Alternate title: Rising competition from China, Korea
and a new development model for British nuclear power
April 14th, 2016 Andrew Daniels
No other country in Europe is developing nuclear power with as much zeal as the UK. The goal is to abolish coal power by the mid 2020s. The ‘dash to gas’ is in the past, and future wind power development can only offer declining returns. Having explored and reached the limitations of gas and wind power, it is clear decarbonization can only be accomplished with nuclear power. Three consortia have developed plans for nuclear power plants on six different sites. Adhesion to construction schedules is the number one cause of serious cost overruns, so these projects will be considered successes or failures depending on the efficiency of the construction process.
Given the poor record of past British nuclear power development, this drive towards nuclear power is even more remarkable. The British nuclear industry had a particularly dismal record of poor performance with Magnoxes and AGRs. Using a poor development model during the 1960s until the 1980s, the UK built one uncompetitive gas-cooled plant after another. Each plant was built by a different consortium with a different design, and each used unique parts and required unique fuel elements. Construction delays were insufficient to cancel a project. The British tradition of ‘muddling through’ led to eventual completion, even if some plants were obsolete upon commencing operation. One plant took an astonishing twenty years to complete. The policy was framed as government support for British technology. Even as Whitehall pursued a ‘national champion’ policy, not enough investment was channeled into nuclear power to give this unique path, their nuclear sonderweg, a hope of success. Gas-cooled reactors were never able to build up a similar body of experience as did the water-cooled reactors. Operating loads were lower, maintenance costs higher, and construction times were consistently longer throughout their history.
At one point, France was pursuing the same gas-cooled reactor technology as the UK, but a decision was made to abandon it. The rationale was that French industry would be better served by aligning with global trends instead of bucking them. Adopting water-cooled reactors en masse facilitated the extensive nuclear roll-out pursued by France in the 1970s and 1980s. The structure for this expansion was a publicly funded development model with a single operator running every plant in the country. Rather than increase costs from a lack of competition, it facilitated skills transfer, uniformity and keeping costs down.
Eschewing the French dirigiste state-driven model, the new development model draws on private sector elements of the old model. New nuclear power plants in the UK will continue to be built via consortia, but this time they will use existing designs. Hinkley Point C will put its first reactor into operation in 2025, which will be the first in Britain since Sizewell B in 1995. This project will be a first for many things; it is the first British plant built with minority foreign participation (China General Nuclear (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) are both minority investors.) Hinkley Point C will be the first in the world to receive a public subsidy as renewable power at the rate of £92.50 per MWh. This anticipates construction time of up to 10 years and the guaranteed price is indexed to any future rises in electricity prices. In the case that the plant is closed early, the company will receive compensation. This mitigates the risk of any forced premature closure without compensation for any reason, political or otherwise. Supporting nuclear power with this style of feed-in tariff is a first, though it may have started a trend. Now the two American states of Arizona and Utah are offering similar public support. The effect of this contract is monumental if it heralds a new era of public support for nuclear power, similar to the support for solar and wind. This project is tremendously important for Areva and the Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR), as future sales of the EPR will be heavily influenced by the construction time at Hinkley Point C. This will be a chance for Areva to wipe the slate clean and move past the numerous construction delays at Flamanville and Olkiluoto. A success at Hinkley Point C 1 & 2 will pave the way for another pair of EPRs at Sizewell C.
The second project will develop two sites with ABWRs: Wylfa Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey and Oldbury-on-Severn. Hitachi claims these are more likely to be completed on time than EPRs, due to the ABWR construction record in Japan. The company prefers to reference the successful construction of ABWRs in Japan, rather than the Lungmen project in Taiwan. The Taiwanese plant has been delayed repeatedly due to political interference, greatly inflating costs.
Finally, the third group seeks to develop the AP1000. Manchester-based NuGeneration Limited is formed from a partnership between Toshiba (Westinghouse) and GDF Suez. Nugen plans three AP1000 at Moorside, and secured 200 hectares for the project in 2009. If construction goes ahead, it will employ 6,000 people. By that point, these will be the 17th, 18th and 19th AP1000s in operation. Westinghouse will provide the reactors but GDF Suez will run the plant. The commitment to invest will be made in 2018 and the first unit will begin operation in 2024.
All of these projects are being driven by reactor vendors keen to promote their designs. These are being pursued in the UK in the hope of winning future contracts in other countries. After seeking more uniformity and serialization, the UK is still embarking on multiple directions with numerous designs, partners, and operators. Perhaps this will not increase costs as much as in the past, as all of these designs will be supported by identical copies outside of the UK.
China also prioritized uniformity and domestic development, yet they currently use the reactor designs of France, Canada, Russia, and the USA as well as their own. The development of Chinese nuclear power was delayed in the past by canceling the water-cooled reactor program twice. First, Mao canceled it to focus funding on the development of nuclear weapons, then it was canceled a second time by the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) to focus on developing a molten salt reactor. After an all-out effort to develop a molten salt reactor failed, China finally devoted time and resources to develop their first water-cooled reactor at Qinshan-1.
A clear policy choice remained on whether to prioritize indigenous development or assimilate foreign technology in order to develop indigenous technology later. Though it was decided to pursue indigenous technology and use as few reactor designs as possible, other considerations would subvert this policy. It was diplomatically advantageous to buy CANDU reactors to reduce isolation after Tiananmen Square sanctions. AP1000s were selected as China’s official Gen III reactor. Yet a decision to build two EPRs was also taken. After the deal with Areva, the president of CNNC, deputy president of CGN and the president of China Triumph Industrial Engineering Co were accused of taking bribes. These three groups selected the EPR in a closed process with no international tender competition. Russian VVER-1000s were also built, possibly due to the availability of soft loans.
Ostensibly, China has exported one plant to Pakistan, but this order did not establish them as a reactor exporter. Their lone export order to Pakistan failed to establish them as a competitor, Chashma was badly built by the time it was completed in 2000. Rather than showcase Chinese capabilies, it illustrated a lack of capacity. It was difficult for it to be a copy of Qinshan-1 as intended, when most of Qinshan-I was unable to be supported by Chinese suppliers. The pressure vessel came from Mitsubishi, coolant pumps from West Germany, turbines from Sweden and the control system from Areva. Chashma was built using Chinese parts suppliers who had never supplied a nuclear power plant before. The project was delayed, and there were errors in construction. When internal sensors were damaged, they rattled around inside the core, unknown to the plant operators. Westinghouse assessed the plant and said the designers did not understand the effect of coolant flow on the core and components.
That was twenty years ago, and since then CGN and CNNC have completed many reactors that perform very well. The Chinese adaptation of Westinghouse designs in the CPR-1000 are completed on time, and have excellent operating load. Their domestic performance is an effective advertisement for export orders. This is the strongest bull market for nuclear power in Chinese history, as the latest FiveYear Plan (2016-2020) includes many new reactors. There are 42 planned reactors and 170 proposed reactors, in addition to the 22 under construction. Current policy is to not build any new wind turbines or coal mines, yet existing coal mines have the capacity to produce an additional 2 billion tonnes over the current annual production of 4 billion tonnes. This means falling coal prices will increase competition for nuclear power even in the absence of any new coal mines. On the other hand, construction costs will be assisted by falling steel prices. Massive overcapacity in steel, aluminum, glass, paper, and other heavy
industries will push down prices as companies compete to avoid being driven out of business. Chinese workers used to strike for higher wages, now they strike over unpaid wages. Current plans to curtail production will cause 500,000 job losses in the steel sector and 1.3 million job losses in coal. The eventual job losses and company closures in the steel industry will likely be followed by similar contraction among other heavy industries. The collapse of the steel industry could start an avalanche, magnified in impact as numerous loans go bad. Since private debt has soared from 120% of GDP in 2008 to 240% of GDP in 2015, any companies that collapse or default on debt payments will have a domino effect throughout the economy. CGN and CNNC will perform well in these turbulent times, and will continue to find easy access to financing. They will be a calm port in the storm as they grow in a contracting economy.
In many ways, China is simply hoping to follow the path of South Korea. China’s entry into the international export market truly begins with an order from Argentina for the Hualong One reactor. Hwever, no Hualong One is in operation and only one is currently under construction which began in 2015. China sweetened the deal by offering financing for 85% of the $15b project. It seems reasonable to anticipate CGN and CNNC to continue to easily find financing for foreign construction projects.
The strongest competition for future export orders will come from Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), owned by the Seoul government via the holding company Korean Electric Power Co. Known as KEPCO, it should not be confused with Kansai Power Co. (also KEPCO), who also operate nuclear power plants. The first APR-1400 at Barakah is 90% complete and on track to be completed in May 2017. Barakah-2 is 60% complete. In addition, one APR-1400 is already operational at Shin-Kori-1, although its construction took seven years. It was delayed due to poor quality cabling associated with a falsification scandal. The on-time completion of Barakah-1 will be a persuasive advertisement for future new sales. KHNP is not only selling reactors, but also South Korean management capable of keeping projects on schedule. The value of this is appreciated by the UAE, who has contracted 50 KHNP employees to work at Barakah and asked for Korean assistance in setting up their training program at the Institute of Applied Technology in Abu Dhabi. Korean reactors continue to become cheaper. They are bucking the trend toward ever higher costs, as each reactor achieves a lower cost per MWh than its predecessor. Falling costs and a long history of completing plants on-time makes KHNP a strong competitor for future export orders, selling not only a reliable design but a reliable schedule.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We are seeing new development models, yet
they draw on many elements of the old. New British development will use international designs, but still will not establish real uniformity throughout the British nuclear industry. China and Korea are driving state-owned businesses to try to conquer new export markets. That being said, their reputation in sticking to the schedule in domestic construction by Chinese and Korean companies addresses the most important factor in cost control for nuclear power. This makes them powerful competitors, at a time when nuclear power is expanding to new markets.
Andrew Daniels is the author of After Fukushima: What We Now Know, a history of the fear reactions towards nuclear power and radiation. This book will be available in the summer of 2016 on amazon.com. A historian with three degrees, a Hon. B.A. in History and Japanese Studies, B. Ed, and a M.Is, he is polyglot, fluent in English, French and Japanese plus a smattering of German, Italian and Swedish.
If aliens came down to earth tomorrow, and we told them how we are having an environmental crisis because we need to find new sources of energy besides fossil fuels, the first thing they would say to us is:
“What about nuclear energy, we’ve already seen you have the technology from the neutrinos you emit. Why not scale it up?”
And then the Sierra Club and Peabody Coal would step forward and say with ignorant sincerity, “NO! It’s too expensive, and it produces waste, and it could release radioactivity, and other countries could make bombs from our waste!”
The aliens would say back, “You mean to tell me that your species is intelligent enough to have gotten materials to within billionths of a degree of absolute zero, put 5 spacecraft beyond the orbit of Pluto, have genetically manufactured crop species to increase food yield, understand quantum mechanics to the point of being on the verge of creating quantum computing, have a worldwide aviation system with 1.2 billion passengers a year that is the safest form of transportation available, and yet you can’t engineer a nuclear reactor that produces negligible amounts of waste, has no risk of releasing appreciable amounts of radiation, is cheaper than blowing up mountains for coal, and avoids the improbable risk that someone makes a bomb from it? That is elementary by comparison! You came up with technology that could do that 50 years ago! Damn it, your planet is TEEMING with nuclear material, you could be in a golden age of energy abundance without carbon!”
And TEA would say back “yeah but enough people are uneducated enough to be fooled by fossil interests into thinking that an obvious solution like atomic energy is a danger to humanity.”
This quote is from the introduction explaining how the book got its title:
“In discussions of global energy and resources with our friends and colleagues, we found that many of them shared our frustration with all of the different units being used to describe energy. What we needed was a large unit of energy that could be visualized and would also evoke a visceral reaction… We turned to a unit that one of the authors, Hew Crane, had devised as he sat in the long lines that typified the energy crisis if 1974. He had heard that the world was using oil at the rate of 23,000 gallons a second and began wondering how much it would be in a year. A few multiplications later, he calculated it to be approaching a trillion gallons. 724 billion gallons to be more precise.”
This happens to be the volume of a cubic mile. So in 1974 we consumed a cubic mile of oil per year. Later in the book he points out that we are now consuming over 3 cubic miles of oil a year 41 years later.
When considering options for energy production in drought stricken geographies like California, nuclear energy plants such as The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), should be highlighted for the role they can play in meeting our energy needs, while not consuming an abundance of freshwater resources. During its operation, SONGS conserved approximately 126,548 gallons of freshwater per hour and produced enough energy to desalinate 668 trillion gallons of water a year. (2 million acre-feet.)
Ninety percent of the electricity produced in the United States comes from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which require large quantities of water for cooling steam (that is used to spin turbines that generate electricity) back to water that can be reused in the electricity generation process. Each type of power plant requires different amounts of water for cooling. For example, once-through cooling systems (such as the one used at SONGS) for nuclear power plants consume 400 gallons/MWh, coal power plants consume 300 gallons/MWh, and natural gas power plants consume 100 gallons/MWh. Once-through systems most commonly use freshwater from rivers, lakes, or aquifers, thus consuming water that could be used for agriculture, industry, and residential consumption. However, some power plants built near the ocean, like the SONGS, incorporate seawater into their once-through cooling system and require very little freshwater, leaving valuable water resources available for other purposes.
During its operation, SONGS produced 19% of the power used by Southern California Edison customers, supplying power to large portions of Southern California. Operating at full capacity from 1984-2011, units 2 and 3 of SONGS had a gross capacity of 1,127 MW and supplied on average 7,592 GWh of electricity a year and required the use of very little freshwater resources. The negative impacts of SONGS closure on the environment is already being realized. Carbon dioxide emissions from California’s power generation facilities increased from 30.7 million tons in 2011 to 41.6 million tons in 2012 in part due to the early closure of SONGS. Furthermore, millions of gallons of water that could be used for a multitude of other purposes have been used in fossil fuel energy production processes to replace the electricity once produced by SONGS. During its operation, SONGS conserved approximately 126,548 gallons of freshwater per hour (see calculations and assumptions below) that would have been used to produce the same amount of energy from other sources.
Furthermore the energy produced by SONGS could have been used in other ways to address water scarcity issues in California. For example, the average energy supplied through SONGS could have desalinated 668 trillion gallons of water a year, (2 million acre-feet) assuming it takes 3kWh to desalinate one cubic meter of water. That is enough water produced each year to supply San Diego’s population of over 3 million people with 119 gallons of freshwater (San Diego County’s daily average per capita) every day for five years.
Producing water locally would have also saved a considerable amount of energy that is required to pump water from reservoirs to Southern California. It requires on average 2908 kWh of energy to supply Southern California with one acre-foot (326,700 gallons) of water. Therefore during an average year, SONGS could have desalinated enough water locally, saving 5948 GWh of energy a year that would otherwise be required to pump water to Southern California.
Freshwater Conservation Calculations and Assumptions
Assuming the majority of the energy produced at SONGS would be used by Southern California Edison (SCE) customers, SCE’s energy mix can be used to determine what proportion of energy sources would be needed to make up for the loss of 7592.9 GWh of electricity SONGS supplied on average each year.
SCE Energy Mix for 2006 (the most recent energy mix data):
Natural Gas: 54%
Large Hydro: 5%
If energy production was ramped up proportionally across the energy mix of the SCE, each energy source would need to produce the following additional energy:
Natural Gas: 4,100.166 GWh (54% of 7,592.9)
Coal: 607.432 GWh (8% of 7,592.9)
Nuclear: 1290.793.59 GWh (17% of 7,592.9)
Large Hydro: 379.645 GWh (5% of 7,592.9)
Renewables: 1214.864 GWh (16% of 7,592.9)
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, natural gas, coal, and nuclear consume the following amount of freshwater to produce electricity:
Natural Gas: 100 gallons MWh
Coal: 300 gallons MWh
Nuclear: 400 gallons MWh
Which would result in the following freshwater consumption a year:
Therefore during its operation in 2006, SONGS conserved 1,108,563,400 gallons of freshwater a year or 126,548 gallons of water an hour, that would have otherwise been used by other power generation processes to produce the same amount of energy.
So if you’re thinking that San Onofre Nuclear Plant should not have been closed then you get it.
If we try to stay current with what’s going on in the world we find ourselves constantly faced with sorting out how others often fail to see the reality of things. But of course, depending on your sources, getting to the truth is harder because in the explosion of information there is deluge of misinformation available. Finding the full truth can set you free. I will limit my writing to my own personal experiences.
A big eye opener, I had not too long ago, was in a Facebook chat with a passionate young man who called himself a human rights activist. I was trying to persuade him that Ontario’s energy bills were higher because of subsidies for renewables such as wind and solar. He was clearly very smart and articulate. Still, he disagreed.
He wanted to inform me that nuclear energy was bad because the uranium mining it required was doing harm to the environment. His take on it was that nuclear power was run by the big bad corporations and that they were interested in profits at the expense of the people, especially the first nations people. I could not help but wonder about the enormous benefit Ontario experiences as a result of our nuclear plants. The good that a nuclear plant does far outweighs the harm the mining does.
But after digging more into the subject I discovered that mines and power plants have consequences and their proximity to valued natural habitat going back just 25 years has a dark history with regard to the wishes of the First Nations people. Consultation has been missing from the process of establishing mining and power plant operations.
As recent as 50 years ago consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis regarding mining activities was nonexistent. There has been a significant improvement and in recent years there are clear indications from Ontario Power Group (OPG) that dialogue has improved. But what’s interesting is that the only active uranium mine currently in Canada is in Saskatchewan. The world’s biggest uranium mines are in Kazahkstan, Canada and Australia. Canada’s worst health impacts to the indigenous people go back to the 1930s right up to 1962 in Deline, Northwest Territories.
It is a violation when you show up in someones backyard uninvited. It is invasive when you start digging without permission and without any attempt to educate the people about the dangers or benefits. All of that has changed and the rules were laid out in 1995. Now that protocols have been established and consultation has been started what needs to be communicated more often is that the benefits of uranium mining and nuclear energy far outweigh the costs. That means economically, environmentally and humanely. The risks may be small but when the perception of the risks are high then dialogue is needed and the First Nations groups were not getting that information or communication. Who handles marketing for the nuclear industry?
From the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) website they say (see footnote pdf):
“…Uranium exploration poses the same low risks to public health or the environment, as any exploration methods (such as drilling small core samples). It does not significantly modify the natural environment. Uranium exploration presents a very low risk of increasing radiation or radon exposure to the public and to the environment…”
“…The CNSC ensures streams, lakes and rivers downstream of uranium mining projects are safe for people, plants, fish and other animals…”
“…The CNSC assesses monitors and tracks licensees’ environmental performance to verify that releases to the environment are not harmful and are below regulatory limits. Since 1994, an ongoing monitoring study in northern Saskatchewan has assessed the cumulative impacts of radon, radionuclides and heavy metals on the local environment. Results have shown that uranium mines have no effect on radon levels, and that uranium, radium-226, lead-210 and polonium-210 levels in fish were often below detection levels. When measurable, these levels were no different around mine sites when compared to those at both nearby and remote reference sites…”
In recent years Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have placed moratoriums on uranium mining after investigations into Uranium Mining practices appeared largely based on pressure from human rights groups. These groups demand inquiries and reports are made but typically lack the scientific inquiry and they ignore the properly conducted scientific studies of already existing reports made by the CNSC.
There has been successful antinuclear activity in affecting change. Canada and the US both have their share of opposition to all things nuclear. The majority of cases where restrictions have occurred are due to emotional reactions based on outdated information and antinuclear rhetoric that ignores the successes in upgrades and regulations that apply to all current uranium mining in North America in effect since the 1990s.
Clearly the discussion with the young activist had a positive effect on me. I researched the topic. But I scored a few points too. He agreed that closing down all the coal plants in Ontario was something to be proud about. The point he did not grasp was that nuclear power was the main reason that stopping coal was even possible. He also failed to realize that Ontario would not be able to maintain its low carbon footprint without nuclear plants. He kept throwing at me the line about keeping this sustainable. I tried to explain that wind and solar farms are not sustainable. That was a tough one to crack.
If the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining in the idealistic world of renewable energy lovers what energy source comes to the rescue? Well in Ontario it happens to be natural gas. The same is true for other parts of the world especially where natural gas is easy to come by.
What is interesting is that nuclear power could do it all alone. But to humour the pro-renewable camp let’s try to understand why Europe has had load following reactors and North American reactors don’t. The punitive attitude towards nuclear would never let modifications take place without a massive review process. Consequently we don’t even try for new designs. So, carbon emitting natural gas wins by default because our system is still out of date and bases their decisions on a dogmatic approach to radiation dangers that have been proven to be overly conservative.
In Germany coal is winning that role where they foolishly started shutting down their nuclear reactors. But the hardest part to grasp is that if wind and solar were not part of the strategy to start with you would not need to find energy to replace the momentary losses of wind and solar power. So the perception that a significant risk exists outweighs the facts and decisions are made that have serious consequences economically and environmentally.
I noticed that my adversary and I resorted to our areas of expertise and I eventually realized our agendas had completely different foci and prevented us from winning each other over to our own side. It was clear to me that this individual was more concerned about the rights of individuals than about the best way to save the ecology of the planet. I did have a moment where I got him to recognize that nuclear might have a role in keeping things sustainable. I guess that was an accomplishment.
There was a lesson here. If your adversary calls themselves an activist you better be prepared to anticipate their bias and try to frame any new arguments you have from a perspective that they understand. I realized that my argument should have been that clean water and clean air are human rights and that nuclear energy happens to be one of the best ways to accomplish the goals of keeping the air and water clean.
So, it’s 2015 and we’re still having to go back over Storm van Leeuwen and Smith, again?
This was debunked and done to death and put to bed over 10 years ago, back somewhere around the time everyone was complaining how John Howard is a terrible Prime Minister. But apparently it’s the pseudoscience that just won’t die!
The meme that nuclear energy is bad because it has poor whole-of-lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, or poor EROEI, that are not comparable to wind energy, hydroelectricity and other climate-change-friendly energy technologies, but are in fact comparable to greenhouse-gas-intensive fossil fuel combustion is perhaps one of the oldest, most comprehensively debunked PRATT concerning arguments that emerged during the resurgence of public debate in the early 2000s about the importance of nuclear energy.
If you find any anti-nuclear energy activist who makes this claim, and you trace its roots back to the source (in the rare cases where they’re trying to be remotely credible and are actually citing reference material), in 99% of cases you’ll find that this argument originates from exactly the same place: just one pair of authors and their non-peer-reviewed website.
Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Phillip Smith’s original essay “Nuclear power – the energy balance“, which is where all this stuff originates from, has never been published in a scientific journal or subjected to any kind of formal peer-review process. In fact, it has only ever been published on the authors’ own website.
Their work has been widely debunked and discredited for many years, with some of the more egregious errors and assumptions discussed here:
Van Leeuwen’s work was included three times in a mean of 19 studies in a meta-analysis on the lifecycle greenhouse has emissions from nuclear power by Benjamin Sovacool, who is also quite a popular source in the anti-nuclear-energy activist community.
The University of Sydney’s Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis, in their report on the lifecycle analysis of nuclear energy “Life-Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia“, mentions that “contrary to Storm van Leeuwen and Smith’s assessment, we argue that multiplying the costs of the entire reactor with an economy-wide average energy or greenhouse gas intensity is not an appropriate method to assess the energy and greenhouse gas embodiments of a nuclear power plant.” Section 3.6 of the ISA report goes on to criticise, at some length, the flaws of this method, the AEI method, for energy accounting in lifecycle analysis.
Indeed, the ISA paper includes an entire section dedicated to “main areas of disagreement with Storm van Leeuwen and Smith’s study”, where several examples of the literature critical of van Leeuwen and Smith, including the work of Martin Sevior and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne, as well as analyses by the World Nuclear Association, are mentioned.
The ISA report goes on to state “there are a number of energy analyses of reactor construction that proceed similarly to Storm van Leeuwen and Smith’s process analysis, i.e. via a material inventory. While Storm van Leeuwen and Smith’s inventory is realistic, none of these studies yield energy embodiments that are anywhere near their 97 PJ or 27,000 GWh.”
Claim: “I have trawled the literature and found that there is no scientific consensus on the lifetime carbon emissions of nuclear electricity.”
The IPCC doesn’t seem to agree with this. Neither does NREL, nor the World Nuclear Association, nor James Hansen.
Having a meta-analysis which includes realistic error bars does not mean “no scientific consensus”. That sounds like a statistics fail. If you don’t have any uncertainty, you don’t have any error bars, then that’s not science – that’s religion.
Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, US NREL (Click to enlarge)
Furthermore, cherrypicking your literature “trawl” can give you a “scientific consensus”, or lack thereof, which says whatever you believe it should say at the beginning. Picking, say, the maximum error limit in a set of data, and ignoring the range and median of the data set is also statistical comprehension fail.
Data from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (See figure to the right) shows that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions intensity of nuclear energy has its median and 75th percentile slightly higher than those of wind power and slightly lower than those of both thermal and photovoltaic solar energy conversion. These values, for each of these three energy technologies, are all about 50 g/kWh CO₂ equivalent. The maximum data point given for nuclear energy is about the same as those for solar energy.
The World Nuclear Association also provides a rich source of data, discussion, primary source material and analysis that deals with these issues and answers these questions, in terms of material balance, energy investment and EROEI, and greenhouse gas analysis across the entirety of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Of course, some may kick and scream that the World Nuclear Association is a biased source, or that they’re a part of the big conspiracy of lies, or whatever – but you can read their material, investigate whether it makes sense, check it against other literature, look at the sources they’re using, and see if the source material stands up to peer review.
from “Renewable Energy in the Context of Sustainable Development”, in IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Cimate Change Mitigation, Ch. 9
This dataset (figure on the left) from the IPCC shows that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy are slightly better than those of solar photovoltaics, and slightly higher than but very close to the figures for concentrating solar power, wind energy and hydropower, and about the same as geothermal energy, when the mean and interquartile range are compared. When comparing only the maximum data points given, the figure for nuclear energy is about the same as that of solar photovoltaics.
Hansen and Kharecha, in the paper mentioned below, find “that global nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning”. This is published in a credible scientific journal, and it stands up to peer review.
So I ask the anti-nuclear activists… is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientifically incompetent? Or, are the IPCC and all the eminent climate scientists around the world engaged in some sort of conspiracy to manipulate the data, to misrepresent the science and to lie to us about it, covering up the true dangers of nuclear power?
This paper also looks at the greenhouse gas intensity of nuclear energy, and concludes that the climate-protection credentials of nuclear energy are well established and are comparable to the IPCC conclusions.
On the other hand, Keith Barnham’s analysis of nuclear energy has been published in ‘The Ecologist’, but this is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It’s really no more credible, in terms of expert peer-review process, than your personal blog or a newspaper opinion piece. ResearchGate lists the impact factor of ‘The Ecologist’ as, well, 0.00.
Given that Keith Barnham is Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College London, I have to wonder why his analysis of nuclear energy is not being published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, alongside Kharecha and Hansen and Nicholson et. al?
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, one of Australia’s leading marine biologists, and one of the most outspoken scientists in the world world on the issue of climate change and coral reefs – and a lead IPCC AR5 author, by the way – has said in a recent opinion column, “let’s go nuclear, for the reef’s sake“. Is he also just part of the big pro-nuclear biologist/climatologist conspiracy lying about the science?
Nuclear energy is recognised by most of the world’s expert climatologists, scientists and engineers as an incredibly valuable, important tool for climate protection.
About 71 percent of climate science experts surveyed in a recent poll (a poll that specifically looked at climatologists) agreed that nuclear power will play a crucial role in any plan to stabilize the effects of anthropogenic CO₂ emissions. At the same time, 67 percent agreed that “renewable” energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass would not scale up fast enough to meet the world’s expected power requirements with a safe CO₂ budget.
Claim: “Using 0.005% concentration uranium ores, a nuclear reactor will have a carbon footprint larger than a natural gas electricity generator. Also, it is unlikely to produce any net electricity over its lifecycle.”
This just keeps us coming back to the Storm van Leeuwen and Smith study.
50 ppm is extremely low grade for a uranium ore, and would be unlikely to be considered an economically attractive resource for commercial mining operations under most conditions.
Claim: “Nuclear fuel preparation begins with the mining of uranium containing ores, followed by the crushing of the ore then extraction of the uranium from the powdered ore chemically. All three stages take a lot of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels.”
This reads like classic Helen Caldicott style anti-nuclear pseudoscience, explaining that you’re mining uranium ore and then crushing the ore, and then milling and uranium extraction etc… it sounds all knowledgeable and sounds very scientific to a layperson audience, but doesn’t actually demonstrate the point being discussed, and doesn’t actually provide any evidence and science where it matters.
Claim: “The inescapable fact is that the lower the concentration of uranium in the ore, the higher the fossil fuel energy required to extract uranium.”
Claim: “According to figures van Leeuwen has compiled from the WISE Uranium Project around 37% of the identified uranium reserves have an ore grade below 0.05%.”
The total terrestrial reserves of any mineral or element, whether it’s nickel or neodymium, will obviously be mostly present in the form of very dilute mineral dispersed through the entire Earth. Any rock or soil contains essentially any mineral you choose at a small concentration, and ores which are commercially desirable because they contain a very high concentration of a somewhat pure mineral are relatively rare. If you imagine a continuous curve of mineral concentration on the vertical axis and amount of ore on the horizontal axis, stretching out asymptotically as dilute minerals extend out to the entire mass of the Earth, then it should be obvious that most of the mineral, the integrated area under the curve, is within the long tail region.
But this doesn’t actually tell us anything meaningful.
Claim: “On the basis that the high concentration ores are the easiest to find and exploit, this low concentration is likely to be more typical of yet to be discovered deposits.” Claim: “A conservative estimate for the future LCA of nuclear power for power stations intended to continue operating into the 2090s and beyond would assume the lowest uranium concentration currently in proven sources, which is 0.005%.”
And based on what evidence is this realistic? There is no evidence or justification for this at all. How about we assume the uranium is in the form of stockpiles of once-used LWR fuel which is 96% uranium, or stockpiles of depleted uranium and decommissioned weapons HEU, which are 100% uranium?
Claim: “The Beerten re-analyses also confirm that the carbon footprint of nuclear power depends strongly on the concentration of the uranium in the ore. This was first identified by Storm van Leeuwen, an author of the LCA in reference .”
Reference  cited by Barnham is Van Leeuwen and Smith’s essay, “Nuclear Power: The Energy Balance” – as mentioned, not peer reviewed, only ever published on Van Leeuwen and Smith’s own website, and widely debunked for methodological and arithmetic errors.
Namibia’s Rössing mine, for example, extracts uranium from an average ore concentration of about 200 ppm, which is low-grade ore. The energy input into this mining operation is about 0.2% of the energy output of the uranium produced – assuming once-through, inefficient partial use of that uranium in an existing light-water power reactor, without the recycling of that fuel or the use of fast reactors and modern advanced fuel cycles.
The use of a modern fuel cycle increases the energy output from the same amount of uranium input by a factor of about 200, meaning Rössing’s energy input would be about 0.001% of the nuclear energy output from the uranium produced. The use of a modern fuel cycle also makes it possible to consume existing large stockpiles of “depleted” uranium, once-used LWR fuel, and fissile fuels from the decommissioning of nuclear weapons stockpiles – these fuel stockpiles are already “free”, are extremely energy dense, and require no mining.
We can use mined uranium in a light-water reactor today, and then safely store this once-used fuel for decades if we want to, and then go and recover the remaining 99.5% of that energy value from the stored fuel tomorrow, or a century from now.
Assuming a linear relationship, we might expect that if the Rössing mine was extracting uranium from an ore with a concentration of 50 ppm we could extrapolate the energy input to the mining operation to be about four times what it is, or about 0.8% of the energy output from inefficient, once-through uranium use in an existing LWR.
To put it another way, the total non-nuclear energy investment required to generate electricity for a plant lifetime of 40 years is repaid in 5 months. Normalised to 1 GW of electrical power capacity, the energy input required for both construction and decommissioning of the plant, which is 4 petajoules of total primary energy according to Vattenfall’s independently audited Environmental Product Declaration, is effectively repaid in about 6 weeks.
The energy investment required to dispose of the plant’s used nuclear fuel is also about the same – 4 PJ, repaid in 6 weeks.
Under Swedish government policy, this fuel is moved to interim storage and packaged for safe and environmentally friendly permanent disposal in a deep geological repository. However, this permanent disposal of once-used LWR fuel is a terrible waste of valuable, useful energy-rich fuel which is about 97% unchanged, unreacted uranium as well as plutonium and the minor actinides formed in the fuel within the reactor – this is a terrible waste of clean energy which can be avoided through the efficient recycling of the fuel.
In total, this whole-of-lifecycle energy investment for construction, decommissioning and fuel disposal is less than 0.8% of all the electrical energy produced by the nuclear power plant over its lifetime.
At a polymetallic orebody such as the Olympic Dam project in South Australia (1.98% Cu, 490 ppm U, 4.01 ppm Ag and 0.69 ppm Au), uranium (as well as Au and Ag) is profitably extracted from what would otherwise be the waste, the tailings, of a large copper mine.
In a case like this, the extra cost, effort and energy investment (and lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions) for the extra extraction circuit are almost negligible for the amount of value that is generated – and enormous amount of clean energy that is generated – using crushed rock that has already been mined and subjecting this powdered rock (tailings) waste to an extra chemical extraction step to recover its valuable uranium content. The “byproduct” extraction of uranium, gold and silver adds very little to the overall energy consumption of the mine and processing plant – a great deal of energy goes into the natural-gas fired furnaces at Olympic Dam, for example.
The mining and processing of natural uranium oxide from relatively low-grade (490 ppm) ore at Olympic Dam presently supplies enough uranium for the generation of about 26 gigawatt-years of electrical energy each year from nuclear power plants, assuming inefficient once-through uranium use in older light-water reactors without recycling or advanced fuel cycles, and including the uranium needed to supply the energy required for uranium enrichment. The energy consumption at the Olympic Dam mine is about 220 megawatt-years of energy each year, or 0.85% of the electrical energy produced. This includes all the energy input required for the mining, smelting and electrorefining of Olympic Dam’s huge copper production, which accounts for by far the majority of the energy inputs.
There are very large global reserves of uranium that have not yet been mined or even fully mapped out around the world in the range of 200-500 ppm uranium concentrations, including the Olympic Dam deposit. Furthermore, the world possesses enormous stockpiles of useful, valuable nuclear fuel that has already been mined and is waiting to be used – this includes so-called depleted uranium, once-used LWR fuel waiting to be recycled, and the growing stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium or very highly enriched uranium from the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, which is downblended into MOX or LEU fuel for energy generation in nuclear power stations. Furthermore, how long does the world need to continue to expand and to use nuclear fission power stations for before nuclear fusion power stations become widespread? 50 years? Let’s be pessimistic, maybe 100 years? These timescales are short compared to the lifetimes of existing assured uranium reserves at reasonably high concentrations well above 50 ppm.
In short, the implication that worldwide nuclear power, and uranium mining, will soon be forced to move to very, very low concentration (50 ppm) uranium ores is completely without evidence. It’s just not demonstrated and backed up at all.
Namibia’s Rössing uranium project produced 3037 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2004, which is sufficient for the generation of about 15 gigawatt-years with once-through inefficient use in a light-water reactor. The energy input that goes into the mining and milling of this uranium is about 3% of one gigawatt-year, thus making the energy produced by this uranium about 500 times the energy input required to operate the mine.
Extrapolating this, for a uranium mine to produce no net energy gain, we would expect it to have a uranium concentration in the ore of no more than about 0.4 ppm. But this is less than the average concentration of uranium in the Earth’s crust! Therefore, we might expect that a positive energy gain is possible, even with once-through LWR fuel use, from the energy content of every single bit of dirt and rock on Earth!
But even this doesn’t give us the whole story. A typical nuclear power reactor generating 1 gigawatt of electrical power actually generates about 3 gigawatts of thermal power, and two gigawatts of this is dissipated to the heatsink due to the realities of thermodynamic energy conversion that any coal-fired, solar-thermal, nuclear or geothermal power plant is subject to.
If we measure the energy inputs into the lifecycle of nuclear energy, for example into uranium mining, as primary thermal energy, then we should also measure the energy that this uranium generates as primary thermal energy. Although this is not widely done at most nuclear power reactors today, we can and we should (because it’s more efficient) use heat from nuclear reactors to supply district heating, to heat buildings, and to power industrial and chemical processes operating at appropriate temperatures.
3000 tonnes of natural uranium oxide converted to energy in a light-water reactor with once-through fuel use actually gives us about 45 gigawatt-years of thermal energy. If the energy input required for the uranium mine is 30 megawatt-years of primary (thermal) energy, then the true “energy gain” factor for this system is actually 1500.
Van Leeuwen and Smith give a rather pessimistic assessment of the energy lifecycle of nuclear power, and they assume a far larger energy investment to construct and decommission a nuclear power plant than Vattenfall’s Environmental Product Declaration does – 240 PJ of primary energy in van Leeuwen and Smith’s report versus 8 PJ in Vattenfall’s analysis – the figure claimed by van Leeuwen and Smith is 30 times the Vattenfall figure!
The difference is that Vattenfall actually measured their energy inputs whereas Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Smith employed various theoretical relationships between dollar costs and energy consumed – this relates to the flawed assumption of the AEI method, as discussed above. Their study also grossly over-estimates the energy cost of mining low-grade ores and also that the efficiency of extraction of uranium from ores would fall dramatically at ore concentrations below 0.05%.
Employing van Leeuwen and Smith’s models leads to the prediction that the energy cost of extracting the Olympic Dam mine’s yearly production of 4600 tonnes of uranium oxide would require almost 2 gigawatt-years of energy investment – that is, a two-gigawatt power station, comparable to Victoria’s Loy Yang plant or a two-unit nuclear power plant, just to supply energy for uranium extraction. As well as being an order of magnitude larger than the measured energy inputs, this modelled value also happens to be greater than the entire electricity generating capacity of South Australia. So it’s probably not true.
The discrepancy is even larger in the case of the Rössing uranium project, which has an even lower uranium concentration than Olympic Dam. However, since it is an orebody and mine from which only uranium is extracted, it should be easier to accurately use Rössing to quantify the energy investment into low-grade uranium mining without getting confused by energy attribution across the different metals produced.
In the case of Rössing, van Leeuwen and Smith predict the mine should require 2.6 gigawatt-years of energy investment for the mining and milling of one year of uranium production. This should be compared to the total annual consumption of all forms of energy in Namibia, which is 1.5 gigawatt-years. (The energy input to the mine itself is, of course, much less than the total energy demand of the entire country.)
Furthermore, the total cost of supplying Namibia’s total energy demand is over a billion dollars a year while the value of the uranium sold by Rössing was, until recently, less than 100 million dollars per annum. The annual energy usage of the Rössing mine is reported to actually be 30 megawatt-years, or a factor of 80 less than that predicted by van Leeuwen and Smith.
Additionally, van Leeuwen and Smith predict that the yield of uranium extracted from ores will fall to zero at concentrations of 2 ppm. However, this is absurd because there is no such thing as “uranium ore” with a concentration of 2 ppm – the average uranium concentration in the entire Earth’s crust is 3 ppm! Therefore, there is an infinitely large resource of uranium “ore” available at 3 ppm – every bit of dirt and rock on Earth!
It is interesting to see what effect using Vattenfall’s more accurate energy investment figure of 8 PJ for the construction, decommissioning and waste disposal from a nuclear power plant, along with the measured energy consumption of the Rössing mine has within the methodology of van Leeuwen and Smith. If we assume that the energy cost of extraction scales inversely with concentration, and employ the Rössing data as a benchmark, ore concentrations as low as 10 ppm provide an energy gain of 16.
This also (unrealistically) assumes no further progress in mining technology or efficiency improvements in nuclear power operations over the course of hundreds of years. There is an estimated 1 trillion tonnes of uranium at concentrations of 10 ppm or higher within the Earth’s crust.
This provides a resource size that is a factor of over 300 greater than that predicted by van Leeuwen and Smith to be recoverable. So, once the correct energy cost for plant construction and mining operations are used, the own work of van Leeuwen and Smith show that resource exhastion will not be a problem for nuclear power for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, how many decades do we need to continue to use light-water reactors fuelled by natural uranium for anyway, before efficient fuel recycling, use of existing stockpiles, efficient nuclear fuel consumption in fast reactors, and/or nuclear fusion power plants are in widespread use?
The arguments and data I’ve outlined above are taken from the work of Martin Sevior, Adrian Flitney and a number of their colleagues at the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne, from their website as linked above. Van Leeuwen and Smith have published their rebuttal of this argument. Sevior and his colleagues have responded in detail to the questions raised by van Leeuwen and Smith, and van Leeuwen and Smith have published a rebuttal to their response, with a further answer to this from Sevior et al.
“Remarkably, half of the most rigorous published analyses have a carbon footprint for nuclear power above the limit recommended by the UK government’s official climate change advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).”
Is this actually true? Does credible evidence actually exist for this statement? This depends on a suspicious cherrypicking of “most rigorous” published data, and a suspicious reliance upon non-credible source material from anti-nuclear activists such as van Leeuwen and Sovacool – and also fails to consider how many analyses of, say, wind energy or solar energy will find that they’re also coming in above the the 50g/kWh mark when the same standards and methodologies of life-cycle analysis are applied in a consistent way.
Compared to about 1000 g/kWh of greenhouse gas emissions from coal combustion, just at the power plant stack (without lifecycle analysis) there is absolutely no doubt or lack of scientific consensus that nuclear power, solar power, wind power and hydroelectricity are all clean, green, climate-friendly technologies with near-negligible greenhouse gas emissions.
Right now Ontario’s electricity grid is generating 61.5% of its supply from nuclear power, with an overall grid greenhouse gas emissions intensity of 30g/kWh CO2-equivalent – well under 50g/kWh, which is where the IPCC recommends we need to be for all new sources of stationary energy generation beyond 2030 to have the best chance of mitigating the worst effects of anthropogenic climate forcing.
However, it is utterly pointless to debate exactly where the error bars lie, and exactly how much statistical confidence we have, regarding the very similar life cycle analysis of these clean technologies – the important thing is to use these technologies to actually replace our existing coal-fired power stations in a realistic way, whilst maintaining the same reliable amount of electricity generation that these coal-fired plants supply, and to do this as quickly and as cheaply as possible, choosing the most realistic, scalable, reliable and cost-effective technologies to do this job. Taking any technologies that can achieve this job off the table just because that error bar may peek up above a strictly enforced whole-of-life cycle 50 gCO2/kWh limit is silly – and if this standard was actually applied consistently to other technologies such as solar power, without the double standards and cherry picking that the author applies to nuclear power, these technologies would be excluded from use as well.
Ontario burned their last bit of coal for electricity generation in 2013, and they’ll never burn coal again – largely thanks to nuclear power.
The overall greenhouse gas emissions intensity of EDF’s energy generation infrastructure across mainland France was about the same in 2013 – just 35 g/kWh, and this is mostly thanks to nuclear energy. This is also well below where the IPCC is telling us we should be moving for stationary energy generation by 2050 in order to meet safe climate targets.
“They also point out that the estimates depend strongly on the assumptions made about the carbon footprint of the energy that has to be supplied, in particular in extraction, preparation and enrichment of the fuel.”
We might assume that the enrichment of low-enriched uranium to supply the needs of a typical LWR nuclear power station generating one gigawatt-year of electrical energy will require about 10^5 Separative Work Units (SWU) of enrichment capacity. (This assumes that all the fuel supplied is natural uranium that requires enrichment, and that downblended weapons-grade uranium, MOX fuel, or natural uranium in CANDU reactors, are not used.) Enrichment of natural uranium in a gas centrifuge to the typical levels used in LWR fuel requires an electrical energy input of about 50 kWh per SWU.
Therefore, about 5 GWh of electrical energy goes in to the nuclear fuel cycle at the enrichment plant stage, and 8766 GWh (a gigawatt-year) of electrical energy comes out. The energy cost of enrichment is 5 gigawatt-hours out of one gigawatt-year.
The United States Enrichment Corporation’s uranium enrichment plant near Paducah, Kentucky operates using electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and supplied via the normal electricity grid. The TVA supplies energy to the electricity grid using a diverse mix of energy sources – 11 fossil-fuel plants, six combustion turbine plants, five nuclear reactors and 29 hydroelectric dams. In 2006, 35% of TVA’s generation capacity – which we can reasonably assume corresponds to 35% of the energy supplied to the Paducah enrichment plant – was provided by these non-greenhouse intensive hydroelectric and nuclear generation technologies.
The Eurodif consortium’s uranium enrichment site in Pierrelatte, France, is supplied with the entirety of its energy needs from the nearby Tricastin nuclear power station, with no energy coming from other energy supplies, fossil-fuelled or otherwise. So the lifecycle greenhouse gas accounting looks pretty good in this case!
“The intention is that fuel rods of the EPR will remain longer in the core than in today’s reactors in an attempt to reduce the cost of the electricity. This will mean that the spent fuel will be more radioactive resulting in new challenges in dismantling reactors and in dealing with the waste. Inevitably, this will lead to higher carbon footprints.”
When a fission product is formed in a nuclear reactor, it is formed at a rate dependent on the fission rate in the reactor and the branching ratio for the formation of that particular fission product. That constant formation rate, combined with radioactive decay of the fission product at a certain rate (for radioactive fission products) and destruction of the fission product by neutron-capture transmutation (dependent on neutron flux) governs the inventory of a particular fission product and how it evolves over time.
When you put all that together, and solve a whole bunch of differential equations, you find that fission products tend to reach equilibrium after a while, in a fission reactor that is operated at a constant power. The setup and solution of these complex systems of coupled differential equations, along with libraries of relevant data such as capture cross sections, is basically at the heart of computational nuclear burnup codes such as ORIGEN.
It is by no means demonstrated here that the used nuclear fuel from a modern nuclear power reactor, which is likely to have increased burnup and to have generated more energy over its lifetime in the reactor, is going to be significantly different to any existing, familiar used nuclear fuel. It will be very radioactive when discharged from the reactor, as all used fuel is, but it won’t be anything radically different.
“The report is from the company Ricardo-AEA, formed in 2012 when Ricardo acquired AEA Technology, itself a spin-out from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Their analysis makes the astonishing assumption that both the EPRs at Hinkley Point C will operate at 1 GW above their design power for 85% of every year over a 60 year lifetime.”
Really, 1GW of power output above the reactor’s design power? Show us the evidence.
Show us the source material.
“In my book, The Burning Answer: a User’s Guide to the Solar Revolution, I discuss a simple comparison of the LCAs of the EPR and a large dam (or probably dams) producing the same amount of power.”
So, hang on a minute. If we’ve got the “Solar Revolution”, tell us again why we need large, ecologically destructive, hydroelectric dams? I also note here that the author is citing his own popular book, not his paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and he is promoting the book which, of course, it is implied that you should go out and purchase.
“The EPR is far bigger and more complex, than any existing nuclear reactor, or indeed any electricity generating system ever built.”
There is no real reason to believe that, in terms of lifecycle analysis, the modern European Pressurised Reactor design will look particularly different to any other existing light water reactor. In fact, modern LWR designs aim to be more cost effective (and more energy efficient across the whole lifecycle) by minimising the amount of steel and concrete required for construction whilst also maximising safety and maximising efficiency and fuel burnup.
“The contract will commit the UK public to paying heavy subsidies and may be signed before it is known if the prototype works or what its environmental impact will be.”
It’s a pressurised light-water nuclear power reactor. It’s a modern design, with improvements in safety, efficiency and economics compared to older designs – but it’s still just a LWR, it’s nothing radically new. So, yes, we have quite a good idea that it will work and what a large coal-replacing environmental boon will be.
“Note that thanks to long construction times for the EPR design and a forthcoming legal challenge, it’s entirely possible that the planned Hinkley C reactor will not be completed until 2030 or beyond.”
“The likely delay due to the Austrian appeal against the European Commission’s decision on the EPR subsidy offers an opportunity for a full, independent and peer reviewed assessment of the environmental impact of this complex and expensive new technology.”
“The likely Austrian appeal against the European Commission’s approval of the subsidy may delay the contract signing beyond the 2016 completion date for the EPR.”
So why do these delays exist? The author says it right there himself – these delays exist because of legal challenges from activists.
“As all six are either above, or have error bars that reach above, the CCC’s 2030 threshold of 50 gCO2/kWh, the balance of the evidence of the six most robust LCAs is that the carbon footprint of nuclear power is above the CCC’s recommended limit.”
Even without the cherrypicking of “robust” studies, this is an absurd abuse of statistics and an abuse of the maximum uncertainty limits (error bars) given on those data sets.
“First let’s compare the construction costs. The cost of building the first 1.6 GW EPR at Hinkley Point is around five times higher than the cost of building the hydropower dams which provide the same electrical power. This higher price suggests higher carbon emissions.”
“This approach was first suggested by Hans Bethe, the physics Nobel Prize laureate, in the 1960s, and has been widely used by both companies and governments as a first estimate of their carbon footprints.”
Is a citation provided? No? Didn’t think so. And, by the way, this wouldn’t be the same Hans Bethe who wrote “The Necessity of Fission Power”, would it? “Many of these additional costs for the nuclear option result from burning fossil fuels directly in manufacture or transport or in the generation of electricity in all stages of construction. The fact that the EPR costs five times the hydropower option suggests the construction could result in up to five times larger carbon emissions than dams that give the same power.”
“As we have seen, the EPR’s very high cost suggests considerably higher emissions in the construction stage.”
This is a non sequitur. It is not demonstrated, it does not follow from the starting point, and it is not backed up by any kind of meaningful reasoning or any credible evidence.
This assumption that cost tracks lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions is a meaningless assumption, and it relates back to the flawed AEI methodology for lifecycle analysis that is used by van Leeuwen and Smith, and discussed above.
The green energy supporters did some boasting but were clearly mistaken about replacing energy needed after shutting down four reactor units at Heysham and Hartlepool! Anybody who understand the kind of power needed to replace four nuclear reactors could have easily guessed that it could not possibly have been the wind that came to the rescue.