Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.

Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…