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i05

Climate change

Nuclear share

The potential contribution of nuclear power to the mitigation of the emission of greenhouse gases is and will remain negligible in the foreseeable future, for several reasons:

• The current nuclear share of the world energy supply is less than 2%. This will decline to less than 1% by 2050, if the world nuclear capacity would remain flat at the current level of 370 GWe, due to a steadily growing world energy consumption.

• At present the world nuclear capacity is declining at an increasing rate, so the nuclear share might end up near zero by 2050-2060.

• Even if the most ambitious nuclear constuction program would be realized, the nuclear share would remain flat at 2% or would slightly rise to 3% by 2050.

Reduction of the anthropogenic CO2 emission by tens of percents could be realized by improvements of the energy efficiency.

Present nuclear CO2 emission

Under the current conditions the specific CO2 emission of nuclear power is roughly 80-130 gram CO2/kWh. The nuclear reactor is the only technical component of the nuclear energy system that emits virtually no CO2. All other processes of the nuclear process chain, comprising construction of the nuclear power plant, the production of nuclear fuel from uranium ore, maintainance and operate the plants and to handle the radioactive waste streams, are conventional industrial processes emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases [more i07, i13].

CO2 trap of nuclear power

The specific nuclear CO2 emission will rise during the next decades, due to the depletion of high-quality uranium resources and dependency on ever decreasing ore quality. Lower grade ores require more energy per unit recovered uranium and consequently cause higher CO2 emission [more i38]. If no new large high-quality resources will be discovered, the nuclear CO2 emission will eventually surpass that of fossil-generated electricity. This could happen within the lifetime of new nuclear build.

Greenhouse gases other than CO2

Few, if any, data have been published on the emission of greenhouse gases other than CO2 by the nuclear energy system. In view of the massive amounts of fluorine and chlorine and their compounds in the nuclear fuel processing, emissions of potent greenhouse gases seem not only possible, but likely. No chemical plant is leak-proof [more i07, i13, i43].

No published data does not mean 'no emission'.

Coal equivalence

At a grade of 200 gram uranium per tonne rock as much ore has to be mined and processed as the amount of coal burned to generate the same amount of electricity. The leanest uranium ores exploited today are at or even below this grade. The coal equivalence occurs at about the same grade as the CO2 trap and the energy cliff [more i38]. Nuclear power relying on poor ores, at grades of less than 200 grams of uranium per tonne rock, emits as much CO2 per kilowatt-hour as coal-fired power.

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worldE2010pies

Figure 05-1 World energy production in 2010

The share of nuclear power in 2010 was 1.9% and is declining

CO2time060

Figure 05-2 CO2 trap of nuclear power

Inevitably the nuclear CO2 emission per kilowatt.hour will rise with time, due to the depletion of the high-grade uranium ores and the resulting dependence on ever lower-grade ores. The year at which the nuclear CO2 emission will surpass that of fossil fuels depends on the development of the world nuclear capacity and the discovery of new high-quality uranium ores.

dilutions

Figure 05-3 Coal equivalence

The amount of uranium ore to be processed per unit electricity delivered to the grid increases exponentially with falling ore grades. At a grade of some 200 grams uranium per tonne rock, the amount of uranium ore equals the amount of coal burned to generate the same amount of electricity: the coal equivalence.