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.
National Security Is Diminished: We import 80-92% of our U.S. nuclear fuel. Energy independence is set back with nuclear.
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 email@example.com Documentation to this article can be found at http://www.SafeEnergyAnalyst.org
. . .From Renewables and Energy Efficiency to a Counter-Productive Industrial Web
Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and Support a Green Energy Future
We have a complete set of energy solutions: solar cells, wind turbines, concentrating solar, ocean current and wave energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and the list goes on.(1) As these technologies mature, we can quickly reduce nuclear, coal and gas use.
The most environmentally and economically destructive sources of electricity should be reduced now, as other technologies emerge. The phase-out of nuclear, coal and gas electrical energy will reduce global warming while freeing up monies for renewables, efficiencies and energy storage.
This list focuses on the nuclear energy option. Nuclear energy is being heavily promoted with millions of dollars in public relations budgets by the nuclear industry. This compilation will expose the nuclear myths.
California and Germany are two examples of how to make the switch toward a safe and effective energy future. In California, the per capita energy has gone down through a myriad of efficiency techniques.(2)In Germany, solar production has gone up radically, through a savvy system of support, which is turning Germany, hardly known for sunny days, into the top solar country.(3) See the graph at the top of the article for the California example.(2)
Twelve Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy and to Support Renewables and Efficiencies.
1) Nuclear Energy is Too Expensive. In 2002, industry estimates for building reactors were in the $1500-2000 per kilowatt range.(4) Estimates crept up to $4000 by 2007.(5) Then, the Moody’s ratings firm projected around $5000.(6) Even more recently, Florida Power and Light estimated between $5300 and $8200 per kilowatt.(7) This amount of capital would cause nuclear energy to cost far more than the alternatives.
The record of nuclear reactor costs in the 1980s, about $3100 in 1987, combined with general inflation would yield about $6496 in 2014 dollars.(8) The current round of U.S. reactors being built is likely to start up in 2022. In the 1970s and 80s the average overrun for nuclear construction was more than 220%.(9) This record of massive overruns compared to roughly 50% for coal plants.(10)
At $9000/KW, 1000 reactors would cost $9 trillion. The capital payback would be $1.26 trillion per year, exceeding the $1.1 trillion we spend on ALL energy in the U.S. annually. This would be an 114% increase in total energy cost, just to cover the capital expenditure of construction of a robust nuclear program. This does not include fuel costs, operation and maintenance, nor the occasional accident or early retirement of some of these reactors. With this much going into nuclear energy alone, the money available for solar and other real solutions would dry up.The capital markets would be dominated by a sliver of the American energy system.
2) Expansion of Nuclear Energy Would Worsen Global Warming. Even if nuclear energy had the CO2 advantage the nuclear industry claims, building at least U.S. 1000 reactors would be required to significantly reduce global warming.(11) Over 20 years there would be one reactor completed weekly. The world has never seen anything near that kind of construction performance.(12) Additionally, uranium resource depletion is occurring. Within about thirty years, the amount of energy required just to mine, mill and build reactors would exceed the CO2 levels of natural gas plants.(13) It would worsen thereafter, with possible reactor shut-downs, due to fuel availability problems.
3) Nuclear Energy Represents a Long-Term Negative Net Energy. Nuclear plants already have a long-term negative net energy and CO2 level higher than fossil fuels, if you count the energy to manage the waste over the legally required one million years.
4) The Most Stripping of our Public Lands through Mining Would Happen with Nuclear Energy. With ore quality diminishing, mining levels would skyrocket. To illustrate, when we have to resort to mining granite for uranium, the weight of ore would equal fifty times the weight of coal per kilowatt-hour.(14)
5) High and Permanent Government Subsidy Is Required. Nuclear energy is too risky for investment without its insurance renewed by Congress (the Price-Anderson Act, 1957). The property cost of a major accident could top half a trillion dollars.(15) Additional medical costs are waived by the Act. The industry has said if it does not get the government to guarantee loans, it will not build any reactors.(16)
6) Unacceptable Accident Potential Persists. Analysis has put the chance of at least three meltdowns at 50% if the world opts for the large number of 2500 nuclear reactors. The ecological and economical impact of one meltdown would dwarf the impact of Hurricane Katrina, with thousands of years of radiological damage.(17)
7) National Security Is Compromised. After the September 11 attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said reactors could withstand impact of a 747. They have since retracted this statement.(18) This same terrorist network may target a nuclear reactor in the future. Additionally, every hot on-site reactor spent-fuel pool is a perfect terrorist target, with waste that would melt down from such an impact. These targets are not reasonably protected.
8) Nuclear Energy Has the Most Water Usage. It has lower thermal efficiency compared to fossil-fuel, at 33%, compared to 40% for coal, and 45% for natural gas. Nuclear energy requires more water for cooling. The Palo Verde plant, 35 miles upwind of Phoenix, requires about 55% the water of a city with a half-million people, like Tucson, Arizona, or 120,000 acre feet of annual water use.(19)
9) Too Much Radiation Is Produced. Governmental studies conclude that there is no additional safe level of radiation. Radiative gas is released into the air at the reactor site, routinely, increasing cancer risk.(20)
10) Million-Year Waste Legacy Will Burden Society. The EPA had a 10,000 year waste management requirement, until the courts replaced it with a 1,000,000 year time line.(21) Just 5.3 kilograms of Plutonium-239, which has a half life of about 25 thousand years, is enough for a nuclear bomb.(21a)
11) Civil Liberties Would Diminish. With an increase terrorist threat to a highly vulnerable and risky system in place, the pressure on governments to subdue civil liberties will always be there with nuclear energy.
12) Finally, Other Options are Better. U.S. wind energy increased 140% over the last five years, with the capacity of sixty-one nuclear reactors added.(22) With Texas gaining the lead in 2006, one Texan said that Texas will never lose this lead to any other state in the nation. We need bold strides like this.
Americans are far more resourceful than to think that we have to return to an over-subsidized outdated electricity option like nuclear energy. We need to use our limited energy dollars for real solutions that work! Support renewables and efficiencies instead of nuclear energy.
Russell J. Lowes, Research Director at SafeEnergyAnalyst.org is the primary author of a book on the nation’s largest nuclear plant upwind of Phoenix, “Energy Options for the Southwest, Part I, Nuclear and Coal Power,” released in 1979. The book played a principal part in the cancellation of two additional reactors at this plant.
Footnotes: 1) Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy,” 2007, at http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/ 2) “OnEarth” Newsletter, National Resources Defense Council, Spring 2006, http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/06spr/ca1.asp# 3) Reiner Gaertner, “Germany Embraces the Sun,” Wired, September1, 2007, http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2001/07/45056?currentPage=1 4) For example, The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, 2003. 5) Tulsa World, “AEP Not Interested in Nuclear Plants,” 9/1/07. 6) SNLi, “Moody’s Sees High Risk in Building New Nuclear Generation Capacity,” 10/10/07. 7) Curtis Morgan, Miami Herald, “Turkey Point: FPL Asks Panel to Allow Two More Nuclear Reactors,” 1/31/08, http://www.miamiherald.com/ 8) Brice Smith, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, 2006, p. 8. http://www.ieer.org/reports/insurmountablerisks/ For inflation calculate, see http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl 9) Energy Information Administration, An Analysis of Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs, DOE/EAI-0485, p. 18. Also, EIA, Monthly Energy Review, August 1994 10) Charles Komanoff, Power Plant Cost Escalation, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, page 2. Note: a range of 33 to 68% for coal overruns, averages to about 50%. 11) Brice Smith book. 12) Ibid. 13) David Fleming, The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy, a Life Cycle In Trouble,” summary/Nuclear Energy In Brief, 2007, http://www.nirs.org/climate/background/leanguidetonuclearenergy.pdf 14) See reports at www.stormsmith.nl, updated periodically. 15) U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Sandia Labs, Impact of a Meltdown at Nuclear Plant, Consequences of Reactor Accident (CRAC-2) Report, 1982. 16) Dan Morse, Washington Post, “Money Matters in Reactor Project Debate; Financing, Rather Than Safety, Appears to Be Key Factor in Whether Plans Proceed,” 9/5/07, p. B-5. 17) Brice Smith report. 18) Bill Brubaker, Washington Post, “Nuclear Agency: Air Defenses Impractical,” 1/29/07. 19) Arizona Nuclear Power Project, “Use of Effluent Water at Palo Verde,” communication from ANPP to Maricopa Association of Governments, November 17, 1977. See also, http://www.aps.com/general_info/AboutAPS_18.html See also, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Water Resource Availability for the Tucson Metropolitan Area, 2006. http://ag.arizona.edu/azwater/presentations/Megdal.az.water.resource.avail.for.tucson.pdf 20) National Academy of Sciences, Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm, Press Release, 6/29/05. Also see: U.S. NRC Effluent Database for Nuclear Power Plants, 2004 http://www.reirs.com/effluent/EDB_rptLicenseeReleaseSummary.asp (Some navigation required.) 21) Ascribe, The Public Interest Newswire, “Managing Nuclear Wastes for the Millennia,” 1/7/07.