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
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