Monday, March 26, 2007

Forget About Using Nuclear Power to Stop Global Warming

This blog began last September with a post titled “Nuclear Power Not Answer.” It was about the views of antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott who wrote a book in which she gave many reasons why nuclear power can not be used to solve the problem of global warming. A new report by the Oxford Research Group titled “Secure Energy, Civil Nuclear Power, security and Global Warming” also tosses cold water on the idea that building more nuclear power plants should be a key strategy for combating global warming. An article in Reuters said the report points out that a major problem with building the thousands of nuclear power plants that would be needed is that the amount of uranium needed to run the plants is in limited supply and therefore, the only feasible way to do it would be to reprocess the spent fuel in order to obtain plutonium as a fuel. This would create many opportunities for terrorists and criminals to obtain material for making nuclear weapons. Also, as Helen Caldicott emphasized, although the nuclear plants don’t release greenhouse gases the entire process from mining the uranium to building the plants requires lots of energy and therefore large amounts of greenhouse gases would be released anyway.

Despite the drawbacks of using nuclear power to fight global warming many conservatives are embracing the idea and an explanation for this has been offered by Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times. Chait says the following:

You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.

In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!


Anonymous said...

Great Blog

Dezakin said...

Caldicott and company have done these distortions for decades.

First, the Oxford study was a sham at best. The avaliable uranium for light water reactors is staggeringly huge.

There are 10^8 tons in ore deposits as rich as are being economically recovered today. Thats enough to last 2000 1GW reactors some 250 years on the once through cycle alone, and thats before we get into medium and low grade ores.

Second the CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle is less than 1% than that of a coal plant, and thats with gasseous diffusion enrichment which will be replaced by more efficient centrifuge enrichment plants over the next decade.

As for proliferation concerns, there are far more credible threats faced by fossil fuel and chemical facilities such as natural gas terminals.

The simple fact is every time nuclear power has been blocked, the void has been filled by coal. Germany is looking to build another 26 coal power plants now to keep the lights on.

Bob Liebman said...

Coal plants are much, much cheaper to build than nuclear plants and they can be approved and built in much quicker time. Moreover, coal is a cheap and plentiful fuel. The only only thing that will stop the building of coal plants in many countries is legislation banning them. No coal plant should be built unless the carbon dioxide released can be captured and safely stored. Nuclear proliferation is much more of a danger than chemical facilities, it is not even close. It is even potentially more dangerous than global warming should enough nukes go off.