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About the study Nuclear power - the energy balance

 

History

This report is a major update of of the report published on this website in August 2005: Nuclear power, the energy balance, by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith.

The cooperation of Smith and Storm van Leeuwen started in 1981, when Storm van Leeuwen worked at CE Delft, preparing a report on nuclear power on request of the Dutch Government. This report has been published in 1982 [Q1] and a continuation of it in 1984 [Q5] and 1987 [Q3]. After that year nuclear power got out of focus in the Dutch energy policy for a dozen of years.

The study restarted in 2000 as an update of the reports from 1982 and 1987, on request of the Green Parties of the European Parliament, in order to prepare a background document for the UN Climate Conference CoP6 at The Hague, 13-24 November 2000 [Q7]. After that conference the results were placed on the web in 2001.

The idea was to start an open global discussion on scientific arguments with regard to some less-known aspects of nuclear power, without fixing our position beforehand. This idea turned out to be a great success. Many critical comments from scientists all over the world have been incorporated in the study during the past years.

Sadly, friend and colleague Philip Smith passed away shortly after the publication of the revised report on the web in 2005. Since then Storm van Leeuwen continued the work, in cooperation with numerous other scientists all over the world. The report of August 2005 is no longer available on this site. A major update of the report has been placed on the web in February 2008.

The youngest update and revision of July 2012 is available as pdf file, see page reports.

Peer review

The author gratefully incorporated numerous comments and critical questions from consultants, NGO's and scientists at large companies, universities and other scientific institutions. A selection:

Australia. University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, Monash University

Belgium. NPX Research Leuven, IMEC Leuven

Germany. Universität Regensburg, Öko Institut Darmstadt

Italy. University of Florence

Netherlands. University of Utrecht, Technical University Eindhoven, ECN Petten

Singapore. National University of Singapore

Spain. Bank of Spain Economics

Switzerland. CERN Geneva, ETH Zürich

UK. Imperial College London, University of Edenburgh, Oxford Research Group London

USA Brookhaven National Laboratory, Columbia University New York, Princeton University

The report of 1982 and its methodology has been peer reviewed by the publication of a short version in Energy Policy in 1985 [Q2]. This article is available on this site as pdf file.

Methodology

Our method is an energy analysis, describing the energy and mass flows of a complex system. This requires a complete life cycle assessment (LCA) of the system: a detailed description of all processes needed to produce electricity from uranium, starting with the mining of uranium ore and ending with the final sequestration of the waste.

Energy and mass are conserved quantities, whereas the value of money is unpredictable beyond a short time horizon. Especially in the case of nuclear energy this is an important feature, because the completion of a nuclear project – from cradle to grave – may take 100-150 years, an unprecedented timespan.

Each nuclear power plant leaves behind an energy debt. The time at which the energy debt should be paid is not fixed, quite differently than monetary debts. The latter are, in economic calculations, discounted at an assumed interest rate, and are further subject to the variations in the value of money. Energy debts cannot just be written off as uncollectable.

An energy analysis of a complex system is not very common in a time in which so many kinds of problems are approached mainly from an economic point of view. In our view an LCA and energy analysis is the best way to assess the long-term aspects of an energy technology, free of unquantifiable variables and (often implicit) time- and place-dependent assumptions.

The methodology of energy analysis as applied in this study has been developed and scientifically validated during the 1970s and 1980s. The methodology is discussed in detail in Part C and Part F4 of the main report, with numerous references. See also the chapter Critiques on this site.

References

Q1 Storm van Leeuwen JW, Energie analyse van en PWR kerncentrale, Rapport voor de Stuurgroep Brede Maatschappelijke Discussie Energiebeleid te Den Haag, Chaam, 14 september 1982. (in Dutch, for the Dutch Government)

Q2 Storm van Leeuwen JW, Nuclear Uncertainties. Energy Loans for fission power, Energy Policy, pp. 253-266, June 1985. downloadable from this webite, see [reports].

Q3 Storm van Leeuwen JW & Daey Ouwens C, Contra-expertise kernenergie, Part of: Duurzame energie: een toekomstverkenning, Krekel VanderWoerd Wouterse, Rotterdam, 21 July 1987. (in Dutch, for the Dutch Government)

Q5 Storm van Leeuwen JW, Atomstrom, ein Energiedarlehen?, (in German), Gruppe …kologie, Hannover/Braunscheiger Arbeitskreis gegen Atomenergie, Hannover/Braunschweig, Mai 1984.

Q6 Storm van Leeuwen J W & Smith Ph B, Nuclear power - the energy balance, Ceedata, Chaam (Netherlands), February 2008. downloadable from this webite, see [reports].

Q7 Storm van Leeuwen JW, Kersten W, De Rijk P & De Roo A, Coming Clean. How clean is nuclear energy? GroenLinks in the European Union/The Greens/European Free Alliance, Utrecht/Brussels, October 2000.

Q8 Storm van Leeuwen JW, Health risks of nuclear power, Ceedata, Chaam (Netherlands), November 2010. downloadable from this webite, see [reports], and from, among other: www.nuclearpolicy.info/

 

Reviews

The original study has been extensively reviewed by ISA of the University of Sydney:

Life-Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia, A study undertaken for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet of the Australian Government, ISA, The University of Sydney, 3 November 2006,

http://www.isa.org.usyd.edu.au/publications/reports.shtml

The uranium issue has been reviewed by:

Zittel W & Schindler J, Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy, Energy Watch Group, EWG Paper 1/06, December 2006,

http://www.energywatchgroup.org

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