Nuclear Power: A Risk Analysis

History | References

Far from tackling climate change, nuclear power is an expensive distraction whose safety is threatened by wildfires and floods, experts say.” – Climate News Network

100 Seconds to Midnight
The atomic Doomsday Clock (video) was moved to 100 SECONDS to midnight January  23, 2020. This the closest it has ever been before in history. “As the statement issued today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explains: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”

The Nuclear Dilemma
In the video above from Just Have a Think, Dave Borlace discusses “Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century” and brings up some of the key issues that will be discussed here. In short, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report elicited a large public response concerning global warming and its truly frightening consequences now upon us. This is becoming increasingly visible, despite the continued denial from governments (video) and world leaders. As we have entered the sixth mass extinction, there are constant reports of record breaking heat waves, fires, droughts, melting glaciers, increasingly powerful storms and hurricanes, wavy jet streams, and sea level rise which could inundate nuclear facilities in just decades.

Most people, who are not blinded by profit margins or industry brainwashing, now recognize that there is a strong need to divest from fossil fuels and decarbonize quickly. Many analysts in the energy sector have pointed to nuclear power as a means to save us from ramping up on the well-documented devastation of rising carbon dioxide (CO2 ) levels. In fact, the last time CO2 emissions were this high, modern humans didn’t even exist.

In order to do decarbonize, nuclear energy is often touted as the most readily available solution we have. The IPCC special report even goes so far as to encourage society to take a risky gamble on unproven technologies and to double down on nuclear power despite the enormous risks to human health, the environment, and all life. The unnerving implications of this are largely ignored.  Further, underlying the IPCC report’s claim is the belief that technological solutions can fix the climate problem. Yet these fixes don’t address the root cause of climate change.

Alternatively, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures are now proving that they can help significantly to cut the energy sector’s emissions, and are safe, cost-effective, and commercially available today. Despite this, nuclear industry apologists and pundits continue to argue that renewables won’t be enough and that limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low or no-carbon energy solutions, pointing again to nuclear power.  Even extremely reputable researchers such as those at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Dr. James Hansen, PhD have said that we have to consider nuclear power as a potential last ditch solution to climate change.

However, this is now becoming an outdated argument as more careful risk analysis shows that nuclear solutions will not be in time or enough to slow emissions. Recent studies have clearly shown that nuclear power does not reduce emissions enough to make them a viable solution to climate change. Still, according to these prominent scientists and researchers, society must explore the advantages of nuclear power. They claim that the generation of electricity through nuclear energy reduces the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels (coal and oil). Less use of fossil fuels means lowering greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and others). So let’s take a closer look at both sides of the argument here.

A potential list the advantages of nuclear power include the following:

  • Low Greenhouse Gas emissions
  • Low life-cycle carbon emissions
  • High power output
  • Provides a steady base load output
  • Inexpensive electricity
  • Nuclear energy doesn’t rely on fossil fuels
  • Economic impact (provides jobs, etc)

As a global society it is true that we must weigh both sides of this argument and consider the risks and benefits very carefully before making any conclusions. There is a small group of scientists that have proposed replacing 100% of the world’s fossil fuel power plants with nuclear reactors as a way to solve climate change. One of the most eminent scientists in climate research, James Hansen, is one of them. They propose nuclear grow to satisfy up to 20 percent of all our energy (not just electricity) needs. They advocate that nuclear is a “clean” carbon-free source of power, but they don’t look at the human impacts of these scenarios. Let’s do the math…

“One nuclear power plant takes on average about 14-1/2 years to build, from the planning phase all the way to operation. According to the World Health Organization, about 7.1 million people die from air pollution each year, with more than 90% of these deaths from energy-related combustion. So switching out our energy system to nuclear would result in about 93 million people dying, as we wait for all the new nuclear plants to be built in the all-nuclear scenario.” – Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation

Nuclear is NOT part of the answer! Ask those who are down wind of The Hanford, where part of the soil is so radioactive that a person exposed to it would be dead in a few minutes. Arnie, a nuclear engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education says pushing nuclear power as a solution to climate change is a dangerous smokescreen.

Learn more:

Conclusions
It is clear that the risks often outweigh the benefits of nuclear power, almost on the waste storage issue alone.  Additionally, due to the corruption of our government regulatory bodies by profit and power motivated bad actors, warring entities, and radiological terrorists we, as a society have proven time and again that we are just not equipped to play with the proverbial fire that nuclear power represents. Especially as we move into a warmer world with several feet of sea level rise on the way and more than half of these problematic and already leaking reactor sites located on sea coasts, Rupert Read calls nuclear power a profoundly irresponsible solution (video) for our energy future.

Despite our best intentions, our governing systems all too often allow profit to trump safety forcing us to conclude that we can’t continue considering these technologies without a fundamental ecological shift in these dynamics.

With the daunting cons to nuclear energy there are many factors that will need to change significantly in order to make this type of energy a reasonable option for further consideration.  Many upgrades in this technology have been promised, but not yet delivered. Simply put, this debate is ongoing and there are no definitive answers, just a cautionary tale.

When the full cost of the Nuclear Options are factored in, which need to include the full life cycle cost of:

  • Mining and processing the fuels.
  • Storing the spent fuel.
  • Building and decommissioning power plants which often run over budget.
  • The cost of all the research invested.
  • The environmental and social cost of disasters.

These questions need to be thoroughly addressed before even considering the nuclear option. Again the  Doomsday Clock  (video) was moved to 100 SECONDS to midnight January  23, 2020. This the closest it has ever been before in history. We simply cannot get any closer to midnight.

Visit the SW Blog on this topic: Climate Change and Nuclear Risk: The Forthcoming (Un)Natural Disasters By Frédéric Moreau >>

 

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  • 7:25 pm March 25, 2020 – S. Cairns (Added updated resources and article found by Matthew Gahan).
  • 1:00 pm November 6, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added some more discussion around atomic scale energy disruptions from Dave Froman).
  • 5:15 pm September 5, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added some more discussion around SLR, safety, new information from Kate Brown at MIT, god parity, and more).
  • 3:00 pm August 25, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added some more discussion around LNT, safe doses, and risks).
  • 7:00 pm August 21, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added some more discussion with JHAT video, as well as added further discussion notes and clarified some discussion areas and updated overall content).
  • 7:45 pm Feb. 19, 2019 – Charles Gregoire (Did another review, made lists out of some of the items, split one of the paragraphs, added a comment in the conclusion about the need to provide a full life cycle cost for Nuclear before comparing it to other options. Posted the link in the TOC).
  • 8:00 pm Feb. 14, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added story of who killed fusion and more on solar eROI).
  • 2:00 pm Feb 11, 2019 – S. Cairns (Added some more discussion of pros, as well as the video suggested by Charles Gregoire on thorium reactors with Joe Scott, added further discussion notes and questions from Charles, and clarified the discussion on the connection between plutonium in nuclear power used in nuclear war).
  • 11:00 am Feb. 11, 2019 – Charles Gregoire – (Did an initial proof read review and took notes. Watch all the videos. Raised questions.).
  • 7:00 pm Feb. 6, 2019 – S. Cairns – (Added section content, main page write up as well as several additional resources and video lectures).
  • 10:00 pm Feb. 4, 2019 – S. Cairns – (Added “Nuclear Power” page with a brief introduction).

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Note: This page as with all wiki pages is a work in progress. It aims to inform the reader on topics regarding the pros and cons of whether or not nuclear power is a viable solution to energy demands in a changing climate.