How indispensable is nuclear power?
The image of nuclear power – clean, cheap, safe, secure – rests on promises and concepts from the 1950s and 1960s, which turned out to be unfeasible decades ago. Evidently technology advances, but technology never can circumvent the basic laws of nature [more i43]. At present the promotion of nuclear power is focused on climate change - nuclear power would be CO2-free - and on energy security. Safety is temporarily a less emphatic item after the Fukushima disaster.
The qualification 'cheap' is not often used anymore. Financial aspects of nuclear power are not addressed here. Disguised are the enormous costs to be paid in the future, when nuclear power plants and reprocessing plants are to be decommissioned and dismantled and when geologic repositories are to be built: the energy debt [more i16].
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' the nuclear share would be no higher than 3-4% of the world energy supply by the year 2050.
The specific CO2 emission of nuclear power proves to be in the range of 80-130 grams CO2 per kilowatt-hour, if all industrial acivities directly related to the operation of a nuclear power plant are taken into account. This figure, about ten times higher than the figure cited by the nuclear indutry, is valid at the present conditions and will rise with time, due to the declining thermodynamic quality of the yet available uranium resources: the CO2 trap [more i05, i38].
With improvement of the energy efficiency of economic activities energy reductions of 20-40% are possible without sacrificing comfort. This would result to an reduction of 20-40% of the CO2 emission, at a fraction of the costs of the nuclear contribution of less than 1.9%.
Emissions of greenhouse gases other than CO2 are kept secret by the nuclear industry, so an equivalent comparison with other energy systems is not possible [more i05, i13].
Clean and safe
Emissions and discharges of other non-radioactive chemicals into the environment are kept secret by the nuclear industry [more i05, i13] so comparison on this issue with other energy systems is not possible.
The emissions and discharges of radioactivity into the human environment are extensive, but are systematically downplayed [more i17, i23]. Safety of nuclear power has within the nuclear world another connotation than in the public domain [more i14, i15].
Nuclear power is based on a mineral energy source: uranium. Just like any other mineral energy source, the easiest recoverable resources are consumed first. The investments of materials and energy required per kilogram recovered uranium will increase with time due to declining thermodynamic quality of the remaining uranium resources. Consequently the net energy production by the nuclear energy system will decline over time and falls to zero when uranium has to be recovered from resources below a certain uranium ore grade: the energy cliff [more i38].
Advanced nuclear reactor systems which could fission a much larger fraction of uranium than the currently operating reactors will remain possible only in cyberspace [more i30].
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 to the single genuinely sustainable energy source man has at its disposal: a reliable fusion reactor at a distance of 150 million kilometers. This nuclear reactor delivers its high-quality energy for free and will do so for the next billions of years.
A sustainable energy supply, which can last indefinitively, is possible only if based on energy sources outside of the biosphere. From the Second Law follows that the use of energy sources from within the biosphere, the mineral sources fossil fuels, fission and fusion, unavoidably results in an ever-growing environmental mess [more i41, i43]. The biosphere as we know it with all its forms of life, owes its existence to an energy source outside of the biosphere, the sun. Why should humankind not mimic the non-human part of the biosphere?
Zero-entropy energy, ZEE
Solar energy can be utilized directy by means of photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and heat collectors, and indirectly by means of wind turbines, hydro power and wave power. Based on these technologies a zero-entropy energy (ZEE) supply can be realized, with which humankind would be able to reverse the ongoing deterioration of the biosphere by human activities [more i44]. Some characteristics of a ZEE system are:
• abundant (though not infinite capacity)
• constant flow (not counting short-term fluctuations)
• high and constant quality
• freely accessible to everyone
• proven technology, with considerable potential of improvements
• cheap, counted over the system lifetime
• clean: emission of greenhouse gases very limited and only during construction
• clean: no discharges of hazardous chemicals
• all materials recyclable
• safe: no large accidents possible with irreversible consequences
• fast to implement
• each continent can be self-supporting, contributing greatly to geopolitical stability
• does not generate radioactivity.
It might be worthwile to analyze how vast the areas are which are affected by nuclear power: the regions, lakes, rivers, and seas irreversibly contaminated by radioactivity as a result of accidents but also of nominal operation [more i18, i21]. How would the nuclear-affected area compare to the area occupied (reversibly) by renewables [more i44] supplying the same share of the world energy supply as the present nuclear share (1.9%)?
Nuclear power is a dead-end road
Summarizing the observations resulting from an elaborate analysis of the nuclear energy system one has to conclude that someday nuclear power will fall off the energy cliff, will run aground in the CO2 trap and energy debt and will cause unheard disasters in densily inhabitated regions. These observations follow from the basic laws of nature, especially the Second Law of thermodynamics [more i38, i05, i16, i21, i43]. Advanced technology will never be able to circumvent these laws.
Nuclear power is absorbing energy, materials, human skill and economic means at an increasing rate, blocking the way to a sustainable energy supply system. Important is to recognize the misconeptions and fallacies which help to maintain the believe in nuclear power. The Second Law is an objective ruler to assess the feasibility of technical concepts.
Figuur 46-1. Cradle-to-grave entropy generation of nuclear power and solar power.
Entropy generation of nuclear power and solar power over the entire cradle-to-grave (c2g) periods of the energy systems. ZEE = zero-entropy energy: the renewable energy systems based on solar energy, directly and indirectly. Entropy is a measure of dispersion of matter and energy: higher entropy, higher dispersion. Higher entropy of the biosphere means more mess, more damage to the biosphere. Higher entropy of a given amount of matter means a higher degree of uselessness [more i39, i40, i41].