Many people see nuclear power as a way of generating the electricity we need at the same time as greatly reducing our greenhouse and other harmful emissions. Is their optimism justified?
In September 2020 a price of under Aus$45/MWh (US$32) was agreed for power from the proposed Goyder South Renewables Zone Wind Farm near Burra in South Australia.
Apart from the costs there are ethical arguments; the way nuclear power is used at present about 1% of the available energy in the uranium is used and the remaining 99% goes out with the waste. (The 235U is used, the great bulk of the uranium, most of the 238U is wasted; it could all be used.) Is this fair to future generations? Also, we use the energy and leave the waste for future generations to look after.
Nuclear power can be used to generate electricity, and there is no release of greenhouse gasses during the generation process, although mining, concentrating, and refining uranium, as it is done today, does consume large amounts of fossil fuels and produces corresponding amounts of greenhouse carbon dioxide. Nuclear power is not a substitute for the petroleum that is running out; it is not suitable for powering transport except for possible use in shipping.
We have lived with nuclear powered electricity generation since the 1950s.
So far as I know all the world's nuclear power stations have been built at the expense of national governments and no-one seems to know what nuclear power really costs; especially when the costs of the whole life-cycle of nuclear power is taken into account: mining the ore, refining and enriching the ore, building the power station, safely storing or disposing of the waste, and decommissioning of the power station.
If nuclear power was economically competitive, why do nuclear power stations have to be subsidised by tax-payers?If it was the cheapest option then we should be able to leave the building and running of new nuclear power stations to private enterprise. Of course it would have to be a whole package, part of the deal would be the locking away of appropriate sums of money for decommissioning of reactors at the end of their useful life and for the safe long-term storage or disposal of all radioactive materials. Disposal of radioactive waste, in particular, is difficult to cost because it must ensure that the material is kept out of the active environment for several thousand years or even more.
I strongly suspect that no company would be interested in taking full financial responsibility for the whole life of a nuclear power station and the waste; the amount of money that they would have to lock away would be too large and would make the whole operation economically unviable. If building and running nuclear power stations is economically unviable for private enterprise why should our governments take it on and we the tax payers foot the bills? Private industry is willing to build sustainable power generation facilities – wind, solar and geothermal – that are comparable in cost to fossil-fuelled power stations when the cost of pollution or the proper disposal of waste is taken into consideration.
Conserving energy and using electricity more efficiently is by far the best way that we can reduce our greenhouse impact.
What really is the attraction of nuclear power stations to Western nations? Is it that some people short-sightedly see nuclear as a real saviour, or are there hidden agendas? I must admit that I don't know the whole answer, but a part of the answer seems to be that while many people realise that fossil fuels have to be phased-out they simply don't like renewable energy; they see it as a do-gooder, greeny, leftist thing.
Wind and solar power are where the future of energy generation lie
A small part of Snowtown Wind Farm near my home in Mid-North South Australia
First I've just listed the disadvantages, then I've given fuller explanations of each
Explanations of the disadvantages of nuclear power
"In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China's wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away-outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State."This seems to be a demonstration that nuclear power is simply not an economically viable option any more, irrespective of its environmental questions and advantages or disadvantages.
Wikipedia, 2017/01/24, listed estimated decommissioning costs varying from US$153 million to US$514 million per reactor.
In the USA 'in-situ decommissioning', that is the entombment of nuclear power stations cost US$73 million for two reactors. Whether leaving the reactors in place indefinitely can truly be called 'decommissioning' is highly questionable.
Wikipedia stated that:
"In 2016 the European Commission assessed that European Union's nuclear decommissioning liabilities were seriously underfunded by about 118 billion euros, with only 150 billion euros of earmarked assets to cover 268 billion euros of expected decommissioning costs covering both dismantling of nuclear plants and storage of radioactive parts and waste."The cleaning up of mines at the ends of their useful lives has historically been seriously underfunded; often leaving a large part of the costs to be covered by tax-payers. Can we have any confidence that the decommissioning of nuclear power stations will be properly funded?
No doubt it's easy to criticise from a distance.
What will it mean to the future of nuclear power?As I write this (2011/03/31) it seems very likely that the meltdown and nuclear contamination at Fukushima will strengthen the anti-nuclear lobby and make nuclear power more unpopular world-wide. The alternatives are:
an article in RenewEconomy –
The so-called "nuclear renaissance" in the United States has had another major setback, with another two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina abandoned after costs spiralled out of control, leaving consumers holding the bill for plants that will never be completed.Procon, 2017/08/04, reported:
"On Monday July 31, the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company announced that it was abandoning construction on two new nuclear power reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, SC due to cost overruns and delays in construction.
Those who are advocating nuclear power are predominantly the same people who are opposing the further development of renewable power. My impression is that these people know that we have to reduce greenhouse emissions, they have some sort of ideological disliking for renewable energy (for whatever reason), so they see nuclear as a way out of what would otherwise be a dilemma for them.
Those in the pro-nuclear lobby, not surprisingly, either are ignorant of, or not willing to address the questions of:
"Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors.
External pagesHigh-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power Is Not an Option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix, DIW (German Institute for Economic Research) weekly report number 30, 2019.
Part built power stations abandoned August 2017: an article in RenewEconomy –
The so-called "nuclear renaissance" in the United States has had another major setback, with another two nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina abandoned after costs spiralled out of control, leaving consumers holding the bill for plants that will never be completed.More on this development above on this page.
Failed nuclear power station converted to amusement park. "This failed $5.3 billion nuclear power plant in Germany is now an amusement park that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year."
"The SNR-300 was supposed to be Germany's first fast breeder nuclear reactor when construction began in 1972. The reactor was made to use plutonium as fuel, and it would output 327 megawatts of energy. Built in Kalkar, the government had some concerns about the safety of the nuclear reactor, which delayed construction. The power plant was finished in 1985 — $5.3 billion later. But after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the SNR-300 never got a chance to fully operate, and by 1991 the project was officially canceled."
On this siteAustralia's energy future
Australia's proposed low-medium nuclear waste repository
On this page...
Advantages of nuclear power
Changing to responsible use of uranium
Disadvantages of nuclear power
Nuclear power in Australia
Olympic Dam Mine
Part built power stations abandoned
Pronunciation of nuclear
Thorium instead of uranium?
USA turns away from nuclear
US utility dumps nuclear
Viable nuclear power
Which nations are getting out of nuclear power?
Wind and nuclear power in China