Nuclear power - discussion

Please attach you comments and suggestions regarding articles about advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power here below. Comments to the international nuclear energy news are also welcome here.

Thank you!

What are the other advantages of nuclear power?

You are more than welcome to let us know the additional advantages of nuclear power.

Nuclear energy was used under the assumption to find a good solution to the hazardous waste problem. However there is still no solution in sight for the waste problem (just digging radiating waste into the ground for several thousand years is not a solution, that is simply polluting the environment).

In the meantime, sustainable energies have been developed further. There are now better alternatives to nukes and mankind has (hopefully) learned. See also the article about nuclear phase-out . It is time for a change of technology!



Myths of nuclear energy advantages

"well, if we are in love with nature's way, digging holes to put unstable isotopes away for a while isn't that bad of a plan. Oh, and i'ts not goign to kill anyone, now is it? (Oklo?)"

Nuclear energy stations are producing hazardous nuclear waste. This waste has to be shielded from all living creatures (not just from human beings) for more than 10'000 years. The most dangerous nuclear waste even has to be shielded away for 1 million years! You call 10'000 years just "a while"? This is more than 330 generations! We now live in the year 2'007 after Christmas. 10'000 years ago people were living in caves and we still have very little information about that age. I hope this does give a feeling for the time range we are talking about.

How can we be sure that the hazardous nuclear waste will remain stable and well protected for this long time span? For example 25 years ago the chemical industry disposed chemical waste "safely". - However we are already digging out their "safe" disposal sites...

Just an example of nuclear waste handling in France : "Now evidence is emerging that a new nuclear dumpsite in the Champagne region of France is leaking radioactivity into the ground water threatening contamination of tritium and at a later stage other radionuclides. The French nuclear waste authority ANDRA has only a partial inventory of the multitude of existing waste categories, as large quantities have not yet been declared by the main waste producers EDF and Cogema, including spent nuclear fuel or waste from the uranium enrichment industry. Even French government regulators are expressing their concerns over the conditions at both dump sites."


Breeder reactors

Breeder reactors are currently not available. 20 years ago we were told "in 10 to 15 years fusion reactors and breeder reactors will be available". Now we are told again "in 15 to 20 years fusion reactors and breeder reactors should be ready for industrial application". Who knows whether in 20 years from now it will be another 20 years to wait for this technologies? Many nuclear scientists came to the conclusion that the application of fusion reactors and breeder reactors is very unlikely within the next 30 to 50 years. There are simply too many technical problems still to be solved.

In addition, using fusion reactors would still generate dangerous nuclear waste. It would only mitigate the problem related to the limited resource Uranium.

In other words: breeder reactors or fusion reactors are not an option. When Mr. Bush or Mr. Blair calls for nuclear power stations, they talk about normal fission reactor technology.


The role of nuclear power

Even if many additional fission reactors would be built within the next 20 years, their contribution to mitigate global warming would be very little according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). IEA investigated to which extent the emissions of CO2 could be reduced 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.

Instead of talking about measures to increase the energy efficiency, which accounts for 80% of the effects, some people 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!


Our future life style must be sustainable

We should put full effort into developing sustainable energy technologies further and phase-out nuclear technology . This will open many opportunities and have many positive side effects. It is time for change!

In addition, we will inevitably have to change our behaviour : We should only use as much energy as we are able to produce with sustainable technologies. Demand of energy has to follow available supply of sustainable energy. This will have many positive side effects, too.


Green base load electricity

Geothermal energy is certainly available 24 hours per day.

In addition, if you combine wind power from different places you get a very stable mix. There is more than enough experience available in Europe. But the solution cannot be a single technology, it must be a smart mix of different technologies like solar power (photovoltaic and concentrating solar power), wind power, wave power, water power, power from waste, decentralized cogeneration, etc

Many small units are more reliable than a few big ones. For near customers, the reliability is even higher (98-99% of US outages originate in the grid). 

Not only wind power can lose output for an extended period: US nuclear outage is 37 days every 17 months and many units can fail simultaneously and without warning.

In Europe, wind power is already number 1 for new installations for electricity production. In the USA, the market share of wind power was 37% in 2007. 


Nuclear proliferation

The article you are referring to is probably "Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons per country ". In this text you can read: " 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".

Nuclear proliferation is a real threat and we should therefore be very reluctant to further applications of nuclear power. Considering on top of that other disadvantages of nuclear energy , we should definitely switch to renewable energies and phase-out nuclear power as soon as possible.

I very strongly disagree with your conclusion that "we should bomb Iran". Military power cannot solve any problem in the world but usually creates many additional problems (see e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq).

However, Iran is a good example to prove that civil and military applications of nuclear power are much closer related than most lobbyists of nuclear energy are willing to admit. Otherwise there would be fewer concerns about the plans of Iran to build their own nuclear power stations.

There is yet another issue with this: Why should some countries be allowed to use nuclear power and others not? Who has the right to decide on this? How can a country be using nuclear power (and even nuclear weapons) and at the same time ban other countries from doing the same? If everyone phased out nuclear technology - both civil and military applications - it would make sense to penalize countries trying to start using it.

Supply of Uranium for nuclear power

It is a common misunderstanding that nuclear power is cheap electricity. Read this article about the true cost of nuclear power generation .

Known Uranium reserves will only last for 30 to 60 years. Breeder reactors are not available and it is doubtful whether they will ever be available. For background and details see the report from the German Energy Watch Group of December 2006 with the title "Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy ".

Excerpt from the summary of "Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy":

"Any forecast of the development of nuclear power in the next 25 years has to concentrate on two aspects, the supply of uranium and the addition of new reactor capacity. At least within this time horizon, neither nuclear breeding reactors nor thorium reactors will play a significant role because of the long lead times for their development and market penetration.

The analysis of data on uranium resources leads to the assessment that discovered reserves are not sufficient to guarantee the uranium supply for more than thirty years.

Eleven countries have already exhausted their uranium reserves. In total, about 2.3 Mt of uranium have already been produced. At present only one country (Canada) is left having uranium deposits containing uranium with an ore grade of more than 1%, most of the remaining reserves in other countries have ore grades below 0.1% and two thirds of reserves have ore grades below 0.06%. This is important as the energy requirement for uranium mining is at best indirect proportional to the ore concentration and with concentrations below 0.01-0.02% the energy needed for uranium processing – over the whole fuel cycle – increases substantially.

The proved reserves (=reasonably assured below 40 $/kgU extraction cost) and stocks will be exhausted within the next 30 years at current annual demand. Likewise, possible resources – which contain all estimated discovered resources with extraction costs of up to 130 $/kg – will be exhausted within 70 years.

At present, of the current uranium demand of 67 kt/yr only 42 kt/yr are supplied by new production, the rest of about 25 kt/yr is drawn from stockpiles which were accumulated before 1980. Since these stocks will be exhausted within the next 10 years, uranium production capacity must increase by at least some 50% in order to match future demand of current capacity.

Recent problems and delays with important new mining projects (e.g. Cigar Lake in Canada) are causing doubts whether these extensions will be completed in time or can be realized at all??

In case only the proved reserves below 40 $/kt can be converted into production volumes, then even before 2020 supply problems are likely. If all estimated known resources up to 130 $/kgU extraction cost can be converted into production volumes, a shortage can at best be delayed until about 2050."

And a last remark: According to the WEO 2006 report nuclear energy is considered to be the least efficient measure in combating greenhouse warming! We should therefore focus on other technologies to mitigate global warming and in particular change our own behaviour .

Nuclear power is no solution and not sustainable

The International Energy Agency (IEA) investigated to which extent the 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%). One of the main reason according to IEA was the lack of capacity to build more nuclear power plants within a relatively short time frame. 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 people 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 cost of nuclear power is high

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:

  • Research and development for nuclear applications has been financed by the government, therefore these costs don't get transferred to the cost of electricity produced from nuclear power. However the cost of R&D for renewable energy sources is mostly financed privately and therefore added to the production cost. It is therefore included in the cost of renewable electricity.
  • Nuclear power plants are underinsured for legal liability. The risk for nuclear catastrophes is not carried by the owner of the nuclear power plant, it is carried by the whole nation. Electricity from nuclear power would cost at least twice as much than today if operator companies of nuclear power plants were to insure the plants for the real risks.

True costs should be compared, at least for the evaluation of technologies for new plants. The inclusion of full cost of risks also for nuclear power is a must. Otherwise apples are compared to peares.

It is evident that comparing true costs will dramatically reduce the attractiveness of electricity from nuclear plants compared to all other sources. And it can also be expected that the nuclear industry with their strong lobbying organisations will fierily fight against this comparison of true costs.

However atomic energy has been subsidized long enough. It is high time for the use of renewable energies, even more so when a fair cost comparison alone makes nuclear electricity unattractive! In addition to economics, all ecological reasons speak for renewables.

Nuclear proliferation - nuclear power

In the article "Nuclear proliferation in a nutshell", you find a good summary about the relation of civil nuclear power application and nuclear proliferation. It's main issues are:

  • Nuclear power makes widely and innocently available all the key ingredients of nuclear bombs (fissile materials and the technologies, knowledge and skills to produce and process them)
  • Without civil nuclear power, these ingredients would be harder to get, more conspicuous to try to get, and politically far costlier to be caught trying to get, because the reason for wanting them would be unambiguously military. (Think about Irane and North Korea. Are'nt both of them saying they only want to apply nuclear power for civil reasons?)
A world without significant nuclear commerce would make nuclear proliferation not impossible but vastly more difficult—and easier to detect timely  


Nuclear and coal power are to be phased out

I certainly agree with you and anybody else that coal power is not a viable alternative to nuclear power. But why don't you take a closer look to better alternatives? It does not make sense to compare atomic energy only (or mainly) with coal power plants.

It is simply not true that renewable power sources (like e.g. wind power, water power, waves power, tides power, solar power, wood, biomass, etc.) could not supply enough energy.

  • Step 1 must be to increase energy efficiency, because about 30% to 50% of the end-use energy is just lost.
  • Step 2 must be to assign funds for further developing and implementing alternative renewable power sources. Currently, nuclear power is highly susidized by governments but alternative renewable sources are mainly being developed by private investments only. This is unfair.

The big energy suppliers world-wide are fighting to keep their current influence and power. They can only keep it if  our future energy needs are fulfilled with large centralised power plants. But it would be much smarter to have a large number of decentralised plants producing the electrical power locally from renewable sources as mentioned above. This is indead feasible as a high number of scientific studies have shown. It is mainly a matter of setting priorities and allocating the resources.


See also:advantages of nuclear phase-out


Studies about renewable energy supply

You are asking for the studies. Unfortunately, most of them are in German language, however the following links are in English and might show the direction:

I might post some more links later...