Nuclear Energy not Carbon Free?

Who would have thunk it, turns out that uranium mining and nuclear waste storage result in significant carbon emissions…
New Debate Over Nuclear Option

Now, some scientists and other experts are beginning to raise a different question about nuclear power: Is it really as clean as supporters contend? A report, released on Mar. 26 by a British nongovernmental organization called the Oxford Research Group, disputes the popular perception that nuclear is a clean energy source. It argues that while nuclear plants may not generate carbon dioxide while they operate, the other steps necessary to produce nuclear power, including the mining of uranium and the storing of waste, result in substantial amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. “As this report shows, hopes for the climate-protecting potential of nuclear energy are entirely misplaced,” says Jürgen Trittin, a former minister of the environment in Germany and a contributor to the report. “Nuclear power cannot be promoted on environmental grounds.”

The report, called “Secure Energy? Civil Nuclear Power, Security and Global Warming,” examines a number of risks from nuclear power development, including concerns over the disposal of radioactive waste and the threats from terrorist groups. But its most novel component may be the quantitative examination of carbon emissions on a comprehensive basis. “Carbon emissions are a global problem and it’s time to look at the carbon released by nuclear power globally,” says Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, author of the report’s chapter on carbon emissions. “The assumption has long been that the [greenhouse] effect is zero, but the evidence shows otherwise.”

carbonfacts_sm.jpg“Novel component”?, well, I would not go that far, it appears that the authors performed a carbon footprint analysis and concluded that the carbon footprint of nuclear fission energy production was somewhere between renewables and fossil fuel power generation, which is not entirely surprising. Coupled with all the other issues facing nuclear energy, and the obvious environmental justice issues that impact the siting of any new plant or waste repository, nuclear energy should not be a very serious option at all. Unfortunately, it’s a great boondongle for the developers of the plants because the subsidies and power pricing mechanisms ensure profits for the developer at the expense of the general public, and waste disposal issues can forever be postponed, eventually leaving governments (and tax payers) to pick up the tab.

By the way, go read Jamais Cascio’s interesting post about the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger. The “nutrition like label” shown here is something I wish to see in almost every product used! It would make the regulation of carbon a lot less complicated. It appears that England will take the lead on this concept, see Carbon Labelling (yes, 2 L’s, the “correct” spelling!).

2 comments for “Nuclear Energy not Carbon Free?

  1. March 26, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    This report is simply a recitation of a 2001 study that a colleague of mine debunk back in July 2005:

  2. March 26, 2007 at 8:43 pm


    I respect your expertise and your point of view and I simply do not have the background in LCA to comment on the specifics of either this study, or your debunking. There will always be arguments arond LCAs because the conclusions are very sensitive to the starting assumptions and depending on your favorite conclusion, you can get creative!

    Maybe studies get recycled because rationales for nuclear power keep getting recycled. Nuclear technology is subsidized, that is a fact. Maybe it has a place among various energy options, but the waste issue is not going away, the safety issues are not going away, the mining of uranium is still a dangerous activity, and political and security considerations will tend to preclude the use of efficiency increasing reprocessing and fast breeder technology in all but rare cases.

    None of these issues have been addressed in the last 40 years that nuclear power has been around. If this country cannot decide on a repository for waste in all this time, how can it deal with even more nuclear waste?

    I grew up in a country in love with all things nuclear, so I appreciate the power it has over the people that work in the industry and the incredible potential it seems to have.