Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The total life-cycle emissions of nuclear energy are comparable to renewables.

That headline is pretty easy to understand, isn't it? We've written about the topic or something related to it more times than I can count, but for every time we've addressed the topic, we always seem to need to do it again.

After reading an article about the downside of biofuels in the Guardian, Geoff Wells wrote the following on his blog concerning nuclear energy and total life-cycle emissions:

A similar absence of lifecycle accounting has distorted the nuclear energy debate. Nuclear power stations are being promoted as clean and green–as emitting no greenhouse emissions. However, a full life-cycle analysis takes into account not only what is emitted by the power station, but the combined impacts of mining, enrichment, fuel fabrication, decomissioning and waste storage. At the highest grades of ore, nuclear stations produce more energy than they consume. But at the lower grades of ore, which are far more abundant, nuclear power stations become net consumers of energy, all of it from declining fossil fuel sources, with the resulting increase on greenhouse emissions.
This isn't funny anymore. There are way too many folks like Wells out there who make claims like this based on tissue-paper thin studies that our industry keeps poking holes in.

The fact is that when you consider total life-cycle emissions, nuclear energy is comparable to renewables. I guess this comes at an opportune time, as we just beefed up the references on our Web page on the issue earlier today. For even more studies, be sure to check out this post from September 2006 that deals with the issue.


Doug said...

This sort of ill-logic continues to amaze me. If nukes used more fossil energy than they produced in power, utilities would simply shut them down and burn the fossils directly, yielding a net increase in profits. It's so obviously untrue I can't believe people still repeat it.

The "full life-cycle" always includes these gems:

1. Energy required to mine uranium (ignoring the fact that uranium has 5 orders of magnitude more energy than coal, which must also be mined).

2. Electricity required to enrich uranium (assuming, in a wonder bit of circular logic, that the electricity comes predominantly from coal, rather than from the nukes themselves which would over time replace coal).

3. Emissions from concrete/steel/etc. (without doing equivalent calculations from the enormously larger structures that would be needed to capture e.g. solar energy).

bvidalin said...

After implementation of some form of Carbon Tax, or Cap and Trade or whatever is finally adopted, this sort of false logic should disappear. Any carbon usage employed within the nuclear industry AND similarly with renewables, and all the other options will be reflected in the finial cost of electricity.

For once a fair comparison? Bring it on!

Bill V.

Left Atomics said...

Let me argue that we need *continual* studies on this, from, perferably, independent studies, from universities, etc to show this.

But the cabon life cycle debate is actually secondary to the economics issue. I see in genaral anti-nuke parlence a new focus on economics. We need to have more, lots more, indendent studies that show true life cycle costs of ALL plants, using the same criteria for all.

David Walters

Fat Man said...

I shall repeat my self, again. You need to assemble this material into a FAQ, that we can cite to whenever we need to refute these lame claims.

David Bradish said...

The beefed up link should be able to do it now. It is one link that has multiple links to multiple sources. It will be a good reference for the nuclear industry and its supporters to use, but somehow I doubt this argument will go away for awhile.

When you google 'nuclear lifecycle emissions,' NEI's link comes up number one. If you look further, the first two pages are dominated by pro-nuclear links.

The industry's data is out there. We just need to keep hammering it back.