Presented as a one-page primer for the Sustainable Tucson Newsletter
By Russell Lowes, February 27, 2010
The real choice is not nuclear versus coal, but nukes & coal versus the reasonable alternatives.
There is massive opposition to coal now, which comprises about 45% of U.S. electricity. You can see smoke from the stacks or read about its CO2 emissions.
Opposition to nuclear energy is also amassing. Nuclear also produces CO2 emissions, which are growing ever-greater. It emits invisible radioactivity, uses even more water, and is much pricier. Here are some of the problems with nuclear energy.
Safety Issues Persist: The world has 436 reactors. In order to have a significant contribution to world energy, 1000 reactors are projected. Even if future reactor accidents improve by a factor of 10, the chance of a reactor meltdown would be roughly one more Chernobyl-like “sacrifice zone” by 2050.
Terrorist Issues: Shortly after the 9/11 New York jetliner crashes, the NRC corrected itself saying that airliners could destroy U.S. reactors. There is an even greater threat at the adjacent spent fuel cooling pools, housed in non-hardened buildings which, if breached, could create a meltdown.
Poor Economics/Subsidies Required: Nuclear electricity would run about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour to your meter. Current Tucson electricity is about 11 cents. New coal would be about 16 cents, wind at 12, solar photovoltaic at 24, gas at 13. The best option, however, is reducing energy with better lighting, architecture, insulation, A/C efficiency, etc. Energy efficiency averages about 3 cents. Numerous nuclear industry officials have said they will build no new reactors without taxpayer loan guarantees.
Two Ways to Worsen Global Warming: Investing 1 dollar in nuclear rather than energy efficiency, you forgo saving 8 times the electricity. In other words, you can invest 1 dollar in nuclear and get 4 kilowatt-hours – or you can invest in energy savings and get 33 KWH. Investing in nuclear energy will dominate energy dollars, setting back the real options.
Second, nukes produce about 110 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour. This is 11 times the CO2 of wind, double that of solar, and many times that of energy savings/efficiency. It gets worse if you include 1 million years of waste storage.
Water Consumption Is Highest: Water lost to the environment at Palo Verde is about 0.8 gallons per kilowatt-hour. Coal consumes 0.5 gallons. With solar PV, wind and energy savings, water use is negligible.
Waste Legacy: The U.S. courts have ruled that nuclear waste much be safeguarded for 1 million years, 25,000 times the 40-year operating life of a reactor.
Russell Lowes is Research Director for http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org. He was the primary author of a book on the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the largest U.S. nuclear plant upwind of Tucson about 125 miles. This book was used in a campaign to successfully stop two reactors at this now three-reactor complex. You can contact Russell Lowes for presentations or for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Documentation to this article can be found at http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org