain.
Russell J. Lowes said…
Nuclear is not a zero CO2 emission power source. That's a no-brainer! There are twenty steps to the fuel and power production cycle for nuclear energy, compared with seven for fossil fuel. Here is a summary of these steps.
Seven life-cycle steps of fossil fuels:
1 mine, powered by oil
2 transport to plant, powered by oil and electricity, mostly coal
3 combustion, powered by the fossil fuel from the plant
4 scrub emissions, powered by fossil plant energy
5 dispose of toxins, powered mostly by oil
6 build plant, powered by oil
7 dismantle plant, powered by oil
Twenty lifecycle steps to the nuclear fuel cycle
1 mining 0.3% U3O8 ore, powered by oil
2 milling to 100% U3O8, powered by oil
3 conversion to UF6, including several sub-steps of chemical processing, powered by oil mostly
4 enrichment: take the milled uranium which is .7% U235 and 99.3% and U238 to get the U235 up to 3.2%, powered by electricity, mostly coal
5 reconversion to U308 with 3.2% of that being U235, powered by oil and electricity which is mostly from coal
6 fabrication, powered by oil to mine the zircaloy fuel cladding
7 using the fuel in the reactor, powered by the nuclear fuel itself
8 taking out the spent fuel and putting it into interim storage in spent fuel ponds, powered by energy from the nuclear plant
9 isolating and guarding waste of the long-term storage phase of spent fuel (perhaps two steps), powered by energy from the nuclear plant and off-site electricity mostly from coal and from oil in the creation of the matrix, I am guessing on this one, since the technology is evolving
10 isolating and guarding waste of uranium mining tailings, powered by oil
11 isolating and guarding waste of mill tailings, powered by oil
12 isolating and guarding waste of conversion machinery contamination, powered by oil
13 isolating and guarding waste of enrichment machinery contamination, powered by oil
14 isolating waste of re-conversion machinery contamination and the associated depleted uranium, powered by oil
15 isolating and guarding waste from the fabrication process, powered by oil
16 retrieval of stolen waste
17 concurrently with the waste steps, setting up coordination of the nuclear waste plan, including policing, maintenance and repair of containment, criminal investigation and prosecution, cleanup from terrorist or accidental contamination (these systems do have their energy inputs, though difficult to quantify), powered by oil for transportation and construction of structures and electricity

-- There are the additional 3 steps of the nuclear plant cycle:
18 construction of the plant, powered by oil
19 operation of the plant, powered by the nuclear fuel
20 dismantlement of the plant and isolation from the environment, powered by oil

Of course, there is some speculation about the fuel source for some of these steps, due to many of them being performed in the future.
However, it is not reasonable to say that nuclear power does not emit CO2.

Popular posts from this blog

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot., the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.

From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…