Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why Nuclear Power is Not “Low Carbon” » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

A False Promise
Why Nuclear Power is Not “Low Carbon”

The UK government is committed to massively subsidising new nuclear reactors, based on the claim that they generate ‘low carbon’ electricity.
But what is the carbon footprint of nuclear power? I have trawled the literature and found that there is no scientific consensus on the lifetime carbon emissions of nuclear electricity.
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).
According to the CCC, if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, by 2030 all electricity should be generated with less than 50 grams of carbon dioxide emitted for each kilowatt-hour (50 gCO2/kWh).
Since all new generators have lifetimes well over 20 years, I believe this limit should be imposed on all new electricity supply systems here and now – and all the more so for those with lifetimes spanning many decades.
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. It will then be subsidised for the first 35 years of its projected 60 year lifetime – taking us through until 2090.
What is the carbon footprint of renewable electricity?
When comparing the carbon footprints of electricity-generating technologies, we need to take into account carbon dioxide emitted in all stages in the life of the generator and its fuel. Such a study is called a life cycle analysis (LCA).
There are other gases such as methane that are more dangerous greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The most reliable LCAs take all greenhouse gases into account and present equivalent carbon dioxide emissions.
In a recent paper in Energy Policy, Daniel Nugent and Benjamin Sovacool critically reviewed the published LCAs of renewable electricity generators. All the renewable technologies came in below the 50 gCO2/kWh limit.
The lowest was large-scale hydropower with a carbon footprint one fifth of the CCC limit (10 gCO2/kWh). A close second was biogas electricity from anaerobic digestion (11 gCO2/kWh). The mean figure for wind energy is 34 gCO2/kWh, and solar PV comes in a shade under the 50g limit, at 49.9 gCO2/kWh. Bear in mind that rapidly evolving PV technology means that this last figure is contantly falling.
What’s the carbon footprint of nuclear power?