« Can Nuclear Power Replace Oil? | Main | Nuclear Energy is a Money Grab. . . »


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference CO2 Emissions Will be Higher for Nuclear Power than for Coal:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Larry Furman

In April, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in two landmark cases, “Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency” and “Environmental Defense Fund et al. v. Duke Energy Corp. et al.” In “Mass. v. EPA” the court ruled that the EPA must regulate carbon emissions unless it presents scientific proof that greenhouse gases do not contribute to global climate change. In “EDF v. Duke” the court unanimously ruled that the EPA must regulate companies that build new or renovate existing power plants and factories under the “new source review” provision of the Clean Air Act. On Nov. 13, 2008, in a ruling that the Sierra Club said “signals the start of our clean energy future” the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled that it had “no valid reason for refusing to limit” carbon dioxide emissions from new coal fired power plants. The EPA said it will abide by the 2007 Supreme Court decisions and limit carbon emissions from new and proposed coal plants.

The Supreme Court and the EPA have effectively killed “King Coal.” We need an alternative to fossil fuels, if for no other reason than to obey the law. Nuclear power is not it.

New York Times, April 3, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/washington/03scotus.html?_r=1
“Environmental Defense et al. v. Duke Energy Corp. Et Al.” http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-848.pdf
“Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et Al.,” http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-1120.pdf )
“Ruling: Coal Plants Must Limit C02” Sierra Club, http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=78902.0

Russell Lowes

I agree, as you say, that "Nuclear power is not it." There are many other alternatives to coal that can get the job done much quicker, much lower in cost, with much less near-term environmental impact, and especially with much less long-term environmental and economic impact. It does currently look like coal development is on hold in the U.S. with the EPA ruling and with court rulings.

The real battle with our energy options is not between coal and nukes, as some industry reps, politicians and reporters would have us believe, but is instead between coal with nukes versus reasonable solutions. Coal and nukes are failed 20th Century options. Will we make the same mistakes in the future, or will we phase out these mistakes as we bring in renewables and energy efficiency?

Many of the costs of nuclear energy are hidden. Most of the cost of energy efficiency improvements (like air conditioner improvements, architectural improvements and lighting efficiency) are on the table, in plain sight.

Some of nuclear energy's hidden costs are (but are not limited to):
-- insurance coverage from the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which prohibits health claim coverage and limits property claim reimbursements to pennies on the dollar for full-scale nuclear meltdowns;
-- the value of pro-nuclear public relations/promotion from the U.S. Government;
-- the long-term waste isolation and protection that the U.S. Courts have ruled must be for 1 million years;
-- the off-gas of radioactive isotopes and their health impact on people and wildlife around the globe.
-- the occasional nuclear accident or other mess, like the Rio Puerco tailings dam break in New Mexico, Chernobyl, the TEPCO plant earthquake in Japan, the 1957 Russian processing plant disaster, the mismanagement of Rocky Flats and Hanford, etc.

Let us hope that the Obama Administration will approach this vortex of crises (financial, energy, environmental) with an open-mindedness and a swiftness to set the course with the best solutions, those that lift employment, are affordable in the short and long-term, and do less damage to the environment.

Can't stand the stupidity

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to begin...

Here are some links:



But don't blame me for proving you wrong, blame Einstein, and E=mc^2, if you knew anything about how nuclear power actually works, how large scale power infrastructures are run, ect, ect...

but don't take my word for it, I'm just a lowly MIT student.

Russell Lowes

Hi Lowly MIT Student, AKA Can't stand the stupidity,

It would be nice to use your real name but those are the two you have given me.

All three of the links you listed in your comment are the same link.

Thus, the single reference you have is a Powerpoint presentation of one page in length. It lists the greenhouse gas emissions in grams equivalents for CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity, per Life-Cycle Analysis. In this Powerpoint picture, it lists 2-59 grams per kilowatt-hour for nuclear. While it is good of one of the largest cheerleading entities (NEI) to admit that nuclear is not greenhouse-gas free in this page, they are way under what the best studies indicate is the current CO2 emission. www.stormsmith.nl indicates currently 120 grams, as a study in Australia indicates over 100.

The two problems with all of these studies is (1) that they include only the current assay level of ore, and (2)that they do not count the legally required period of waste management, and all the associated CO2 production from that. Ore assay level, or in lay terms, uranium content level as a percent of ore, has gone from 0.3% to 0.15% from the early 1980s to today. It is expected by the site listed above to go down to around 0.04% by about 2040, and 0.01% by about 2060. Those figures assume the current level of world nuclear capacity stays constant. If there is a full nuclear relapse, and hundreds of nuclear plants get built, the decline will happen much earlier.

As you might imagine, when the ore content goes down, CO2 from mining and milling goes up.

The second issue, restated, is that these studies don't count what the courts have ruled as the legally required 1 million years of waste management. How can you count that, you may ask, when you don't know what technologies will be out there in the future. However with LCC, you must project to the best of your ability.

It is important to see how nuclear waste has been handled to-date. When you look at the waste programs we have had, like Hanford, Rocky Flats, WIPP, etc., you find that there has been much more migration than projected. You find that there has been much higher missing or unaccounted for materials at these sites. You then have to project that kind of management and misconduct will exist in the future. When you do that, you will find that the costs to repair environmental systems and perhaps even cities or portions of cities will add huge amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. This CO2 will be produced in the reconstruction, re-isolation, and also simply in the monitoring and management of wastes for thousands of generations.

Russell Lowes

Can't stand the stupidity

I apologize for being blunt, but frankly a lot of the anti-nuclear arguments are completely moot, and often come up from a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to basic nuclear physics.

Do you even understand what makes radioactive materials radioactive?

Do you know what radiation means?

Do you know what makes radioactive materials radioactive is that they are giving off large amounts of energy, and can be reused for other applications. This is far different than toxic wastes, which in reality are just as dangerous, but don't decay over time, and provide no possible benefits for keeping a hold of.

Do you also know that 95% of the waste that has to be stored for millions of years can be reprocessed?

Did you also know that the court ruling of 1 million years has no scientific or technical foundation, that the already guaranteed time of 100,000 years is technically fine.

Do you know that Uranium has 50 MILLION times the energy density of coal?

Do you know that the study you link uses gas as a comparison, not coal.

Do you also know, that the nifty graphs included in the report show that nuclear, even with the lowest ore grades, produces less C)2 than natural gas after 20 years, which is currently only 1/3 the life of the plant, and will probably end up being only 1/4 the life of the plant due to the fact that plants will get another 20 year extension on top of their current 40+20 year license time. This graph they show does not include reprocessing of spent fuel, breeder reactors, thorium fuel cycles, laser enrichment (which is incredibly efficient), or use of dismantled nuclear weapons.

Did you also know that the 3 links I posted earlier refer to graphs whose sources are 3 separate studies?

Did you also know that the primary energy source used to offset the intermittentcy and unreliability of your beloved wind and solar is natural gas, which does emit more CO2 than a nuclear plant.

Did you know that out of all electrical production in the US, the nuclear industry has the safest track record.

No energy source is greenhouse gas free, nor are they fully waste free, be it toxic or radioactive.

When you take into the account the actual energy density of uranium, combined with recycling, fast reactors (which can burn U238 to a larger degree, which constitutes about 99.3% of the Uranium), advanced enrichment techniques, using nuclear plants to generate hydrogen, or using energy released from the decay of waste products to produce hydrogen and other synthetic fuels, you end up with a system that is incredibly carbon neutral, high energy density, and if done properly, nearly waste free.

But meh, this is simple nuclear physics, something I saw nothing of in the report that you focus on. I would highly recommend taking a class on radiation, or basic nuclear physics, you can learn a lot. I would also highly recommend getting a tour of a plant or reactor, I promise that you won't get cancer, they will even provide you with a little dosimeter so they can keep track of the dose you get, which is limited to the natural background dose.

Russell Lowes

The focus here is not physics. The focus in this article is on the depletion of uranium and the resulting CO2 output.

Uranium energy output is tied to ore content/assay level. If the ore content drops from 3000 parts per million (0.3%) to 1500 ppm, as it has since the 1980s, then energy input for mining and milling more than doubles. Uranium is projected to go down to 400 ppm by 2040 or so, unless there is a increase in nuclear capacity, in which case that date will be sooner.

The stormsmith.nl study does not overly focus on coal, but there are many studies that cover coal emissions. They all seem to hover around 1000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour for coal. Coal should be phased out, of course, along with nuclear, as we bring in new technologies for the 21st Century.

We currently use about 100 quads (quadrillion btus) of energy in the U.S. Nuclear energy provides about 8 of those quads. Coal is at about 22. See:

The stormsmith.nl study shows (if you use the tables to project the new CO2 output) that by 2040, nuclear will surpass natural gas in CO2 output. This is less than the half-way point of production for any new nuclear plant. That is, if a nuke is completed in 2022, more than half of its lifespan will be producing energy at over the level of natural gas, because of deteriorated uranium assays. If you count the legally required 1 million years of waste management, nuclear CO2 output will exceed natural gas and coal today.

With coal and natural gas we are talking about a multi-generational pollution problem. With nuclear energy, we are talking about a multi-epoch pollution problem.

Can't stand the stupidity

The focus with nuclear power is always a physics problem, if you can't see that you need to seriously consider going back to school.

Issues with your study:

1) Does not account for undiscovered reserves, or the fact that nobody is even looking for uranium right now because it is so freaking cheap. When the price goes up, more reserves will be located, and there are other potential reserves aside from mining such as seawater, phosphate mining tailings, and coal ash.

2) Does not account for reprocessing fuel. You don't need to mine anywhere near as much new fuel if you reprocess the fuel you currently have.

3) Breeder Reactors and Fast Reactors, can fission far more fuel than a typical light water reactor, thus netting far more energy per ton of ore than current reactors.

4) Thorium Fuel Cycle, there is 4x as much thorium in the earths crust as there is Uranium.

Once again, the waste is not an issue, even with burial storage, the energy used and the CO2 produced to maintain them is minimal. In fact the energy that you could recover from the "waste" that is left after reprocessing makes that "waste" a potential resource.

Yes, Nuclear produces about 8.45% of the energy in the US, now what are the numbers for wind, solar, and geothermal? .51, .09, and .35 respectfully. In total, less than 1% of the total energy produced.

Yes I agree that this is the 21st century, and that we need a 21st century solution to energy, personally I believe that solution is fusion, which I will work very hard to see work commercially before the end of the century. But for now we have fission, which is proven (unlike wind, solar, and geothermal and their http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/
Which your paper uses for a lot of its reference.

I also highly recommend that you take a tour of a reactor, if you haven't done that, then you really have no room to comment on any of this stuff.

Russell Lowes

I think it is humorous to read that you think someone doesn't really have the room to comment on this issue if they haven't been to a nuclear plant. That is your own thing. It has nothing to do with reality. The several plants I have been to, including one in France a couple years ago, did nothing to enlighten me about uranium reserves or any of the information I wrote in the article above. If you have learned a way to morph this information into your mind while at a nuclear plant, you should patent it.

Addressing your points:
1) The rate of proven ore discoveries has gone down radically over the last few decades, as shown in many of the 103 studies that Sovacool analyzed that I refer to in SafeEnergyAnalyst.org. These other resources (like tailings)are included in the uranium reserves of many of these studies.

When I was fighting a uranium mine in the Sierra Anchas in Arizona in the 1970s, they used dixie cups, turned them upside down, put them on the ground and anchored them. They then waited for a few days and flew over the area with a special camera to see the radon that collected in the cups.

The company then knew, after doing additional analysis, whether they had mineable reserves. Uranium is more easily detected due to this off-gassing than many other energy reserves. However, the Red Book, which some call the Red Face Book due to its non-scientifically verified approach, is simply a collection of how much each country says it has, based largely on unverified company claims. Companies want to promote their investments so they use high sales projections.

2) Reprocessing is heavily subsidized in France, as it used to be here. Commercial reprocessing has been generally illegal in the U.S. over the course of six U.S. presidents. In France, even with their massive subsidy masking true costs, the reprocessed-based fuel is over two times the price of imported yellowcake.

3) Commercial breeders have been an economic failure worldwide. As far as I can tell, there are no breeders that have registered net energy sales in any Energy Information Administration report ever. Breeders are a pipe dream, as in cement, vessels and pipes dream.

4) Thorium was not chosen over uranium in the mid-1900s because it was less economical than uranium. Uranium has never been able to hold its own without massive subsidy. Uranium-based nuclear energy is an economic dud. Thorium could do worse.

Wind energy expanded last year more than any other energy source in the world. That is the field to get into if you are an MIT student. Or perhaps into nuclear waste management. The tail end of the nuclear industry will be a hot field for many years to come;)

Tomm Lehnigk

I have to hand it to you Russel you really tore that creep apart, well done and great work.

Russell Lowes

Hi Tomm,
It is not my intent to tear the prior commenter apart. It is my intent to present an accurate analysis of energy in America and the world. I want to help steer us away from a frivolous energy course like nuclear and coal energy for electricity, while burning up money that could be used to guide us toward an economically and environmentally sustainable energy future.
The person who goes by "Can't. . ." is perhaps misguided by the industry dis-information campaign. Or they are perhaps paid by the nuclear industry to do just that, "tear" people apart.
Dis-information is disseminated by many nuclear companies, trade groups and governmental agencies.
Areva, for example, is the world's largest nuclear company. The mostly French-owned nuclear giant has more public dis-information than perhaps any other. By itself, and through the trade organizations like Nuclear Engineering International, World Nuclear Association, and its governmental organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, Areva is able to impose its self-serving perspectives, fabricated and not.
Areva has spent $663 million -- enough to fund a successful U.S. presidential campaign -- in known money on lobbying and campaign contributions in the last 10 years promoting nuclear energy in many sorts of ways. (See: http://investigativereportingworkshop.org/investigations/nuclear-energy-lobbying-push/story/nuclear-energy-working-hard-win-support/). Thanks for the comment.

The comments to this entry are closed.