Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source
2. Barriers to Nuclear Sustainability
2.1. Nuclear Energy Life Cycle GHG Emissions and Energy Cannibalism
2.2. Nuclear Energy Externalities
2.3. Nuclear Energy Economic Sustainability and Insurability
- (1) Radical improvement in GHG emissions intensity. First, the embodied energy of the entire nuclear energy life cycle must be reduced. This reduction can not simply be done by ignoring parts of the life cycle as has been attempted in the past or using weak non-inclusive PB LCAs to make the numbers appear more favorable to the industry. As shown by the climate science community, anthropogenic climate destabilization is a real physical problem that demands real solutions rather than creative uses of emissions accounting. In the short term, previous work has indicated that efforts that improve the GHG emissions of the nuclear energy life cycle should be given a high priority such as (i) transitioning to enrichment based on gas centrifuge technology, (ii) utilizing nuclear plants in combined heat and power (CHP) systems to take advantage of the ‘waste’ heat, (iii) using nuclear power for thermal processing with the attendant increases in efficiency , (iv) down blending nuclear weapons stockpiles for nuclear power plant fuel, (v) utilizing only the highest concentration ores . In the medium/long term, there is a dire need for improved nuclear technology of which several options have been described by Grimes and Nuttall  that can overcome the energy cannibalism effect while using lower grades of uranium ore if nuclear power is to be used at all. These improvementsshould be verified by non-industry supported LCAs to improve public trust (see requirement (4) below).
- (2) Eliminate nuclear insecurity. On technical grounds, this requirement entails making nuclear power plants that can not physically melt down. Again, this requirement does not mean reduce the probability that it can happen—but it must be physically impossible for it to happen by improved reactor design. This would also enable additional increases in efficiency. For example, following suggestion (ii) above nuclear power plants could be placed in the middle of population centers and act as district heating utilities in addition to providing electricity. This would radically (more than double) efficiency. Although it is not clear how safe a technology must be to be considered sustainable, this CHP application can also be used as a litmus test of the public’s view on safety. Although, nuclear power plants are already found in population centers throughout the world, one can perform the following thought experiment on any energy source to determine adequate safety levels for just sustainability: Place the energy source in the middle of the country’s largest population center and allow an enemy of the state access to it. Few Americans would tolerate this situation if the energy source was nuclear power—but if it were a hybrid solar photovoltaic thermal plant distributed on the rooftops of New York City the risks would clearly be much lower. This is the challenge that nuclear energy technology must overcome. Can nuclear power be made safe enough so that residents of New York City or Tokyo are tolerant of a reactor in the heart of the city? If this is possible, then insurance companies should be willing to insure nuclear power plants and the nuclear insurance subsidy can be eliminated as it would no longer be necessary for the economic viability of the nuclear industry.
- (3) Eliminate radioactive waste and minimize environmental impact during mining and operations. In order to prevent future humans from being forced to care for current energy-generated waste products a means of eliminating all radioactive waste from the generation of nuclear energy is needed. Using techniques that recycle waste may also reduce the amount of mining necessary and thus could also cut down on environmental impact. In addition, a method to recycle water or the use of other cooling fluids such as air and eliminate all thermal pollution needs to be developed and deployed.
- (4) The nuclear industry must gain public trust. In many countries, the public does not trust the nuclear energy industry and the government bodies that oversee it. For example, the radioactive releases from Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island have been contentious and there is substantial evidence that the releases were under-reported to the public by officials by at least an order of magnitude. The official NRC value is 10 MCi . Thompson et al., quote more than double that at 22 MCi , whereas Gundersen points out that the sum of the NRC releases yields 36 MCi and estimates anywhere between 100 and 1000 times the NRC value . Finally, epidemiological studies point to a significant epidemic of cancer that is clearly related to the Three Mile Island release and that would not have occurred if the NRC values were correct [75,76,77,78,79,80,81]. Similarly, more recently in the Fukushima disaster the public found official reports dubious and government officials appeared to be actively preventing citizens from obtaining data . For example, the U.S. refused to post online whatever radiation levels they were monitoring as radiation from Fukushima hit the West Coast. Then there were several reports that their monitors went off line or crashed . A response from citizens in Japan to this misdirection from public officials was to crowd-source radiation Geiger counter readings from across their country using a collection of both open source hardware and open source software . In addition, Softbank recently launched a smartphone in Japan that includes a Geiger counter to track radiation. These developments perhaps provide a warning, that the technical prowess of the public combined with advanced networks is making it increasingly difficult to manage public viewpoints with misinformation. So called green washing of nuclear power is simply becoming impossible. Thus this type of disdain by decision makers and government officials for public disclosure of accurate information involving nuclear energy accidents must be completely eliminated. This is most easily done by telling the truth, providing open access to information to the public in real time, and implementing requirements (1–3) as discussed above so there is no need to hide anything from the public. If this can be done, nuclear power will enjoy a long and sustainable future. If these requirements are not met, nuclear power will be eliminated by more sustainable riva
Conflict of Interest
- International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook; International Energy Agency: Paris, France, 2010.
- Elliot, D. Nuclear or Not? Does Nuclear Power Have a Place in Sustainable Energy Future? Palgrave Macmillan: Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK, 2007. [Google Scholar]
- Goswami, D.Y. A review and future prospects of renewable energy in the global energy system. Adv. Technol. Electr. Eng. Energy 2008, 27, 55–62. [Google Scholar]
- Abbott, D. Keeping the energy debate clean: How do we supply the world’s energy needs? Proc. IEEE 2010, 98, 42–66. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Grimes, R.W.; Nuttall, W.J. Generating the option of a two-stage nuclear renaissance. Science 2010, 329, 799–803. [Google Scholar]
- Sovacool, B. Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power: A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy; World Scientific: Hackensack, NJ, USA, 2011. [Google Scholar]
- Ferguson, C.D. Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks; Council of Foreign Relations: New York, NY, USA, 2007; CRS No. 28. [Google Scholar]
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2008.
- Stern, N. The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 2007. [Google Scholar]
- Hoffert, M.I.; Caldeira, K.; Benford, G.; Criswell, D.R.; Green, C.; Herzog, H.; Jain, A.K.; Kheshgi, H.S.; Lackner, K.S.; Lewis, J.S.; et al. Advanced technology paths to global climate stability: Energy for a greenhouse planet. Science 2002, 298, 981–987. [Google Scholar]
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Metz, B.; Davidson, O.R.; Bosch, P.R.; Dave, R.; Meyer, L.A. (Eds.) Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 2007.
- Partidario, M.R. Perspectives on Strategic Environmental Assessment; CRC Press: Boca Laton, FL, USA, 1999. [Google Scholar]
- Agyeman, J. Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice; New York University Press: New York, NY, USA, 2005. [Google Scholar]
- Schlosberg, D. Environmental Justice and the New Pluralism: The Challenge of Difference for Environmentalism; Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK, 1999. [Google Scholar]
- Domenici, P.V. Emissions-Free Nuclear Energy Could Reduce U.S.’s Dangerous Over-Reliance on Natural Gas, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources: Washington, DC, USA, 2004. Available online: http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2004/3/press-122dfd14-13c9-438d-be8f-020259fb42dc (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Voorspools, K.R.; D’haeseleer, W.D. An evaluation method for calculating the emission responsibility of specific electric applications. Energ. Pol. 2000, 28, 967–980. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Voorspools, K.R.; Peersman, I.; D’haeseleer, W.D. A comparative analysis of energy and CO2 taxes on the primary energy mix for electricity generation. Int. J. Energy Res. 2005, 29, 879–890. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Nuclear Energy Institute. New Nuclear Energy Facilities Will Support Growth, Provide Clean Electricity. 2012. Available online: http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/factsheet/usneedsnewplants (accessed on 5 May 2012).
- U.S. Department of Energy. Department of Energy Issues $14 Million in Funding Opportunity Announcements to U.S. Universities for Nuclear Research. U.S. Department of Energy: Washington, DC, USA, 2007. Available online: http://www.ne.doe.gov/newsroom/2007PRs/nePR032807.html (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Johansson, T.; Williams, R.; Ishitani, H.; Edmonds, J. Options for reducing CO2 emissions from the energy supply sector. Energ. Pol. 1996, 24, 985–1003. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Sailor, W.C.; Bodansky, D.; Braun, C.; Fetter, S.; van der Zwaan, B. Nuclear power: A nuclear solution to climate change? Science 2000, 288, 1177–1178. [Google Scholar]
- Cheney, D.; Powell, C.L.; O’Neill, P.; Norton, G.; Veneman, A.M.; Evans, D.L.; Mineta, N.Y.; Abraham, S.; Allbaugh, J.M.; Whitman, C.T.; et al. National Energy Policy, Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group; U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, USA, 2001. [Google Scholar]
- Gagnona, L.; Belanger, C.; Uchiyama, Y. Life-cycle assessment of electricity generation options: The status of research in year 2001. Energ. Pol. 2002, 30, 1267–1278. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Rohatgi, U.; Jo, J.H.; Lee, J.C.; Bari, R.A. Impact of the nuclear option on the environment and the economy. Nuclear Technol. 2002, 137, 252–264. [Google Scholar]
- Moore, P. Going Nuclear: A Green Makes the Case. Washington Post, April 16, 2006 Page B01.
- Barnaby, F.; Kemp, J. Secure Energy? Civil Nuclear Power, Security and Global Warming; Oxford Research Group: London, UK. Available online: http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers/secure_energy_civil_nuclear_power_security_and_global_warming (accessed on 11 April 2012). March 2007.
- Fthenakis, V.M.; Kim, H.C. Greenhouse-gas emissions from solar electric- and nuclear power: A life-cycle study. Energ. Pol. 2007, 35, 2549–2557. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Vattenfall, A.B. Generation Nordic Countries Certified Environmental Product Declaration of Electricity from Ringhals NPP. 2004; S-P-00026. [Google Scholar]
- Hondo, H. Life cycle GHG emission analysis of power generation systems: Japanese case. Energy 2005, 30, 2042–2056. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- DeLucchi, M. Emissions of Greenhouse Gases from the Use of Transportation Fuel and Electricity; Argonne National Laboratory: Downers Grove, IL, USA, 1991; Volume 2, ANL/ESD/TM-22. [Google Scholar]
- Kim, S.; Dale, B.E. Life cycle inventory information of the United States Electricity System. Int. J. LCA 2005, 10, 294–310. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Rutledge, D. Estimating long-term world coal production with logit and probit transforms. Int. J. Coal Geol. 2011, 85, 23–33. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- WEC, WEC, Survey of Energy Resources; World Energy Council: London, UK, 2010.
- Volkers, C. Appendix SRES Version 1.1,an Excel Workbook With a Spreadsheet for Each Scenario; UNEP: Arendal, Norway, 2010. Available online: http://www.grida.no/ climate/ipcc/emission/data/allscen.xls (accessed on 1 October, 2010).
- Pearce, J.M. Thermodynamic limitations to nuclear energy deployment as a greenhouse gas mitigation technology. Int. J. Nuclear Gov. Econ. Ecol. 2008, 2, 113–130. [Google Scholar]
- Kenny, R.; Law, C.; Pearce, J.M. Towards real energy economics: Energy policy driven by life-cycle carbon emission. Energ. Pol. 2010, 38, 1969–1978. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Abbott, D. Is nuclear power globally scalable? Proc. IEEE 2011, 99, 1611–1617. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Antunes, S.C.; Pereira, R.; Marques, S.M.; Castro, B.B.; Gonçalves, F. Impaired microbial activity caused by metal pollution: A field study in a deactivated uranium mining area. Sci. Total Environ. 2011, 410, 87–95. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Lochbaum, D. Got Water? Union of Concerned Scientists: Cambridge, MA, USA, 2007. [Google Scholar]
- CBC News. The catastrophe of Chornobyl. CBC News. April 26, 2006. Available online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/ukraine/chernobyl.html (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- BBC News. Neighbours Count Cost of Chernobyl Disaster. BBC News, April 26, 1998.
- UNSCREAR, Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation. Vol. II, Scientific Annexes C, D, E; United Nations: New York, NY, USA, 2008.
- Lavelle, M. A Search for Answers; National Geographic News: Washington, DC, USA, 2011. [Google Scholar]
- Kuletz, V. Invisible Spaces, Violent Places: Cold War Nuclear and Militarised Landscapes. In Violent Environments; Peluso, N.L., Watts, M., Eds.; Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY, USA, 2001. [Google Scholar]
- Hooks, G.; Smith, C.L. The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans. Am. Sociol. Rev. 2004, 69, 558–575. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Behrens, C.; Holt, M. Nuclear Power Plants: Vulnerability to Terrorist Attack; Report for Congress, Order Code RS21131; Congressional Research Service: Washington D.C., USA, 2005. [Google Scholar]
- Ramberg, B. Nuclear plants—Military hostages? Bull. At. Sci. 1936, 43, 3–17. [Google Scholar]
- Cochran, T.B.; Feiveson, H.A.; Patterson, W.; Pshakin, G.; Ramana, M.V.; Schneider, M.; Suzuki, T.; von Hippel, F. Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, Report 8 in the International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM); Princeton University: Princeton, NJ, USA, 2010. [Google Scholar]
- Deutch, J.M.; Forsberg, C.W.; Kadak, A.C.; Kazimi, M.S.; Moniz, E.J.; Ansolabehere, J.E.; Du, Y.; Pierpoint, L. Update of the MIT 2003 Future of Nuclear Power: An Interdisciplinary MIT Study; Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Cambridge, MA, USA, 2009. [Google Scholar]
- Clark, D.E.; Allison, T. Spent nuclear fuel and residential property values: The influence of proximity, visual cues and public information. Papers Reg. Sci. 1999, 78, 403–421. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Clark, D.E.; Nieves, L.A. An interregional hedonic analysis of noxious impacts on local wages and property values. J. Environ. Econ. Manag. 1994, 27, 235–253. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Folland, S.; Hough, R. Externalities of nuclear power plants: Further evidence. J. Reg. Sci. 2000, 40, 735–753. [Google Scholar]
- Cooper, M. All Risk, No Reward for Taxpayers and Ratepayers: The Economics of Subsidizing the ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ With Loan Guarantees and Construction Work in Progress; Report of the Institute for Energy and the Environment; Vermont Law School: Royalton, VT, USA, 2009. [Google Scholar]
- Blackburn, J.; Cunningham, S. Solar and Nuclear Costs—The Historic Crossover: Solar Energy is Now the Better Buy; NC WARN—Waste Awareness & Reduction Network: Durham, NC, USA, 2010. Available online: http://www.ncwarn.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/NCW-Solar Report_final1.pdf (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- van Leeuwen, J.W.S.; Smith, P. Nuclear Power—The Energy Balance; Chaam: Netherlands, 2008. Available online: http://www.stormsmith.nl (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Goldberg, M. Federal Energy Subsidies: Not All Technologies Are Created Equal; Research Report No. 11; Renewable Energy Policy Project: Washington, DC, USA, 2000. Available online: http://www.repp.org/repp_pubs/pdf/subsidies.pdf (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Martin, H.D.; Pearson, B. The Canadian Nuclear Lesson; Sierra Club of Canada and Greenpeace International Briefing Paper; Sierra Club Canada: Ottowa, Canada, 2001. Available online: http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/atmosphere-energy/nuclear-free/reactors/nuclear-and-climate-change.pdf (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Slavin, M. The Federal Energy Subsidy Scorecard: How Renewables Stack Up. Renewable Energy World. 2009. Available online: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2009/11/the-federal-energy-subsidy-scorecard-how-renewables-stack-up (accessed on 21 April 2012).
- Branker, K.; Pathak, M.J.M.; Pearce, J.M. A review of solar photovoltaic levelized cost of electricity. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 2011, 15, 4470–4482. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- McNeil, B. The costs of introducing nuclear power to Australia. J. Aust. Polit. Econ. 2007, 59, 5–29. [Google Scholar]
- Hans-Holger, R. Carbon Free Energy. In Proceedings of the 2nd Canadian Climate Change Technology Conference, Hamilton, Canada, 12–15 May 2009.
- Trebilcock, M.; Winter, R.A. The economics of nuclear accident law. Int. Rev. Law Econ. 1997, 17, 215–243. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- United States General Accounting Office, Nuclear Regulation: NRC’s Liability Insurance Requirements for Nuclear Power Plants Owned by Limited Liability Companies; Report to Congressional Requesters GAO-04-654; U.S. Government Accountability Office: Washington D.C., USA, May 2004.
- Reuters. Cheney Says Push Needed to Boost Nuclear Power. Reuters News Service, May 15, 2001.
- Dubin, J.A.; Rothwell, G.S. Subsidy to nuclear-power through price-anderson liability limit. Contemp. Policy Issues 1990, 8, 73–79. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Heyes, A. Determining the price of price-anderson. Regulation 2003, 25, 105–110. [Google Scholar]
- The Chernobyl Forum, 2003–2005, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, 2nd revised version; IAEA/PI/A.87 Rev.2/06–09181IAEA; Division of Public Information: Vienna, Austria, 2006.
- United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, The Price-Anderson Act: The Third Decade; NUREG-0957; United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Washington, DC, USA, 1983.
- Zelenika-Zovko, I.; Pearce, J.M. Diverting indirect subsidies from the nuclear industry to the photovoltaic industry: Energy and economic returns. Energ. Pol. 2011, 39, 2626–2632. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Rothwell, G.; van der Zwaan, B.C.C. Are light water reactor systems sustainable? J. Energy Dev. 2003, 29, 65–79. [Google Scholar]
- Adamantiades, A; Kessides, I. Nuclear power for sustainable development: Current status and future prospects. Energ. Pol. 2009, 37, 5149–5166. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island. In The Need for Change, the Legacy of TMI: Report of the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island; President’s Commission: Washington, DC, USA, 1979.
- Thompson, J.; Thompson, R.; Bear, D. TMI Assessment, Part 2. 1995. Available online: http://www.southernstudies.org/images/sitepieces/ThompsonTMIassessment.pdf (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Gundersen, A. Three Myths of the Three Mile Island Accident. Lecture. Fairewinds Energy Education Corp.: Burlington, VT, USA, 2009. [Google Scholar]
- Hatch, M.C.; Beyea, J.; Nieves, J.W.; Susser, M. Cancer near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant: Radiation emissions. Am. J. Epidemiol. 1990, 132, 397–417. [Google Scholar]
- Wing, S.; Richardson, D.; Armstrong, D.; Crawford-Brown, D. A reevaluation of cancer incidence near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant: The collision of evidence and assumptions. Environ. Health Perspect. 1997, 105, 52–57. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Hatch, M.C.; Wallenstein, S.; Beyea, J.; Nieves, J.W.; Susser, M. Cancer rates after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and proximity of residence to the plant. Am. J. Public Health 1991, 81, 719–724. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Gur, D.; Good, W.F.; Tokuhata, G.K.; Goldhaber, M.K.; Rosen, J.C.; Rao, G.R. Radiation dose assignment to individuals residing near the Three Mile Island nuclear station. Proc. PA Acad. Sci. 1983, 57, 99–102. [Google Scholar]
- Talbott, E.O.; Youk, A.O.; McHugh, K.P.; Shire, J.D.; Zhang, A.; Murphy, B.P.; Engberg, R.A. Mortality among the residents of the Three Mile Island accident area: 1979-1992. Environ. Health Perspect. 2000, 108, 545–552. [Google Scholar]
- Wing, S.; Richardson, D. Collision of evidence and assumptions: TMI déjà view. Environ. Health Perspect. 2000, 108, A546–A547. [Google Scholar]
- Talbott, E.O.; Zhang, A.; Youk, A.O.; McHugh-Pemu, K.P.; Zborowski, J.V. Re: “Collision of evidence and assumptions: TMI déjà view.”. Environ. Health Perspect. 2000, 108, A547–A549. [Google Scholar]
- Brasor, P. Public wary of official optimism. The Japan Times. Sunday, March 11, 2012. Available online: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fd20120311pb.html (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- You Can View Official EPA Radiation Readings. Washington Post. Available online: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/03/you-can-view-official-epa-radiation-readings.html (accessed on 11 April 2012).
- Japan Geigermap: At-a-glance. Available online: http://japan.failedrobot.com/ (accessed on 11 April 2012).
© 2012 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open-access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
Pearce, J.M. Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source. Sustainability 2012, 4, 1173-1187. https://doi.org/10.3390/su4061173
Pearce JM. Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source. Sustainability. 2012; 4(6):1173-1187. https://doi.org/10.3390/su4061173Chicago/Turabian Style
Pearce, Joshua M. 2012. "Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source" Sustainability 4, no. 6: 1173-1187. https://doi.org/10.3390/su4061173