Novelist Gwyneth Cravens lectured at the College St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. last week, plugging a 2007 book that beats the dead horse of using new nuclear power reactors as a way to fight climate change. With five novels under her belt, Cravens’ “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy” (2007), is yet another fiction that imagines nuclear power is safe and a future means of easing climate chaos.
Cravens’ assertion that nuclear reactor designs can cut carbon emissions is specious, since it ignores the CO2 produced by uranium mining, milling, transport and fuel rod fabrication; the thousands of billions of gallons of cooling water returned hot to rivers, lakes and seas; the carbon fuels burned during reactor construction, decommissioning, waste management; and the ozone-depleting CFCs emitted from uranium fuel fabrication factories in Kentucky and Tennessee (the only industry to win an exemption from the CFC ban). Cravens and the rest of the industry lobby make sure not to draw attention to the carbon burned for thousands of years packaging high-level waste and shipping it again and again to “temporary” dump sites. The worst failing of Cravens’ science fiction is the demonstrated mathematical impossibility of expanding nuclear power fast enough to fight the climate crisis; that and the fact that investing in new reactors steals resources from safer and cheaper systems that go on line faster. In respect to her 7-year-old story, I dug up a 7-year-old reply.
PETER BRADFORD: In “Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry Is Risky,” Peter Bradford, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, declares, “the claims that nuclear power is a necessary energy source for displacing greenhouse gasses haven’t convinced investors that new nuclear power reactors will be safe and profitable investments.” Bradford’s list of reasons to reject nuclear power is startling: investing in new nuclear reactors remains very risky; Wall Street has expressed serious concerns; nuclear power reactors are stated terrorist targets; nuclear power will not reduce foreign energy dependence [most uranium comes from Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia]; permanent storage of high-level waste remains unresolved; global warming increases the risks of operating reactors vulnerable to heated water unable to cool the core. (Peter Bradford and David Schlissel, “Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry Is Risky,” January 2007, 9 pages, http://a4nr.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Nuclear-Power-is-Risky-report.pdf)
MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: A 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” noted that a “global growth scenario” of a base load of 1,000 gigawatts of installed capacity around the world by 2050, “would require a new 1,000 megawatt reactor to come on-line somewhere in the world every 15 days on average between 2010 and 2050.” (Brice Smith, “Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change,” 2006, pp. 5-10.)
GREENPEACE: Greenpeace International’s “Nuclear Power Undermining Action on Climate Change” (Dec. 2007), concludes not only that new reactor construction cannot be done soon enough to help, but that money devoted to nuclear power “deprives real climate solutions of funding.” Greenpeace found that, “Even if today’s currently installed nuclear capacity was doubled; it would lead to reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions of less than 5 percent and would require one new large reactor to come on-line every two weeks until 2030. An impossible task…” In stark contrast, “Proven renewable energy techniques are available now, can be constructed and brought on-line quickly and provide immediate cuts in greenhouse gases.”
There is an investment choice to be made. “The investment required to double global nuclear capacity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by less than 5 percent, would be between two and three trillion dollars.” Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute calculates, “Each dollar invested in electric efficiency displaces nearly seven times as much carbon dioxide as a dollar invested in nuclear power, without any nasty side effects.” (Greenpeace International Briefing, “Nuclear Power Undermining Action on Climate Change,” December 2007; 7 pages, http://a4nr.org/library/globalwarmingclimatechange/12.2007-greenpeace [scroll down to “PDF Nuclear power”])
INSTITUTE FOR ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH (IEER): Physicist Arjun Makhijani, IEER’s president and author of Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, says, “A technological revolution has been brewing in the last few years, so it won’t cost an arm and a leg to eliminate both CO2 emissions and nuclear power.” Dr. Hisham Zerriffi, an expert on electricity grids at the University of British Columbia, says, “What is really innovative about this ‘Roadmap’ is that it combines technologies to show how to create a reliable electricity and energy system entirely from renewable sources of energy.”
According to the Roadmap, North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska each has wind energy potential greater than the electricity produced by all 103 U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors. The Roadmap recommends a “hard cap” on CO2 emissions by large fossil fuel users (more than 100 billion Btu per year). “The cap would be reduced each year until it reaches zero in 30 to 50 years. There would be no free emissions allowances, no international trade of allowances, and no offsets that would allow corporations to emit CO2 by investing in outside projects to reduce emissions. The emissions of smaller users would be reduced by efficiency standards for appliances, cars, homes and commercial buildings.” (Arjun Makhijani, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, Institute for Environmental and Energy Research with Nuclear Policy Research Institute, June 2007. See 23-page summary at ieer.org/carbonfree
PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: In “Dirty, Dangerous & Expensive, The Truth About Nuclear Power” (Sept. 2006), the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize-winning PSR, says, “Given the urgent need to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, the tremendously long lead times required for the design, permitting and construction of nuclear reactors renders nuclear power an ineffective option for addressing global warming. … Were an accident to occur [like the July 16, 2007 Japanese earthquake that shutdown three reactors, or the 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima], it is likely that any planned nuclear power plants would be scrapped…. When the very serious risk of accidents, proliferation, terrorism and nuclear war are considered, it is clear that investment in nuclear power as a climate change solution is not only misguided but also highly dangerous.” (Physicians for Social Responsibility, “Dirty, Dangerous & Expensive: The Truth About Nuclear Power,” Sept. 2006, 4 pages, http://www.psr.org/resources/dirty-dangerous-and-expensive-the-truth-about-nuclear-power.pdf)
OXFORD RESEARCH GROUP (ORG): In their June 2007 report “Too Hot to Handle: The Future of Civil Nuclear Power,” the London-based think tank ORG analyzed the environmental and security risks of relying on nuclear power. The study concludes that, “For the nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks to be worth taking, nuclear power must be able to achieve energy security and a reduction in global CO2 emissions more effectively, efficiently, economically, and quickly than any other energy source. There is little evidence to support the claim that it can.” (Frank Barnaby and James Kemp, Oxford Research Group, “Too Hot to Handle: The Future of Civil Nuclear Power,” July 2007, 22 pages; http://www.nuclearconsult.com/docs/information/proliferation/TOOHOTTOHANDLE.pdf )
Member of Parliament David Howarth notes in the study’s foreword that, in Britain, “the potential for renewable power vastly exceeds current electricity consumption.” Like other analysts, ORG noted the impossibility of building enough reactors soon enough to reduce greenhouse emissions. After considering population growth and the parallel growth in electricity demand, the team found that “nearly four new reactors would have to begin construction each month from now until 2075” around the world. The authors point out that “In the UK it is expected to take at least 17 years from licensing to generating electricity.” Furthermore, “Between 1977 and 1993, 58 nuclear power reactors came into operation at an average of 3.4 reactors per year.” The study concludes, “A civil nuclear construction and supply program on this scale is a pipe dream.” — John LaForge