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Nuclear Is NOT a Low-Carbon Source of Energy

George Washington's picture


Why Do People Claim that Nuclear Power is a Low-Carbon Source of Energy?

Even well-known, well-intentioned scientists sometimes push bad ideas.   For example, well-known scientists considered pouring soot over the Arctic in the 1970s to help melt the ice – in order to prevent another ice age.  That would have been stupid.  Even Obama’s top science adviser – John Holdren – warned in the 1970′s of a new ice age … and is open to shooting soot into the upper atmosphere. That might be equally stupid.

In other words, scientists – even prominent ones – sometimes fall prey to hairball theories and dangerous proposals. (Remember, doctors used to bleed patients to remove the “bad humors”.)

Similarly, some scientists are under the mistaken impression that nuclear power is virtually carbon-free, and thus must be pushed to prevent runaway global warming. (If you don’t believe in global warming, then this essay is not aimed at you … although you might wish to forward it to those who do.)

But this is a myth.

Amory Lovins is perhaps America’s top expert on energy, and a dedicated environmentalist for close to 50 years.  His credentials as an energy expert and environmentalist are sterling.

Lovins is a former Oxford don, who taught at nine universities, most recently Stanford.  He has briefed 19 heads of state, provided expert testimony in eight countries, and published 31 books and several hundred papers.  Lovins’ clients have included the Pentagon,  OECD, UN, Resources for the Future, many national governments, and 13 US states, as well as many Fortune 500 companies, major real-estate developers, and utilities.  Lovins served in 1980-81 on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Research Advisory Board, and in 1999-2001 and 2006-08 on Defense Science Board task forces on military energy efficiency and strategy.

Lovins says nuclear is not the answer:

Nuclear plants are so slow and costly to build that they reduce and retard  climate protection.


Here’s how. Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20-40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings (“cogeneration”), and renewable energy. The last two made 18% of the world’s 2009 electricity, nuclear 13%, reversing their 2000 shares–and made over 90% of the world’s additional electricity in 2008.


Those smarter choices are sweeping the global energy market. Half the world’s new generating capacity in 2008 and 2009 was renewable. In 2010, renewables except big hydro dams won $151 billion of private investment and added over 50 billion watts (70% the total capacity of all 23 Fukushima-style U.S. reactors) while nuclear got zero private investment and kept losing capacity. Supposedly unreliable windpower made 43-52% of four German states’ total 2010 electricity. Non-nuclear Denmark, 21% wind-powered, plans to get entirely off fossil fuels. Hawai’i plans 70% renewables by 2025.


In contrast, of the 66 nuclear units worldwide officially listed as “under construction” at the end of 2010, 12 had been so listed for over 20 years, 45 had no official startup date, half were late, all 66 were in centrally planned power systems–50 of those in just four (China, India, Russia, South Korea)–and zero were free-market purchases. Since 2007, nuclear growth has added less annual output than just the costliest renewable–solar power –and will probably never catch up. While inherently safe renewable competitors are walloping both nuclear and coal plants in the marketplace and keep getting dramatically cheaper, nuclear costs keep soaring, and with greater safety precautions would go even higher. Tokyo Electric Co., just recovering from $10-20 billion in 2007 earthquake costs at its other big nuclear complex, now faces an even more ruinous Fukushima bill.


Since 2005, new U.S. reactors (if any) have been 100+% subsidized–yet they couldn’t raise a cent of private capital, because they have no business case. They cost 2-3 times as much as new windpower, and by the time you could build a reactor, it couldn’t even beat solar power. Competitive renewables, cogeneration, and efficient use can displace all U.S. coal power more than 23 times over–leaving ample room to replace nuclear power’s half-as-big-as-coal contribution too–but we need to do it just once.

(Read Lovins’ technical papers on the issue here.)

Alternet points out:

Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School … found that the states that invested heavily in nuclear power had worse track records on efficiency and developing renewables than those that did not have large nuclear programs. In other words, investing in nuclear technology crowded out developing clean energy.

BBC notes:

Building the [nuclear] power station produces a lot of CO2 ….

Greenpeace points out:

When it comes to nuclear power, the industry wants you to think of electricity generation in isolation …..  And yet the production of nuclear fuel is a hugely intensive process. Uranium must be mined, milled, converted, enriched, converted again and then manufactured into fuel. You’ll notice the [the nuclear industry] doesn’t mention the carbon footprint of all steps in the nuclear chain prior to electricity generation. Fossil fuels have to be used and that means CO2 emissions.

An International Forum on Globalization report – written by environmental luminaries Ernest Callenback, Gar Smith and Jerry Mander – have slammed nuclear power as catastrophic for the environment:

Nuclear energy is not the “clean” energy its backers proclaim. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy has been quietly polluting our air, land, water and bodies—while also contributing to Global Warming through the CO2 emissions from its construction, mining, and manufacturing operations. Every aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle—mining, milling, shipping, processing, power generation, waste disposal and storage—releases greenhouse gases, radioactive particles and toxic materials that poison the air, water and land. Nuclear power plants routinely expel low-level radionuclides into the air in the course of daily operations. While exposure to high levels of radiation can kill within a matter of days or weeks, exposure to low levels on a prolonged basis can damage bones and tissue and result in genetic damage, crippling long-term injuries, disease and death.

See this excellent photographic depiction of the huge amounts of fossil fuel which goes into building and operating a nuclear power plant.

Nature reported in 2008:

You’re better off pursuing renewables like wind and solar if you want to get more bang for your buck.”




Evaluating the total carbon output of the nuclear industry involves calculating those emissions and dividing them by the electricity produced over the entire lifetime of the plant. Benjamin K. Sovacool, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore, recently analyzed more than one hundred lifecycle studies of nuclear plants around the world, his results published in August in Energy Policy. From the 19 most reliable assessments, Sovacool found that estimates of total lifecycle carbon emissions ranged from 1.4 grammes of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (gCO2e/kWh) of electricity produced up to 288 gCO2e/kWh. Sovacool believes the mean of 66 gCO2e/kWh to be a reasonable approximation.


The large variation in emissions estimated from the collection of studies arises from the different methodologies used – those on the low end, says Sovacool, tended to leave parts of the lifecycle out of their analyses, while those on the high end often made unrealistic assumptions about the amount of energy used in some parts of the lifecycle. The largest source of carbon emissions, accounting for 38 per cent of the average total, is the “frontend” of the fuel cycle, which includes mining and milling uranium ore, and the relatively energy-intensive conversion and enrichment process, which boosts the level of uranium-235 in the fuel to useable levels. Construction (12 per cent), operation (17 per cent largely because of backup generators using fossil fuels during downtime), fuel processing and waste disposal (14 per cent) and decommissioning (18 per cent) make up the total mean emissions.


According to Sovacool’s analysis, nuclear power, at 66 gCO2e/kWh emissions is well below scrubbed coal-fired plants, which emit 960 gCO2e/kWh, and natural gas-fired plants, at 443 gCO2e/kWh. However, nuclear emits twice as much carbon as solar photovoltaic, at 32 gCO2e/kWh, and six times as much as onshore wind farms, at 10 gCO2e/kWh. “A number in the 60s puts it well below natural gas, oil, coal and even clean-coal technologies. On the other hand, things like energy efficiency, and some of the cheaper renewables are a factor of six better. So for every dollar you spend on nuclear, you could have saved five or six times as much carbon with efficiency, or wind farms,” Sovacool says. Add to that the high costs and long lead times for building a nuclear plant about $3 billion for a 1,000 megawatt plant, with planning, licensing and construction times of about 10 years and nuclear power is even less appealing.




Money spent on energy efficiency, however, is equivalent to increasing baseload power, since it reduces the overall power that needs to be generated, says Sovacool. And innovative energy-storage solutions, such as compressed air storage, could provide ways for renewables to provide baseload power.


Thomas Cochran, a nuclear physicist and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group in Washington DC … argues that the expense and risk of building nuclear plants makes them uneconomic without large government subsidies, and that similar investment in wind and solar photovoltaic power would pay off sooner.




Another question has to do with the sustainability of the uranium supply itself. According to researchers in Australia at Monash University, Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales, Sydney, good-quality uranium ore is hard to come by. The deposits of rich ores with the highest uranium content are depleting leaving only lower-quality deposits to be exploited. As ore quality degrades, more energy is required to mine and mill it, and greenhouse gas emissions rise. “It is clear that there is a strong sensitivity of … greenhouse gas emissions to ore grade, and that ore grades are likely to continue to decline gradually in the medium- to long-term,” conclude the researchers.  [And see this.]

Beyond Nuclear notes:

The energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report detailing how we can meet nearly 100% of global energy needs with renewable sources by 2050. Approximately half of the goal is met through increased energy efficiency to first reduce energy demands, and the other half is achieved by switching to renewable energy sources for electricity production. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees and predicts close to 80% of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid?century.




Since nuclear power plants are reliant upon the electrical grid for 100% of their safety systems’ long?term power, and are shut down during grid failure and perturbations, it is “guaranteed” only as long as the electrical grid is reliable. When the Tsunami and earthquake hit and power was lost in the Fukushima Prefecture, nuclear energy wasn’t so “guaranteed.” Instead, it became a liability, adding to what was now a triple threat to the region and worsening an already catastrophic situation.




[The claim that] Nuclear power is “low?carbon electricity” … is the propaganda line commonly used by the nuclear industry which conveniently leaves out every phase of the nuclear fuel chain other than electricity generation. It ignores the significant carbon emissions caused by uranium mining, milling, processing and enrichment; the transport of fuel; the construction of nuclear plants; and the still inadequate permanent management of waste. It also ignores the release ? by nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities ? of radioactive carbon dioxide, or carbon?14, to the air, considered to be the most toxic of all radioactive isotopes over the long?term.


In fact, studies show that extending the operating licenses of old nuclear power plants emits orders of magnitude more carbon and greenhouse gases per kilowatt hour from just the uranium fuel chain compared to building and operating new wind farms.




Nuclear might begin to address global carbon emissions if a reactor is built somewhere in the world every two weeks. But this is an economically unrealistic, in fact impossible, proposition, with the estimated construction tab beginning at $12 billion apiece and current new reactors under construction already falling years behind schedule.


According to a 2003 MIT study, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” such an unprecedented industrial ramping up would also mean opening a new Yucca Mountain?size nuclear waste dump somewhere in the world “every three to four years,” a task still unaccomplished even once in the 70 years of the industry’s existence. Further, such a massive scale expansion of nuclear energy would fuel proliferation risks and multiply anxieties about nuclear weapons development, exemplified by the current concern over Iran. As Al Gore stated while Vice President: “For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program.”

Many experts also say that the “energy return on investment” from nuclear power is lower than many other forms of energy. In other words, non-nuclear energy sources produce more energy for a given input.

David Swanson summarizes one of the key findings of the International Forum on Globalization report:

The energy put into mining, processing, and shipping uranium, plant construction, operation, and decommissioning is roughly equal to the energy a nuclear plant can produce in its lifetime. In other words, nuclear energy does not add any net energy.


Not counted in that calculation is the energy needed to store nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years.

Also not counted is any mitigation of the relatively routine damage done to the environment, including human health, at each stage of the process.




Nuclear energy is not an alternative to energies that increase global warming, because nuclear increases global warming. When high-grade uranium runs out, nuclear will be worse for CO2 emissions than burning fossil fuels. And as global warming advances, nuclear becomes even less efficient as reactors must shut down to avoid overheating.

Also not counted in most discussions is the fact that nuclear reactors discharge tremendous amounts of heat directly into the environment.  After all – as any nuclear engineer will tell you – a nuclear reactor is really just a fancy way to boil water.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted in 1971:

In terms of thermal efficiency, current nuclear reactors are even worse off than the coal plants.  Against the 50 per cent loss of heat in the newest coal plants, as much as 70 per cent of the heat is lost from nuclear plants.  This means that thermal pollution can be even more severe ….

1971 was a long time ago, but some nuclear plants are older.  For example, Oyster Creek was launched in 1969, and many other reactors were built in the early 1970s.   Most American nuclear reactors are old (and they are aging very poorly).

Indeed, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service claims:

It has been estimated that every nuclear reactor daily releases thermal energy –heat– that is in excess of the heat released by the detonation of a 15 kiloton nuclear bomb blast.

It doesn’t make too much sense to dump massive amounts of heat into the environment … in the name of fighting global warming.

The German Example

Germany permanently shut down 8 nuclear power plants in 2011. Indeed, Germany’s phase-out of nuclear will speed up the reduction in its carbon footprint.

PhysOrg reported last year:

A special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published by SAGE, “The German Nuclear Exit,” shows that the nuclear shutdown and an accompanying move toward renewable energy are already yielding measurable economic and environmental benefits, with one top expert calling the German phase-out a probable game-changer for the nuclear industry worldwide.




Freie Universität Berlin politics professor Miranda Schreurs says the nuclear phase-out and accompanying shift to renewable energy have brought financial benefits to farmers, investors, and small business;


Felix Matthes of the Institute for Applied Ecology in Berlin concludes the phase-out will have only small and temporary effects on electricity prices and the German economy;




Lutz Mez, co-founder of Freie Universit?t Berlin’s Environmental Policy Research Center, presents what may be the most startling finding of all …. “It has actually decoupled energy from economic growth, with the country’s energy supply and carbon-dioxide emissions dropping from 1990 to 2011, even as its gross domestic product rose by 36 percent.”

Beyond Nuclear notes:

Germany reduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phaseout. The cut in greenhouse gases was mainly reached due to an accelerated transition to renewable energies and a warm winter. In addition, the EU emissions trading system caps all emissions from the power sector.


While eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. By the end of 2011, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.




Even after shutting its eight oldest nuclear power plants, Germany is still a net exporter of electricity. In 2011, Germany exported 6 TWh more than it imported. Additionally, German electricity exports to Europe’s nuclear power house France increased throughout 2011.

The Big Picture

The former chief American nuclear regulator says that nuclear energy is unsafe and should be phased out. Whistleblowers at the Nuclear Regulator Commission say that the risk of a major meltdown at U.S. nuclear reactors is much higher than it was at Fukushima.

And an accident in the U.S. could be a lot larger than in Japan … partly because our nuclear plants hold a lot more radioactive material. Radiation could cause illness in huge numbers of Americans, and a major nuclear accident could literally bankrupt America.

More than 75 percent of American nuclear reactors leak radiation … and – contrary to what the snake oil salesmen say – radiation form nuclear plants is very damaging to our health.

Nuclear is wholly subsidized by the government … and would never survive in a free market.

Anyone who says the only choices are nuclear, oil or coal are wrong.  The question isn’t one type of centralized energy generation versus another.

Decentralizing energy production, increasing efficiency, and increasing energy conservation are the real solutions for the environment.

Watch this must-see talk by Lovins, and this inspiring talk by Justin Hall Tipping.

The bottom line – as discussed above – is that scientists pushing nuclear to combat global warming are misinformed.  (True, nuclear industry lobbyists may be largely responsible for the claim that nuclear fights climate change. Indeed, Dick Cheney – whose Halliburton company builds nuclear power plants, and which sold nuclear secrets to Iran – falsely claimed that nuclear power is carbon-free in a 2004 appearance on C-Span. But there are also sincere environmental scientists who are pushing nuclear because they have only studied a small part of the picture, and don’t understand that there are better alternatives.)


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Sun, 04/21/2013 - 16:52 | 3481215 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

Here's a way to go green in energy for food & hot water: wood gasifier & charcoal water boiler. Make your own charcoal while heating your water

care of

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 09:16 | 3449522 mayhem_korner
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Amory Lovins?  C'mon, now.  I know the man personally.  Most of you do not.  He is the epitome of a cultist.  He has no credibility whatsoever outside of his followers.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 09:03 | 3449468 Die Weiße Rose
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Radiating Remnants: Nuclear Waste Barrels Litter English Channel

By Nicola Kuhrt

German journalists have discovered barrels of radioactive waste on the floor of the English Channel, just a handful of thousands dumped there decades ago. It was previously thought the material had dissipated. Now politicians are calling for the removal of the potentially harmful containers.

Some 28,500 containers of radioactive waste were dropped into the English Channel between 1950 and 1963. Experts have assumed that the containers had long since rusted open, spreading the radioactivity throughout the ocean and thus rendering it innocuous. But a new investigative report from the joint French-German public broadcaster ARTE has concluded that the waste is still intact at the bottom of the sea.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 08:48 | 3449408 fredquimby
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The Big Picture


America has MASSES of uniterupted sunshine and some MASSIVE unused deserts (and masses of unemployed people).

WTF aren't you covering these deserts in solar panels? (Yes, correct I did ask that about 5 yrs ago when I saw the solar tower in Seville, Spain.

Obama would have turned the US renewable by now if he had made this a mission from day 1. Very poor.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 12:43 | 3450774 Walt D.
Walt D.'s picture

"America has MASSES of uniterupted sunshine"

Not true - only true for North Alsaka in summer. In the Mojave desert we get between 9 hours (Winter) and 15 hours (Summer) of sunshine. The sun also needs to be high in the sky to get good output. This would not be such a problem if we had a good way to store the electricity.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 04:51 | 3448867 the tower
the tower's picture
What do you get when you cross an accelerator with a nuclear reactor?

An abundant source of nuclear energy with no danger of meltdown, and a possible solution to the world's energy crisis

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 00:57 | 3448704 ironymonger
ironymonger's picture

No matter how many cut and paste articles you can assemble, Georg, CO2 is not a pollutant. And the lead article pretends as if 'alternative' power generation plants produce no CO2 in construction.

Sorry, Neo-luddite, cheap energy is human advancement and no amount of disaster fantasies is going to change that.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 08:28 | 3449343 SmallerGovNow2
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Global warming is a HOAX perpetuated by tree hugging progressives who "care" more than everyone else on the planet.  They use the AGW theory (and theory is all it is as there is ZERO science to back it up) to tax and control the level of human existence.  See they would like to eliminate most of the population of the world so it doesn't "damage" their precious planet.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 08:52 | 3449418 fredquimby
fredquimby's picture

Global warming is a HOAX

But man-made pollution is not a HOAX.

The shit we are pumping daily into our precious and unique atmosphere is nothing short of a global madness.

The sooner we focus on stopping pollution, the sooner we can stop arguing about global warming/cooling etc and make some progress.


Mon, 04/15/2013 - 01:39 | 3448742 George Washington
George Washington's picture

I never said C02 is a pollutant.  Given that climate is the main reason that nuclear is being pushed, it is important to address the argument that we need nuclear to fight global warming.

I never said I believed in global warming ... or that I don't.

I am simply addressing a faux argument.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 22:37 | 3448333 cape_royds
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Article mistakenly bases amount of total energy from nuke power system upon an open fuel cycles, which wastes most of the potential energy from uranium.

If a closed cycle was used, employing reprocessing and fast breeders, then nuclear energy is very much superior for electrical generation to any fossil fuel based system.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 22:57 | 3448352 George Washington
George Washington's picture

How many commercial breeder reactors are successfully running right now in the U.S.? Answer: none.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:55 | 3447944 Tom of the Missouri
Tom of the Missouri's picture

I love the argument that the reason we can't build nuclear plant is because they are too expensive.   Why the expense?   Because of insane government regulations that make it cost 10 times as its actual cost and take 10 time as long as it should take.

This is similar to motorcycle helment arguments.  You have to wear one because we have to pay to fix your damaged head because the government passed a law making us pay.

Charter schools don't work because despite the belief they are free to do it their own way, the are actually required to follow many stupid govt. regulatiosn and usually have to operate on a budget much less than the public school gets.  Then as in my state, the are overseen and regulated by the existing state and local school education bureacracy who of course is hostile to then from the start.  And then, like Mr. Washington, they stand up and say see, see, see, I told you they don't work.

Very few people win races when they have their knee caps smashed at the starting line, like the three examples above.

Does anyone think that maybe the govt. should get out of the damn way and let human progress and rationality proceed while paying for their own mistakes along the way.

When the left doesn't want something the usual solution is to regulate it out of existance.  The right of course goes along with that approach thinking they are going to get rich like the capitalist who sold the rope to Lenin to hang him with.


Mon, 04/15/2013 - 04:12 | 3448840 Reci
Reci's picture

I love the argument that the reason we can't build nuclear plant is because they are too expensive.   Why the expense?   Because of insane government regulations that make it cost 10 times as its actual cost and take 10 time as long as it should take.


Well, I don't thing anyone in their right minds wants a nuclear reactor built by a bunch of private investors looking to get the greatest profit with the smallest investment with no oversight or "regulation" by anyone.  The last thing you want is skimping on the expense of redundant and extra safety and design features with the hopes that you won't end up with another Chernobyl after the investors have cashed out and hold no more or limited liability.  For that reason, the government with the ability to print money (one of the few good reasons to print extra money), should be the entity responsible for constructing and paying for a super safe plant which can be so super dangerous to the planet and I would tend to accept the idea of a direct correlation between super (more) safe and super long to build (albeit gov't contractors always take advantage of the gov'ts willingness to pay for overruns and excesses thus encouraging them to delay completion of projects whether necessary or not).

Besides that, look at BP for an example. They are private, they didn't properly pay for and maintain the quality of the equipment and they argued in court to reduce their liability for the cleanup and remuneration. They also had the inherent necessity to protect the company image so they made every effort to hide the problem by using more dangerous chemicals in the water (ultimately making things worse) to "disperse" the evidence rather than the more costly option of containing and cleaning the surface oil. Otoh, a government with deep pockets would be LESS likely to focus on this kind of self preservation and cost containment rather than fixing the problem at hand.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 22:29 | 3448289 George Washington
George Washington's picture

Nuclear - like the giant banks - is WHOLLY SUBSIDIZED. Like the big banks, nuclear plants can bring down our country, but the gov is propping them up.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 02:05 | 3448768 Walt D.
Walt D.'s picture


No - not it California. The 3 big utilities Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas and Electric are all monopolies and are regulted by the Public Utilites Commission. All costs are passed on to the end user in the utility rate pricing. In particular, PGE passed on the "stranded costs" associated with the overrun in the construction costs at Diablo Canyon. However, it is not only nuclear that has the cost passed on the the consumer. The high costs of wind and solar are also passed on. This is why electricity in California is very expensive.

Also, Japan is not being brought down by nuclear power. It is being brought down by 20 years of wrong headed monetary policy.

Same here in the US. It is the policy of the Federal Reserve that is bringing down our country, not some hypothetical nuclear disaster.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 21:48 | 3448076 masterinchancery
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And even if you have fallen for the global warming hoax, renewables are much less efficient, indeed mostly useless, than nuclear.  Except for passive solar, which is unpopular because it doesn't allow big looting of the taxpayer.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 22:34 | 3448317 George Washington
George Washington's picture

Is that why this month's edition of Scientific American has an article on The True Cost Of Fossil Fuels by Mason Inman, Comparative Energy Return On Investment (EROIs)

which finds that nuclear (5) has a much worse net output of energy than Hydroelectric (40+) and Wind (20)?

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:47 | 3447926 elementary
elementary's picture

I'll take Thorium for 20, Alex.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:37 | 3447907 Schacht Mat
Schacht Mat's picture

Interesting that the green proponents of solar and wind conviently forget to factor in the environmental costs of building, transporting and erecting their equipment, because, after all, rare earth mining, separation and refining are such clean processes that NO first world country will allow them (hence they all come from China and Mongolia).  As solar and wind are intermittent, the environmental cost of building solar and wind also requires a nat gas peaker (let's assume we are not building coal here) which is the most inefficient type of nat gas plant due to the COx that is created during ramp - gee - that one also slipped our mind.  And capacity of the supply and distribution matrix is dictated by max consumption - which in the first world is typically the hottest and muggiest days - you know - the ones during which THERE IS NO WIND - oops again.

Oh yeah - and it turns out that solar arrays placed in open fields actually increase global warming because the level of absorption / reflection of sunlight off of a field (living plant material utilizes light energy to create biomass through photosynthesis, in the wintter white snow reflects most sunlight and otherwise the whiteish yellow dead grass reflects most of the light as well) while the solar arrays absorb nearly 100% of the sunlight and convert only 13% to 17% of it to electricity, meaning the balance is re radiated as heat - oops - forgot to mention that one as well.  By the way, this analysis was developed by a former Nobel laureate (no - not in economics - that is an oxymoron) - Amory got one of those??

I am no great raving fan of nuclear, but just about every argument in this article that is being used to slag nuclear applies to renewables as well.  Nuclear also includes U238 plants and in the future Thorium - both of which are failsafe systems (as opposed to Fukushima, Chernobyl, 3 mile etc, which were fail resistant systems - that failed - at best).  Time required to build the things - yeah - try to put windmills off of Nantucket Sound - could have built 3 nuke plants (even crappy U235) in the time they have been trying to sort that one out.  Of course conservation / demand destruction will sort all of these problems out - just crank the renewables prices up to the moon and outsource the rest of our industry to China - always wanted to live in an agrarian society.

Look George - in energy there are no panaceas on the horizon - just a bunch of tough choices - renewable hydro floods obscene amounts of land and its ecosystems - try logging that much land and see how that works for you - and drowning the land is a lot more destructive than logging it.  Solar cells have about a 30 year life span (2% per year average degradation in efficiency) - in 30 years you are doing this all over again.  We need to work on all of the technologies out there or we are pooched.  Even coal can be used if it is coupled with algal or some other technology to convert the smoke back to oxygen and biomass (which in many instances produces biodiesel - hey Amory; the world runs on diesel not ethanol - ans in some instances can also be used to feed animals due to its concentration of complex protein chains - from the NOx and SOx - which then moves lot's of Class B farmland back into human agriculture - kind of like what environmental biofuel production does, only instead of losing farmland we are gaining it here).  Also, pull all the coal and soon global warming rates almost double due to the eradication of solar dimming. 

Our world is full of complex problems with simple answers that are wrong.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 05:21 | 3448886 drozdown
drozdown's picture

Amen Schacht Mat!!

The article must have been written by rabid, renewable energy nut cases who are anti-nuclear.

All the rpoposed solar farm panels require constant cleaning to keep the yield up. I guess they plan to use illegals for this, all of them walking, no vehicles. Oh, and the water for all this cleaning comes from where in the arrid  sun states?  And the cost of building a power grid to these wind and solar sites (more co2 emissions)?

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 09:17 | 3449536 FMR Bankster
FMR Bankster's picture

Correct. This article would make a lot more sense if it wasn't pushing "green energy" so hard. All you need to know about nuclear is nobody will loan against the plants without a goverment guarantee. Think about that for a second. The markets telling you the risks are so high they won't provide capital for it. Markets factor in all the costs including potential lawsuits when looking at issues like this.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 19:25 | 3447794 GreatUncle
GreatUncle's picture

When the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine then it is fossil fuel we fall back on. Not really green is it running CO2 producing backups?

Nuclear, not safe, but here is the thing do we go back to to the stone age = little to no energy and produce enough energy for the global population. Are we then going to draw straws to see who does or does not got any?

Then we come to this point as you use less to try and preserve the environment etc. the energy utilities seeing the amount they supply contract will do what to preserve profitabilty? That's right they will CHARGE YOU MORE FOR LESS and as you will not be able to afford it you may as well do any of the other 2. You can also add on as the global population keeps increasing any savings made in energy is cancelled out.

Mankind created its own extinction event not if, but when at some point in the future.


Sun, 04/14/2013 - 18:11 | 3447615 The Second Rule
The Second Rule's picture

scientists – even prominent ones – sometimes fall prey to hairball theories and dangerous proposals.

"Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!"
--General 'Buck' Turgidson

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 18:08 | 3447609 The Heart
The Heart's picture

And now, a channel change to a totally related subject.:

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 18:05 | 3447603 The Second Rule
The Second Rule's picture

Helen Caldicott (much as you love to hate her) has been hammering this point home for the last 30 years.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 18:00 | 3447592 TulsaTime
TulsaTime's picture

Wow, soooo many deniers in one place.  And over basic stuff, like waste, that is not even questionable in the debate.  Forget the carbon footprint totally, no one can clean up the scene from a former powerplant 50 years after there debut.  Nuclear Fission has no place as a source for power generation.  Technology is no closer to dealing with the problems of waste from fission power plants, and the first wave of fission powerplants is at the end of design livespan.  What's the plan for Indian Point, gonna haul it off and bury it someplace? 

And what about Fukushima?  The worst case played out for 3 commercial reactors, and that infection will never go away.  NEVER is a long time. That plume of radioactive particles leaching into the ocean and the air is a regular feature now.  Chemistry may get you better living, but physics says you should not be messing with compounds with half-lives longer than civilization has been around.


Thu, 04/18/2013 - 23:20 | 3469775 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

indeed, this is another reason I support thorium. The waste products within 330 years are viable medical isotopes and that has commercial value, the state before then does not have critical melt-downs and does have hard-gamma radiation enough to deny any chance to use as a bomb. Leakage for liquid fuel & waste is a concern but as the temperature will actually drop as-is put to cooling pans this means encasing it buried is not overly dangerous. It is, honestly, not risk-free.As for renewable energy biomass clearly is the best case. No matter how long it takes to grow biomass the energy density per solar-input is top-notch. Nature trumps us all & photosynthesis has never been beat for energy efficiency of conversion & chemical storage. With the ability to make & burn biofuels there is no excuse to use less than 100% of our technological ability on this. If we must still top it up with natural gas, coal and oil, so be it – we still have plenty of natural gas and coal so let’s do it now and truly find out how much more of those fossil fuels we can let sit in the ground without negative consequence of any sort.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 18:15 | 3447621 The Heart
The Heart's picture

Wow, soooo many deniers in one place."

Ancient old American Chinese Indian Italian Spanish Polish German Russian Japanese Brazilian Australian African Native Islander saying: Hackers at branches, never reach roots.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 16:51 | 3447432 orez65
orez65's picture

Amory Lovins is a quack who has done more damage to the US than all terrorist organizations, combined plus the Federal Reserve.

Among his brilliant ideas:

Corn ethanol - which causes more CO2 than oil, even Al Gore has confessed to this fiasco.

Solar power: Last winter Germany's 1.5 million solar power installations produced, essntially, ZERO electrical power. Because ... it was overcast!!

Wind Power scam - Non reliable intermittent source of electricity that has to be "backed up" by gas power plants that actually produce the required electricity. The wind mills are just to get the votes of imbecile Americans.

Hydrogen fuel cells - supposodily automobiles parked at work would act as mnipower plants feediing electricity into the grid. Except that hydrogen would have to be piped to the automobiles from non-existent hydrogen pipes and from hydrogen produced from ... drum roll ... OIL!!!

Nuclear "waste" - France RECYCLES their "nuclear waste" which is all stored in a room the size of a basket ball court.

Amory Lovins is a lunatic, an ideologue and a liar. 

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 08:38 | 3449375 SmallerGovNow2
SmallerGovNow2's picture

THANK GOD, someone on this site get's it....

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 01:48 | 3448750 Marco
Marco's picture

MOX is a scam for LWR, it does little about waste volumes.

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 02:46 | 3448797 Bearwagon
Bearwagon's picture

In fact, it even enlarges waste volumes.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 16:42 | 3447413 Walt D.
Walt D.'s picture

"Nuclear energy is not an alternative to energies that increase global warming, because nuclear increases global warming".

All energy produces warming - think about it. Even refrigeration produces warming. You can not cool the atmosphere by opening all the windows in all of Al Gore's houses and turning the air conditioning on full blast.

Every since records have been kept, the London Basin has always been a few degrees hotter than the surrounding counties. (Standard Geography Exam question 50 years ago.)

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:19 | 3447874 New_Meat
New_Meat's picture

dude, you will learn not to introduce fact-checkable thermodynamics type of comments into a GW post.  It so scrambles his brain that he can't touch his keyboard, so he'll eventually blither his way around

Don't cha' know.

- Ned

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:53 | 3447279 New_Meat
New_Meat's picture

"In other words, scientists – even prominent ones – sometimes fall prey to hairball theories and dangerous proposals."

Stevie Chew and Carl Sagan have pushed their agendas against global warming and global cooling as a means to an end.  And, in their view, the ends justify the means.

- Ned

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:31 | 3447221 css1971
css1971's picture

Long nuclear.

Germany haven't shut off all their nukes. Didn't happen.

On 30 May 2011, Germany formally announced plans to abandon nuclear energy completely within 11 years. The plan included the immediate permanent closure of six nuclear power plants that had been temporarily shut down for testing in March 2011, and two more that have been offline a few years with technical problems. The remaining nine plants will be shut down between now and 2022.- wikipedia

They are in the meantime pumping up their coal generation in order to compensate for the reduction in nuclear.

The current generation of plants are not ideal by any means but there are future generations which will vastly improve. Breeders for example will increase the fuel efficiency beyond the ~3% that the current once through plants can manage up to the high 90%s and this'll cut the amount of fuel required dramatically. The radioactive waste produced can be retained in the cycle until it becomes relatively safe with a short half life with some potential designs. Decades rather than millenia.

And when you have a nuclear plant with a thermal efficiency of ~30%, it seems a waste to pump the "waste" heat into the ocean, much better to pump it through people's houses, and through adsorbtion chillers to provide cold.

Nuclear's totally doable in a sane way, and coming energy crunch will mean it absolutely will be included in the mix no matter what people think now. Wait for the rolling brownouts and screams. So, long nuclear firms while it's low.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:38 | 3447241 Bearwagon
Bearwagon's picture

Yeah, of course. Breeders and stuff! Heard the same song already, more than 40 years ago. What has become of it in the meantime? I mean, weren' those the "good old days", where "the atom" would cure all ills and make electricity so cheap that no one would matter to even meter it? Haven't seen much progress since ...

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 16:12 | 3447337 css1971
css1971's picture

The problems with the current generation have engineering solutions, it can be done so it will be done.

The last 200 years have been about replacing human labour with machine labour. That's productivity for you. This is going to continue, or we start replacing machine labour with human labour. Countries which don't have a sufficient energy infrastructure will be replaced by countries which do. What I mean by that is they'll be taken over, invaded, decline into grinding poverty and irrelevancy etc.

In the meantime I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:19 | 3447879 Matt
Matt's picture

Haven't the French been having accidents and failures trying to get working breeder reactors going for the last ~50 years? If it is just engineering problems, you'd think someone would have solved them by now.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:16 | 3447183 Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer's picture

Not counted in that calculation is the energy needed to store nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years.


This is a myth.


Anyone who repeats this has therefore obviously not done his homework, is spouting untruths as if they were real, and consequently is not worth listening to.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 16:46 | 3447424 Walt D.
Walt D.'s picture

Bury it in a subduction zone.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:23 | 3447203 Bearwagon
Bearwagon's picture

Unless you provide further arguments or at least a link, I must assume that what you are saying is also just a myth.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:01 | 3447147 failsafe
failsafe's picture

Learn to live without so much. Period. Learn to focus on more important things than luxury. Everybody has to gear down. Period. It is unlikely that we can keep patching up and rescuing this ridiculous life we live forever. I don't want to give it up any more than other people but there is no other viable solution. Call it sustainability or conservation or whatever other catchphrase you like but sooner or later we will run out. Sorry for the cliche but there it is.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 15:21 | 3447201 Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer's picture

Call it sustainability or conservation or whatever other catchphrase you like but sooner or later we will run out.


This is also a myth. For example, we were scared that we were going to run out of trees to build ships with in the 1650s.  But we kept using them.

Have we run out of trees to build ships with. No.

Are we EVER going to run out of trees to build ships with? No. Because humans make use of all kinds of resources, and switch around well before any particular one runs out.

That has been true throughout ALL recorded history. We have NEVER run out of anything, for precisely this reason.

Do some more thinking, and pick up a book by Julian Simon, before you spout this nonsense again...



Thu, 04/18/2013 - 23:20 | 3469772 MeelionDollerBogus
MeelionDollerBogus's picture

Absolutely untrue as pointed out in several examples of Jared Diamond’s book COLLAPSE

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 04:15 | 3448817 Reci
Reci's picture

As long as you can physically and economically obtain alternatives then everything seems fine but the longer time marches on, the more the easy resources become depleted in this closed system which could mean desperate shifts to easy alternatives (trees) by the growing mass of poor people. A "Dodgy Geezer" may not give a crap about the "longer" term but I'm sure the last person on Easter Island wished he had cared a little more about sustainability. 

The only real answer to a sustainable energy solution is an answer to a sustainable earth population and to the "smart ass" who will likely respond with "then go kill yourself"; I'll prereply with my choice to make an even greater and multifaceted improvement of the world by first killing the idiot who says that since no one who talks about population control ever means cleansing the existing population but simply focus on responsibly planning and slowing the new.

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:17 | 3447871 Matt
Matt's picture

I don't know who this "we" is you refer to, but they seem quite stupid if they thought they would run out of a renewable resource like trees. You see, there are two kinds of resources, which we call "renewable" (can be replenished within a single human lifetime) and "non-renewable" (does not come back within a single human lifetime).

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 20:49 | 3447932 failsafe
failsafe's picture

You are part of the we. Unfortunately you are the dumbass part of the we that thinks trees are going to sustain your lifestyle. Oh yea, that's right, if you wait a few million years for them to renew the oil/coal/gas.

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