Nuclear Power Can't Curb Global Warming

And, we'd need 10 dumps the size of Yucca Mountain "to store the extra generated waste by the needed nuclear generation boom." (Full story through Reuters here.)

This from a new report commissioned by the non-profit Keystone Center (whose website was giving me link trouble before, but the final report itself should be here, as a *.pdf).

i-a488b01c6ccc4ce954443d8f54ce4d0b-Nuclear Waste Spent Fuel.jpg

"Historical and Projected Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Discharges as of May 14, 2007" (from Keystone report linked above, with apologies for the poor quality reproduction/blurriness/squinting requirement)

That report, called "The Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding," was authored by 27 "individuals from organizations spanning a broad ideological spectrum, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and GE Energy."

The story describing the report states that "Nuclear power would only curb climate change by expanding worldwide at the rate it grew from 1981 to 1990, its busiest decade, and keep up that rate for half a century, a report said on Thursday."

The ideologically diverse panel touched not only on (1) production problems, (2) the fact of its mainly long-term possibilities, in the best circumstances (over near term, say, a decade), (3) storage problems, (4) radioactive poisoning issues, and (5) assumptions about maintenance capabilities in that long-term build-up. They also brought up the matter of (6) weapons possibilities. They did so, it seems, not to naively suggest a one-to-one correspondence, that nuclear material at power plants would go directly or easily to enemies, but to note that more nuclear matter in the world is more likely to lead to problems with weapons than less nuclear material. (On this point the article quotes a scientist from the Union of Concerned Scientists.)

To be sure, some of these issues don't lead to direct or obvious consequences -- yes, they are not as clear-cut as an on-line news report might infer, that is -- but they are all real.

More like this

Were Ronald Reagan and Carl Sagan the dominant communicators of the 1980s? Watching this past week the PBS American Experience biopic on Reagan reinforced in my mind the parallels between the president and the astronomer that I have mentioned at this blog before and during Q&A at talks. The…
Below, Nick Matzke responds to the question: The boundaries of science are continually expanding as scientists become increasingly integral to finding solutions for larger social issues, such as poverty, conflict, financial crises, etc. On what specific issue/problem do you feel we need to bring…
Sooner or later, at least one member of the audience that has turned out to see me present Al Gore's climate change slide show wants to know why I haven't included nuclear power in the list of technologies that can help cut our carbon emissions. The question is usually put by the likes of a retired…
By Rebecca Kreston “Pneumocystis Pneumonia --- Los Angeles,” in the June 5, 1981 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, was an economical seven paragraph clinical report cataloging five observed cases, accompanied by an explanatory editorial note on the rarity of this fungal…

To continue my thoughts from the previous thread. My thesis here is that people in this country don't have a logical evaluation of nuclear power, they have an emotional one.

The numbers above assume our old technology plants, not new ones (that partially recycle spent rods) like are used in France. Also, nobody's claiming it should be the *only* solution, just another ingredient in the multi-pronged attack. Further, 10 Yucca Mountains is still better than entire-planet, permement climate change.

I'm curious for a more neutral analysis of utilizing nuclear power. I'm skeptical towards any report that caters to the Bush Administration.

There is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

'Concentrating solar power' (CSP), employs the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and currently provides power for about 100,000 Californian homes. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity".

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at and . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at .


"10 Yucca Mountains is still better than entire-planet, permement [sic] climate change."

What you don't seem to realize that the Yucca mountain project is proposing that we build a facility that has to remain watertight, even airtight for far far longer than any building has ever remained standing - thousands of years longer than the Pyramids of Egypt have been around.

Get real. We stupid humans are not up to the task of living with radioactive waste.

By Lambert Heenan (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

It's not like if one iota of radiation leaks out there will be mass destruction. In the 50s, people used to take vacations to watch nuclear bomb tests. Good for their health, no, but I think it's a straw-man to say that we need to have the stuff completely water and air-tight for thousands of years.

Are you denying we have to make a choice? Because I'm willing to discuss that, but if you grant it, you're saying that you'd rather deal with the climate change than nuclear waste. That's crazy.

Robert: I've heard some about that and your post is going to cause me to read more, but if it were the perfect, cheap, renewable solution, I suspect we would have heard more about it by now.

Kim -- I haven't read enough into the report to know for use, but my sense is that it wasn't a mere Bush-catering kind of thing. We'll never get a neutral analysis (all the different parties involved would have to somehow even out), but I took the demographics from Union of Conc Sci to GE as a good sign that it wasn't *only* one view being pulled in or put out.

Have any others read more into the report to address Kim's concern?

'... a facility that has to remain watertight, even airtight for far far longer than any building has ever remained standing ... '
It's interesting that no one proposes similar treatment of other toxins, such as dioxins, arsenic, or PCBs, which are comparably dangerous, and (consequence of not being radioactive) have far longer dangerous lifespans.

In any case, as the nuclear industry's most optimistic estimates of how many power plants they can build in the near future are vastly insufficient to meet projected demands, the nuclear argument is largely moot.
We can avoid spending money on nuclear, but we cannot create a primarily nuclear powered future.

llewelly has it right. Nuclear is only one moderate sized "wedge" in the energy picture. It should be seen neither as a panacea, nor as a cause for panic. The need for conservation, sequestration, and alternative energy will only be slightly be affected by changes in future nuclear energy plans.

If nuclear energy is a small player, that makes every viable form of renewable energy even smaller. And I hate to bring it up again, but how is it that other countries use tons of nuclear power and don't have any major problems, but somehow for us, there's waste problems, insurance problems, money problems... what's the difference?

jeffk -- you ask a big question, one that clearly cannot be answered on a weblog. but, for starters, you might look into the differences in politics, history, culture, and mechanisms of trust in technical authorities (i.e., engineers) in France, which contrast sharply (to different degrees) with those in the U.S. It is a start to an explanation of the differences. Try this PBS article, for one. You'll notice that few (if any) of the conditions that make French nuclear energy possible exist in the U.S. Plus, you'd have to argue to someone, "Hey, we should be like the French!"

The PBS article, and other sources, suggest that while French citizens do seem gung ho about nuclear *power*, they are much less sanguine about the whole waste issue (even though the French government changed the name from permanent waste facilities to national stocking centers, no location has been settled on for the long-term storage of high-level radioactive waste and thus no community has been asked to host the center). I think that looking at the French experience with nuclear power still ends up conflating issues of scale - coming up on 50 years of energy production is one thing; suggesting they have their waste problem "solved" is quite another. What does it mean to solve the problem of nuclear waste, anyway? Send it to Russia?

Thanks for the links. But I still see these problems as being different orders of magnitude, and I still see nuclear power as a slice of the "pie".