In coverage of TVA's decision to complete the Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor, we saw a familiar charge get aired by anti-nuclear activists concerning nuclear energy and total life-cycle emissions. First, here's an account from Knox News:
Anti-nuclear activists criticized the description of nuclear power as “clean,” pointing to the nuclear waste created and the energy-intensive process of mining and enriching uranium for nuclear fuel.Next, here's a familiar face in the Chattanooga Times Free-Press:
“Nuclear power is not clean, and the idea that you all found no significant impacts on your environmental impact statement is a joke,” said Earth First! activist John Johnson, referring to a federally required environmental study released in June.
Helen Caldicott, president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, is one of the most vocal critics of TVA's decision.Let's put aside the fact for the moment that completing Watts Bar 2 would mean avoiding the emission of 8 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by displacing the equivalent in coal-fired generating capacity -- that's 8 million tons per year for the entire lifetime of the reactor.
"I'm afraid this may be the beginning of a renaissance of nuclear power that will be extraordinarily dangerous and expensive for America," she said by telephone from her home in Australia.
Dr. Caldicott said radioactive wastes from such plants will linger for centuries, and nuclear plants contribute to global warming from carbons burned to mine, enrich, transport and dispose of uranium fuels.
What both Johnson and Caldicott are referring to is total life-cycle emissions. In this case, they're claiming that despite the fact that nuclear reactors don't emit any greenhouse gases, the associated operations of the plant -- including the mining and enriching uranium -- cause more than enough carbon emissions to overwhelm any additional benefit in constrained carbon emissions.
Unfortunately for them, that's simply not the case -- something we've demonstrated over and over again here at NEI Nuclear Notes. In any number of cases, all reputable third-party studies concluded that total life-cycle emissions of nuclear energy are "comparable to renewable forms of generation, such as wind and hydropower, and far less than those of coal- or natural gas-fired power plants."
The study that is cited most frequently is probably Hydropower Internalized costs and externalized benefits, Frans Koch, International Energy Agency "Implementing Agreement for Hydropower Technologies and Programmes, 2000.
To download that view graph from the NEI Web site, click here.
In 2002, the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a study that came to a similar conclusion:
For that view graph, click here.
So what's the lesson? Don't believe everything you read. At least not before you check with us first.