Friday :: Apr 11, 2008

Not A Solution

by Turkana

The nuclear power industry and its astroturf supporters have been attempting to co-opt the discussion about global warming and climate change, and use it to rationalize nuclear's continued existence. And the industry has powerful friends in Congress. As the New York Times reported, last summer:

A one-sentence provision buried in the Senate's recently passed energy bill, inserted without debate at the urging of the nuclear power industry, could make builders of new nuclear plants eligible for tens of billions of dollars in government loan guarantees....

The biggest champion of the loan guarantees is Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee and one of the nuclear industry's strongest supporters in Congress....

Power companies have tentative plans to put the 28 new reactors at 19 sites around the country. Industry executives insist that banks and Wall Street will not provide the money needed to build new reactors unless the loans are guaranteed in their entirety by the federal government.

Which is curious. Because if the industry has such promise, you would think it wouldn't need the government to assume the entirety of its financial risks. The problem, however, is that nuclear power still has the same problems it's always had, which is why Wall Street won't back it. And part of the reason it's not worth backing is that the latest excuse for its existence is a sham. As Reuters explained:

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.

Specifically, that would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired, the report by environmental leaders, industry executives and academics said.

If that sounds like an impossibly enormous amount of plants to build, that's because it is. But the story gets worse.

While the report also supported storing U.S. nuclear waste at power plants until the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository opens, 10 dumps the size of Yucca Mountain would be needed to store the extra generated waste by the needed nuclear generation boom.

And who are these radical leftists who say nuclear power is no solution?

Twenty-seven individuals from organizations spanning a broad ideological spectrum, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and GE Energy, spent nine months on the report, called "The Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding."

And how expensive is Yucca Mountain? As reported by the Associated Press:

It will cost $26.9 billion (€20.2 billion) to build and operate the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump through 2023, the Energy Department says.

The department's new cost calculation did not include a new figure for the total life-cycle cost of the project in the Nevada desert, estimated several years ago at $58 billion (now worth €43.5 billion). The department plans to recalculate that figure in May, and it almost certainly will rise, said Edward F. Sproat, director of the Energy Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

The $26.9 billion (€20.2 billion) figure, about in line with recent estimates, assumes that the department will meet its goal of opening the repository in March 2017, Sproat told reporters on a conference call Friday.

"It is our best estimate at this stage of the game as to what the total program's going to cost. We think it's an accurate projection," he said.

That 2017 opening date is a best-case scenario, and Sproat cautioned it will slip if the department does not get the money it needs each year for the dump. In recent years the department's budget goals have not been met, partly because of opposition from Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who now has even more power as Senate majority leader.

So, the current estimate is that Yucca Mountain will cost a total of $58 billion- and those cost estimates keep rising. In fact, the project has been rocked by a scandal involving data that was falsified to cover up a serious potential safety problem, and there have been other little problems that continue to call into question whether or not the site is even viable. Now, let's try to find ten more. And finance them. We've already wasted more than ten billion taxpayer dollars on Yucca Mountain, and the best case scenario won't even have the site opening for another ten years. To build enough nukes to dent global warming would mean an additional ten waste storage sites, and even if locations for such could be found, that would mean more than half a trillion dollars more. According to today's cost estimates. Just for waste storage. Doesn't sound like the best idea, does it?

Furthermore, as the Bio-Medicine website explained:

Physicist Joshua Pearce of Clarion University of Pennsylvania has attempted to balance the nuclear books and finds the bottom line simply does not add up. There are several problems that he says cannot be overcome if the nuclear power option is taken in preference to renewable energy sources.

In fact, despite the claims to the contrary, nuclear power isn't really even emissions free. Granted, the nuclear process itself doesn't emit carbon dioxide...

However, it is the whole-of-life cycle analysis that Pearce has investigated that shows nuclear power is far from the "emission-free panacea" claimed by many of its proponents. Each stage of the nuclear-fuel cycle including power plant construction, mining/milling uranium ores, fuel conversion, enrichment (or de-enrichment of nuclear weapons), fabrication, operation, decommissioning, and for short- and long-term waste disposal contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, he explains.

Pearce's study was published by the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, and can be found here. In blunt terms, as the scientists and academics of the Oxford Research Group concluded:

The surge in political popularity of nuclear power as a quick-fix, zero-carbon solution to global warming is misguided and potentially highly dangerous, a group of academics and scientists said on Monday.

In its report "Secure energy, civil nuclear power, security and global warming", the Oxford Research Group said there was not enough uranium available and nuclear nations would therefore tend to opt for reprocessing spent fuel to obtain plutonium.

As former German environment and nuclear safety minister Juergen Trittin wrote in the report's forward:

"One of the worst ideas, circulating in many corners of the global discussion, is the call for an expansion of nuclear power as a means of climate protection."

And as the European Union's Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, explained to Spiegel Online:

SPIEGEL: The proponents of nuclear power plants say that they produce cheap electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases. Is this incorrect?

Dimas: Yes, because it isn't the whole story. First of all, the disposal of radioactive waste remains an unresolved issue. Second, the eventual demolition and safe removal of nuclear facilities is not only an ecological, but also a significant economic problem. Third, it is unclear how we can guarantee the safety of nuclear waste over the course of many generations. Who will pay for it, and who will manage it?

SPIEGEL: The industry has established billions in reserves specifically for that purpose.

Dimas: It will hardly be sufficient. We are talking about centuries in which we will have nuclear waste. Besides, nuclear energy is just as non-renewable as oil or gas, because uranium reserves are also limited.

SPIEGEL: What is your recommendation when it comes to the energy mix?

Dimas: The expansion of renewable forms of energy, such as biomass, solar, wind and water, seems inevitable to me.

Ah, yes- the clean, renewable bounty nature has so generously provided. More on that, next week. But for now, let's stop pretending that nuclear power is a solution. It would require too much time, too many plants, and too much money to attempt, and the waste storage would be a literally endless nightmare. Trying to solve global warming and climate change by using nuclear power would be like trying to quit smoking by getting addicted to heroin. There are smarter, safer, and saner alternatives. Nuclear power is not about global warming and climate change. It's about making money for the nuclear industry while solving nothing.

Turkana :: 6:19 PM :: Comments (36) :: Digg It!