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How much does nuclear power reduce CO2?

  1. Mar 12, 2010 #1
    This article,
    http://www.counterpunch.com/stclair03122010.html [Broken]

    Sadly for the credibility of the atom lobby, some of their more eye-grabbing numbers don't check out. For example, as noted in a report by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry claims that the world's 447 nuclear plants reduce CO2 emissions by 30 percent. But existing nuclear plants save only about 5 percent of total CO2 emissions, hardly a bargain given the costs and risks associated with nuclear power. As you go up the nuclear fuel chain, you have carbon dioxide emissions at every single step - from uranium mining, milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication, reactor construction to the transportation of the radioactive waste.​

    claims that nuclear power saves less than 5% in CO2 emissions.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2010 #2


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    Where does the 5% number come from? I don't believe this number, and I don't believe it is backed up by any reliable calculation. Can you show how it is calculated, or provide a link to a real calculation, not just an unsubstantiated claim?

    It is a fact that, without the world's existing nuclear power plants, we would be burning 30% more coal or oil to generate the electricity we need. Don't forget that any type of power plant (even wind and solar) needs mining, manufacturing, and construction in order to exist.
  4. Mar 12, 2010 #3
    Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press.

    Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

    A version of this article first appeared in Truthout.org

    30% vs 5% is a 6x discrepancy.
  5. Mar 12, 2010 #4


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    So do those backgrounds lead you to believe the authors have any ability to do the required analysis to come up with CO2 savings figure?
  6. Mar 13, 2010 #5
    I don't know how they got their figure. Since one figure differs from another by 6x, I thought it worth investigating. The authors evidentally claim that when you factor in the carbon footprint required to make nuclear energy possible at every level, from building plants to processing ore, to storing it and transporting it, the official figure is too high.
  7. Mar 13, 2010 #6


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    "Evidently", that's what they claim. SInce it's not backed by any calculation that anyone has seen, a more likely explanation is that they just made up the number to bolster their point, figuring that nobody would check. Since you are believing it without checking, it looks like their strategy is working.
  8. Mar 13, 2010 #7
    I wonder if his figure includes all carbon emissions, from all sources including animals, cars, methane from decomposiiton, etc., and not just co2 from electrical generation.


    US carbon dioxide emissions (thousands of metric tons of CO2)[128]

    Year CO2 Change from 1990
    1990 4,825,360 0.00%
    1991 4,835,750 0.22%
    1992 4,811,240 -0.29%
    1993 5,093,340 5.55%

    Electricity - production by source:

    * petroleum: 1%
    * natural gas: 17%
    * coal: 51%
    * renewable: 9%
    * nuclear: 21% (2008) [5]


    * production: 8.514 million barrel/day (2008 est.)
    * consumption: 19.5 million barrel/day (2008 est.) [6]

    Heat Engines are only 20% efficient at converting raw energy (oil) into work.[125][126] Electric transmission (production to consumer) loses over 23% of the energy due to generation, transmission, and distribution[127]
  9. Mar 13, 2010 #8


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    That could be. Certainly electricity generation is not our largest energy consumer or generator of greenhouse gases today. However, the percentage of our energy usage which is electrical has been increasing, and as we shift to electric cars and become more urbanized, this rate of increase will probably increase, so clean electricity is our best hope going forward. I still believe that, all things considered, nuclear energy is the most environmentally benign form of energy generation that we have.

    Last month a gas fired power plant in Connecticut blew up and killed five people, and it hardly made headline news. Can you imagine the press that would have resulted if five people were killed at a nuclear plant? We need to recognize that all human endeavors carry risks and benefits and rationally trade them off.
  10. Mar 13, 2010 #9
    Yes, he is correct that nuclear plans do emit CO2 via the supply chain to design, build and run the plant, however in this sense green energy also releases CO2 from these same things. Personally, I think the fairest method for looking at CO2 production is a CO2/energy scale, not a (CO2 from that source)/(total CO2). Using this scale nuclear power plants preform very well.

    Statistics are notoriously misleading because by cherry picking the right statistic you can support almost anything. So it is likely the statistic is real but misleading. It might pertain to the world energy mix instead of nuclear countries. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World_energy_usage_width_chart.svg) says that in 2006 nuclear produced about 6% of the worlds energy mix. So 5% isn't that unreasonable.

    That aside, the author claims that nuclear power plants are a source of significant risk to the public in my opinion is false but not uncommon. For example, three-mile Island released very little radioactivity into the environment and studies have shown no ill effects to the public yet the public at large would assume otherwise.
  11. Mar 13, 2010 #10
    gas fired plants is mature technology. What happened? If a gas fired plant can blow up, perhaps a nuclear one built in 2011 can as well.
  12. Mar 13, 2010 #11
    True but he also lists Mayak and Chernobyl. How much reduction of CO2 is potentially achievable if most coal and oil and natural gas plants were replaced with nuclear? (while leaving wind, solar, hydroelectric, intact)
  13. Mar 13, 2010 #12
    Yes a nuclear power plant can blow up if the laws of physics are broken.

    And to head off the what about Chernobyl argument I see coming. Chernobyl was a good for its purpose reactor that was broken by an operator hell bent on breaking it. The explosion that blew off the top cover was from hydrogen gas, the fire was from the burring graphite moderator. Finlay a RBMK reactor (Chernobyl) would not get a a license in to operate let alone be built in the USA.
  14. Mar 14, 2010 #13


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    You've got to stop this, ensabah6. You've posted a number of crackpot anti-nuclear claims here and the response is always the same: You need to learn to recognize crackpottery and you need to learn to check claims you aren't sure of. A simple criteria is that if a controversial idea comes from a source that is known to be unreliable, there is a good chance that idea is flawed.

    Please stop posting these crackpot claims. You must stop using counterpunch as a source for information on which to base threads. Thread locked.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2010
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