Skip to main content

On Hybrid Vehicles and Nuclear Energy, CNN Misses the Point


Over at CNN.com, Rachel Oliver is taking a closer look at hybrid gas/electric vehicles (like the Toyota Prius) and the impact they could make in helping to constrain greenhouse gas emissions. It's an interesting piece, but she gets one thing very, very wrong:
A US Department of Energy (DoE) study found that 73% of the nearly 217 million vehicles on America's roads could be charged with existing power plants to generate the electricity to charge the cars - and greenhouse gases would fall by 27% as a result.

The problem is, existing power plants often means coal or nuclear power, so "dirty" energy powering "clean" cars kind of misses the point. The DoE study also found -- not surprisingly - that particulate emissions would increase with the power grid having to charge all these vehicles.
Actually, it's Oliver who is missing the point. As we've mentioned time and again, nuclear reactors don't emit any greenhouse gases, so linking them with coal plants simply doesn't make any sense.

Then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It was back in May that some of our own polling discovered that much of the public was unclear on the role nuclear energy plays in constraining the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants while providing reliable and affordable electricity.

Still, Oliver is a reporter, and really doesn't have any excuse for being this sloppy. Shame on her.

Comments

gunter said…
Perhaps it is NEI that has missed the point?

I can't speak for CNN--but it just might be that their definition of "dirty" power includes that growing inventory of more than 55,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste piling up at reactor sites, or the millions of tons of contaminated debris from future decommissioning operations that doesnt have anyplace to go and/or the millions of curies in routine radioactive released from operating reactors into the air and water. Maybe enough is enough?

Or maybe it isn't the radioactivity at all but those carbon emissions from nuclear fuel production? After all, its goes up as your finite source of high grade uranium ore is depleted.
Kirk Sorensen said…
55,000 metric tonnes of high level waste. That 55,000 MT of high level waste prevented the emission of 15 BILLION metric tonnes of CO2 from coal plants, while at the same time only costing 0.58 billion tonnes of CO2 to produce. That's a leverage of 26 tonnes of CO2 prevented for every tonne emitted. That's pretty darn good.

By the way Gunter, all these calculations were done using the Nuclear Fuel Energy Balance Calculator on a well-known anti-nuclear site. Odds are that the real numbers were better than that since not every separative work unit was done with coal. Feel free to double check my calculations.

Of that 55,000 metric tonnes, about 53,000 MT is unburned uranium that's about the same radioactivity as it was when it was mined out of the ground.

1500 metric tonnes are fission products, most of which have already decayed to stability and which will be at background levels of radiation in the next 200 years.

Finally 500 tonnes is transuranics, which could be destroyed in a fast reactor (generating more electricity) as well as producing more than 500 tonnes of uranium-233, which would fuel a fleet of thorium reactors indefinitely.

We can not only deal with "nuclear waste", we can deal with it in extremely attractive ways that FURTHER serve to solve the world's energy crisis.

Please tell me how 15,000,000,000 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere would have been a preferable scenario to 55,000 tonnes of contained spent nuclear fuel and 580,000,000 tonnes of CO2.
Luke said…
Come on Gunter, you'll get nowhere trying to push rubbish like that to this audience.

Those thousands of tons stored at reactor sites - which are stored quite safely, isolated from the environment - are not "waste" at all, unless we let ourselves waste them. That's irradiated fuel, and 97% of it is valuable material, re-usable as nuclear fuel.

If we assume there's 55,000 tons of such fuel in storage, there's about 1650 tons of fission products in that fuel, the vast majority of which decays relatively quickly, with half-lives less than a year.

Some of those fission products are extremely valuable, rare metals such as Ruthenium. The destruction of Technetium-99 by neutron-driven transmutation has the potential to create significant amounts of stable Ruthenium-100. And this is radioactive waste? Certainly some of those fission products are moderately long lived radioactive waste, but not nearly as much as certain cargo-cult scientists would have each other believe.

30,000 people die prematurely in the US as a result of air pollution caused by dangerous fossil fuels.
Over the last 50 years since Calder Hall and Shippingport, how many injuries and deaths can you attribute - for real, with real facts and real data - to nuclear energy?

Does it take 60 years for cancer and so forth to show itself? Maybe it does - i'm not an oncologist. But we've been using nuclear energy now for over 50 years - Calder Hall actually opened in '56, Obninsk in '54, so we should be seeing people dropping like flies from cancer right now - shouldn't we?

How do the life-cycle emissions of nuclear energy compare to fossil fuels, and the other alternatives?

Can you provide some scientific insight into the subject?

At what Uranium concentration in the ore does the energy cost break even with the energy produced in the reactor? - (I'll give you a hint - it's below the average concentration of Uranium in Earth's crust...)
Johan Simu said…
This is totaly unrelated to hybrid vehicles. But a new article in the Lancet realy shows how much cleaner nuclear power is compared to any energy source.

Anil Markandya, Paul Wilkinson Lancet Vol 370 pages 979-990
Summer said…
Dealing with those dead set against nuclear energy is usually an exercise in frustration because they absolutely refuse to admit that technology moves forward. I know that is absolutely amazing in this day since the impact of technology has grown more and more over the past decade but yet, these individuals manage to do so.

Due to that,the nuclear power option can be a real hot potato and leads reporters to blunder, much like the one at CNN.
Ian said…
johan,

thanks for the pointer. I'll check it out tomorrow when I have access to the journals.

url
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T1B-4PN7RFR-13&_user=10&_coverDate=09%2F21%2F2007&_rdoc=32&_fmt=summary&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info(%23toc%234886%232007%23996290408%23668185%23FLA%23display%23Volume)&_cdi=4886&_sort=d&_docanchor=&_ct=34&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=c0f0a7f3da26bf7ae6636d0d86004e6c

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…

Innovation Fuels the Nuclear Legacy: Southern Nuclear Employees Share Their Stories

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon are excited about nuclear energy. Each works at Southern Nuclear Co. and sees firsthand how their ingenuity powers the nation’s largest supply of clean energy. For Powered by Our People, they shared their stories of advocacy, innovation in the workplace and efforts to promote efficiency. Their passion for nuclear energy casts a bright future for the industry.

Blake Bolt has worked in the nuclear industry for six years and is currently the work week manager at Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. He takes pride in an industry he might one day pass on to his children.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?
As a Work Week Manager at Plant Hatch, my primary responsibility is to ensure nuclear safety and manage the risk associated with work by planning, scheduling, preparing and executing work to maximize the availability and reliability of station equipment and systems. I love my job because it enables me to work directly with every department on the plant…