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As a result of the current discussion how further global warming could be prevented or at least mitigated, the revival of nuclear power seems to be in everybody's - or at least in many politician's - mind. It it interesting to see that in many suggestions to mitigate global warming, the focus is put on the advantages of nuclear power generation, its disadvantages are rarely mentioned.
Below is a short summary of arguments for and against nuclear power plants.
According to the American Energy Information Administration (EIA) and to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world-wide energy consumption will on average continue to increase by 2% per year.
A yearly increase by 2% leads to a doubling of the energy consumption every 35 years. This means the world-wide energy consumption is predicted to be twice as high in the year 2040 compared to today (2007).
By far the highest increase in world-wide energy consumption is predicted to be from all three fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas (see graph)! The renewable energies are predicted to grow as well, but much less than fossil energies. Nuclear energy is predicted to grow relatively moderate.
It is only possible to mitigate global warming if the world-wide consumption of fossil fuels can be drastically reduced in the next 10 to 15 years. There is simply no room for a scenario as it is predicted by the International Energy Agency IEA.
It is also obvious that no combination of alternative technologies can replace the current usage of fossil fuels. There is simply not enough non-fossil fuel available for this. In order to mitigate global warming, we have to use the available energy much more efficiently. But this won't be enough either: We will have to change our behaviour to reduce our personal energy consumption. We must change our current live style and seriously strive for a sustainable living .
Read on for details and background...
The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts a strong increase of the carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030. Additionally, IEA investigated to which extent the above mentioned emissions of CO2 could be prevented if politics applied rigorous measures.
From all measures investigated, nuclear energy was found to have the least effect (only 10%). Almost 80% of the desired effects are due to increasing the energy efficiency.
This result is surprising, in particular if you think about how nuclear power is praised as solution to global warming by politicians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair. It seems like they would (again) head into the wrong direction.
Instead of talking about measures to increase the energy efficiency, which accounts for 80% of the effects, some politicians propagandize building nuclear power plants, which according to IEA can only account for 10% of the desired effects. Here the focus is clearly on the wrong subject!
The need for electricity has constantly risen world-wide over the last years. This is not only true for the so-called developing countries but also and in particular for all well-developed countries. In order to fulfil the demand, obviously additional power plants have to be built.
Which technology is best for generating electricity? This question certainly has to be answered on a case by case base. But it is very concerning that nuclear power plants more and more seem to be chosen as "the" technology of the future.
World-wide, there are currently 435 nuclear power plants in operation and 28 under construction (January 2007). The chart on the right hand side shows the number of nuclear power plants in operation by country.
For countries with nuclear weapons, the bar is red, for countries without nuclear weapons, the bar is blue.
Therefore it appears to be quite doubtful that using nuclear power for civil purposes is independent from military applications. The graph above seems to rather indicate "the more nuclear power plants, the more likely nuclear weapons". Read on...
One of the few pros of nuclear power is the relatively low emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major causes of global warming. For this reason, it has been proposed as "the" method to mitigate the effects of climate change. However a recent life cycle analysis showed that nuclear power produces 4 to 10 times higher CO2 emissions per kWh electricity than renewable energies.
Nuclear phase-out means the discontinuation of usage of nuclear power for electrical energy production. Usually because of concerns about nuclear energy, existing plants are either shut down or not renewed after being retired.
Many European countries have decided to phase-out nuclear power, for details see further below. Under the umbrella of global warming, lobbying organizations of the atomic industry are putting high pressure on several governments to postpone the planned shut down of nuclear power stations or even to cancel the phase-out altogether. Their main argument is the relatively low CO2 emission of nuclear power compared to fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas. However nuclear energy should rather be compared to sustainable energies and not to fossils.
The general pros and cons of nuclear power are discussed on a separate page. Here we concentrate on the pros and cons of nuclear phase-out.
This graph shows the nuclear power consumption per capita by country for the year 2003 in kg oil equivalents.
This graph will certainly change during the next 10 to 20 years because several countries decided not to replace retired nuclear power plants any more and to phase-out nuclear energy. In the European Union, 17 out of the 27 member countries do either have no nuclear power plants or have already decided to sooner or later stop using this technology (among them are Sweden and Germany). Switzerland is also quite unlikely to rebuild nuclear power plants since any new nuclear plant needed to get acceptance in a public vote.
Electricity from nuclear energy is considered to be economical and very cost effective, in particular compared to electricity from renewable energy sources like wind, water, sun, biomass or geothermal energy.
There are two main reasons for the relative low cost of nuclear power:
Finland's Olkiluoto nuclear power plant: The Olkiluoto construction project in Finland is rapidly becoming an example of all that can go wrong in economic terms with nuclear new build. It demonstrates the key problems of construction delays, cost overruns and hidden subsidies.
The dispute around enormous financial losses from the Finish Olkiluoto nuclear reactor project deepened yesterday, when the French nuclear giant Areva published its half-year results. Areva threatened to freeze construction if TVO does not submit to the company’s demands of shouldering a share of the cost. The latest estimate of construction costs reached €5.5 billion, which compares to the price of 2.5 billion originally presented to Finnish public and politicians.
Nuclear proliferation is used to describe the spread of fissile material, weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not (yet) in posession of nuclear weapons. It is feared that the likelyhood of a nuclear warfare does increase with the number of nations with nuclear weapons.
Nuclear proliferation is related to the civil application of nuclear power in the following ways:
Nuclear energy is a relatively small industry, but one with big problems. It covers just one-sixteenth of the world’s primary energy consumption, a share set to decline over the coming decades.
The average age of operating commercial nuclear reactors is 23 years. This means that more power stations are being shut down than built. In 2007, world nuclear production fell by 1.8 % and the number of operating reactors was 439, five less than the historical peak of 2002.
The main topic of this newsletter is the following question: Is nuclear power a global warming solution?
In addition, we summarize and link a number of texts about the potential and about the future of civil nuclear power applications.
Greenpeace has announced a new weblog about the downsides of the nuclear industry.The blog is called "Nuclear Reaction" - blogging the meltdown of the nuclear industry".
The About-Section says:
"Welcome to Nuclear Reaction, where we'll be recording for history the meltdown of that most over-rated, over-subsidised and over-confident of industries, the nuclear industry.