Why nuclear power?
Claims of the nuclear industry
Nuclear power is being promoted by the nuclear industry based on a standard series of arguments, being used in various combinations, depending on the context of the promotion. According to these standard arguments nuclear power would be:
Nuclear power would have a bright future, on the brink of a nuclear renaissance. New concepts would just be waiting on the shelf for large scale implementation, solving the energy supply problems for centuries to come. Obviously the nuclear industry has the right to promote its assets and to highlight favourable aspects. Just as much the taxpayer has the right to have a critical look at the advocated selling points of the nuclear industry and to get unbiased and complete answers to his questions.
How valid are the claims of the nuclear industry? Below the claims are briefly addressed.
What does the nuclear industry mean with 'clean'? Climate neutral: no emission of CO2, no greenhouse gases at all? No chemical pollution? Are radioactive releases 'clean'? A comprehensive life cycle analysis and energy analysis of the complete nuclear energy system from cradle to grave proves none of these claims to be valid. The nuclear reactor is the only part of the nuclear system that does not emit CO2, all other parts do. Emissions of greenhouse gases [ more i05] and chemical discharges [more i07, i13] into the environment are kept secret.
Radioactive emissions are concealed, or played down as 'harmless' if disclosed nevertheless. Even emissions of radioactive materials classified as 'weakly' radiotoxic turn out to be harmful for people living in the neighbourhood of nuclear power stations. Not to speak of the massive radioactive contaminations after large accidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima [more i17, i21, i22, i43].
Nuclear power is claimed to be cheap, but compared to which other energy sources? What costs are accounted for and which not? Which time horizon is valid for the calculations of the nuclear industry? The next elections, ten years or the cradle-to-grave period of a nuclear power plant? It turns out that the nuclear industry is omitting a considerable part of the costs associated with a given nuclear power station, namely the investments to be spent after final shutdown of the power station. Invariably these costs are passed on to the taxpayer in the future: the energy debt [more i16]. Nuclear power is energy on credit.
Nuclear safety is a complex isuue, involving many different aspects of nuclear power, such as proliferation, nuclear terrorism, reactor safety and dispersion of radioactivity in the human environment. The nuclear industry seems to base its assertion of safe nuclear power on a small number of theoretical studies of failure modes of a limited number of reactor types. According to these studies a reactor core meltdown would occur once in the several million reactor-years. With about 400 reactors worldwide this would mean one meltdown every several thousand years. During the last 40 years three major meltdowns occurred: Three Miles Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima: once in the 10-20 years. So what is the meaning of the theoretical safety studies? Moreover, these studies do not include other nuclear facilities containing even more radioactivity than a reactor. Safety concerns posed by the large and continuing releases of radioactivity by nominally operating reactors and other nuclear facilities (e.g. uranium mining) appear to be no issue with the nuclear industry.
From the basic laws of nature follows that inherently safe nuclear power is inherently impossible [more i14, i15. i43].
Energy security is not a well-defined notion. From a political viewpoint independency on other nations for the energy supply and geopolitical stability are important issues. From a corporate viewpoint the prolongation of a given energy system, belonging to the core business of a given industry, may be the main issue. The view the nuclear industry with regard to energy security is based on two premises:
• trouble-free implementation of unproven technology
• availability of inexhaustable uranium resources.
Both premises turn out to be fallacies, for reason of ignorance of fundamental natural laws [more i30 and i38]. A third factor, implicite and unspoken, strongly contributes to the optimistic view of the nuclear industry: the systematic postponement of the back end activities to future generations: the energy debt [more i16, i43].
At present the nuclear share of the world energy supply is 1.9%, and declining. Even if nuclear power would be CO2 free, which it is not, then the reduction of the human CO2 emission could not be more than 1.9%. In the most optimistic scenarios of the so-called 'nuclear renaissance'020 the nuclear share would be no higher than 3-4% of the world energy supply by the year 2050. With improvement of the energy efficiency of economic activities energy reductions of 20-40% are possible without sacrificing comfort. From basic natural law follows that the use of uranium (and other fossil fuels), unavoidably results in an ever-growing environmental mess [more i39, i41, i43, i46]. The sole solution of the energy and climate problematique lies at our feet: the utilisation of the full potential of energy conservation combined with the transition renewables [more i44].
The qualification 'sustainable' has different connotations: economic, physical, cultural. From a physical viewpoint a sustainable energy supply system should comply with three conditions:
• lasting for indefinite periods of time,
• without inflicting damage to the environment,
• potential capacity meeting the world energy demand.
From the basic laws of nature follows that such any sustainable energy supply is possible only if based on solar energy. No mineral energy source can be really sustainable. The joint capacity of renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, photovoltaics, concentrated solar power), though not infinite, is amply sufficient to meet the world energy demand [more i44].
Nuclear power would have a bright outlook. This promotional viewpoint dates from the Atoms for Peace program, launched by President Eisenhower in 1956. Today the nuclear industry states the position that a nuclear renaissance would ne imminent. Scrutiny of the arguments behind this position reveals Examining the development of civil nuclear power during the past 60 years, one has to conlude that nuclear power is an obsolete energy source [more i47].