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Is Nuclear Too Hot to Handle?

Over in the U.K. earlier this week, the Oxford Research Group published another anti-nuclear report, this one titled Too Hot To Handle? The Future Of Civil Nuclear Power.

The report primarily focuses on nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear terrorism, including a two page blip on how nuclear power cannot contribute to reducing climate change. If the name "Oxford Research Group" sounds familiar to our readers, the reason is that we dissected another of their reports earlier this year, dismissing it as just more recycled nonsense.

Well, surprise, surprise, this report offers even more of the same. What's disappointing is that a number of folks in the press couldn't be bothered to look at this report with a critical eye -- and I'm talking about the Guardian over in the U.K.

So while part of me is tired of this game, we'll do it all over again for the benefit of those who haven't been paying attention.

Nuclear industry critics have claimed multiple times that not enough nuclear plants can be built to mitigate climate change. The study which Oxford references (Council on Foreign Relations’ Balancing Benefits and Risks who in turn reference the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research) is one that we debunked earlier this year. Here’s Oxford’s rehashed claim (p. 7):

If we take 2,250 new reactors, then between now and 2075 nearly three new reactors a month would need to start delivering electricity to their respective grids.

A civil nuclear construction and supply programme on this scale is a pipedream.

Here was our rebuttal.

Another report the ORG references is Greenpeace’s Economics of Nuclear Power which we slam dunked about two months ago.

And another source ORG uses was Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith’s skewed attempt to assess nuclear power’s lifecycle emissions. This has been debunked so many times by so many authors that I’m amazed it still gets play. Here’s a link to’s debunking on them thanks to another fellow blogger.

P. 9 of the report:
Unless it can be demonstrated with certainty that nuclear power can make a major contribution to global CO2 mitigation, nuclear power should be taken out of the mix.
A demonstration huh? How about this? Nuclear plants in the U.S. avoid almost the same amount of CO2 emissions that are put out by all the passenger cars in the U.S. in a year.

How about another? Nuclear power accounted for about 71 percent of the U.S.’ emission-free generation of electricity in 2006 (pdf). And how about one more? Worldwide nuclear energy avoids on average the emissions of more than 2 billion metric tons of CO2 per year. There is only one other emission free source of power that avoids just as much emissions as nuclear power and that is hydro. So if nuclear hasn’t been “demonstrated with certainty” that it can make a major contribution to climate change then no sources have according to ORG’s logic.

Onto nuclear proliferation:

P. 11:
Garwin argues that, far from being proliferation resistant, GNEP makes it easier for terrorists to acquire nuclear material suitable for fabricating nuclear weapons. He points out that: “To obtain 10 kg of plutonium from ordinary Pressurised Water Reactor spent fuel containing 1% plutonium, a terrorist would need to acquire and reprocess 1000 kg of highly radioactive material.”
Now I don’t want to sound too dismissive, but some of these arguments on proliferation border on ridiculous. Rather than go into exhaustive detail, I'll just refer you to something Patrick Moore said a few months back during an interview with E&ETV:
It's unfortunate that a lot of activists insist on making us connect those two things as if they're one and the same, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, but it isn't true. First thing, you don't need a nuclear reactor to make a nuclear weapon. With the new centrifuge technology you just enrich uranium.

That's what Iran is suspected of doing. So there's no nuclear reactor involved in that. They aren't even connected in that sense, because it's easier to make a nuclear bomb with centrifuge technology than it is to use the plutonium from used nuclear fuel after you've had to build a nuclear reactor as well for billions of dollars.

Secondly, do you think that if we shut down all the civilian reactors on this planet, there's over 440 of them, that the generals would give up their bomb making reactors? Because the plutonium and uranium that is being made for the military is not coming out of the civilian reactors. That's coming from special reactors and enrichment plants that belong to the military in the various nuclear capable countries.
No doubt we need to make sure our nuclear facilities remain safe and secure. But to dismiss a technology that already provides substantial benefits to the world would be irresponsible -- especially if that decision would do nothing to promote peace and stability in the world.

Be sure to check out the World Nuclear Association’s take on the report as well.


Norris McDonald said…
I read this report. It was scary. I pulled the covers over my head. That seemed to do the trick. But this report was intended to scare people. And the uninformed believe in the boogeyman.
Randal Leavitt said…
You seem surprised that the anti-nuke people are repeating the same stuff over and over again. They do this because they are advertising, not debating. They don't care what the pro-nuke people are saying. All they want to do is shout "LA LA LA LA" as loud as they can in the classroom so the teacher cannot present the lesson. The pro-nuke people never seem to understand this - this process is one of selling, not debating. You need movie stars saying they like it. Seriously.
Rod Adams said…
Ralph is right - the serious anti-nuclear opposition is not trying to debate, learn or engage in constructive discussion. They are selling a message that helps to ensure the profitability of their main sponsors.

The Council on Foreign Relations has a foundational history in helping to study, understand and defend the interests of the first multinational industry - the fossil fuel industry. It was a brainchild of people associated with Rockefeller and Morgan and has always attracted the political and economic establishment. In a petroleum based economy, that always includes major representation from the fossil fuel energy industry. When you think about that industry, do not forget the supporting cast in transportation, finance, and end users.

There should be no surprise that CFR sponsored publications give short shrift to the prospects for nuclear power growth. By simply repeating their message and getting the established media to cover that repetition, they succeed in slowing down their competition. That is a very effective tactic in their overall strategy for maintaining their profitability, market power, and political influence.
JimHopf said…
many laughable arguments to list.

One of my favorite’s is calculating the maximum built rate, almost 30 years ago, in France alone, and then saying that it would be too much to assume that the entire world could build at this rate. The ability to build nukes scales with GNP, and the entire world’s GNP in the coming decades is ~100 times what France’s was 30 years ago. If China alone can build one coal plant per week, the whole world can build at least one nuclear plant per week, if not more. If anything, the “goal” of 33% of world power by 2075 (that they analyzed) is far too conservative/humble.

Another ridiculous suggestion is that we should give up on a major source of CO2 reduction because there is some chance that someone someday could build a dirty bomb. Not only are dirty bombs insignificant in the grand scheme of things (i.e., global warming and hundreds of thousands of deaths every single year from fossil fuels), but everyone knows that the great majority of dirty bomb risk comes from the medical industry (something that these clowns aren’t asking to be “taken off the table”).

A third ridiculous assertion is that nuclear programs have to be introduced to small developing countries all over the world, like Congo, in order for nuclear to make a difference. Larger, more developed nations that already have nuclear power make up ~80-90% of CO2 emissions, and that fraction is actually not going to change to much in the future (note that China & India already have plants). Even if we didn’t allow any new, small, developing countries to have nuclear, nuclear’s potential to reduce CO2 would not be significantly reduced.

One final point is the notion that nuclear must be able to do it all or it should be taken off the table. I’ve never seen this notion applied to any other source. If any specific renewable source can not do the job all by itself, should it be taken off the table? This report doesn’t even seem to make any pretense of being rational or serious. It is a comical screed.
Anonymous said…
"to dismiss a technology that already provides substantial benefits to the world would be irresponsible"

Which GNEP advanced reprocessing technologies meet this criterion?
David Bradish said…
I wasn't referring to GNEP there. I meant all nuclear technologies.

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