Reading the entrails: New Nukes?

The BBC says:

Blair says nuclear choice needed

Tony Blair says "controversial and difficult" decisions will have to be taken over the need for nuclear power to tackle the UK energy crisis.

The prime minister told the Liaison Committee, made up of the 31 MPs who chair Commons committees, any decision will be taken in the national interest.

He is said to believe nuclear power can improve the security of the UK's energy supply and also help on climate change.

A government review of energy options is expected to be announced next week.

I like the any decision will be taken in the national interest. This fails the try-negating it test: any decision will be taken against the national interest is unsayable. So ItNI means "prepare for an unpopular decision".

Although there is always a techno-industrial lobby in favour of Nukes, I'd guess that and also help on climate change may be quite accurate. Blur has been talking about Kyoto options and as I noted I think the govt has realised we're (they're?) not going to hit our targets. So he needs to pull something out of the hat. These nukes won't do it: they won't be onsteam by 2012 unless they arrive rather fast; but they could probably be folded into the plans if pushed.

So... is this a runner? Lots of people don't like nukes: Greenpeace protesters have disrupted a speech used by Tony Blair to launch an energy review which could lead to new nuclear power stations in the UK. Two protesters climbed up into the roof of the hall where Mr Blair was due to address the Confederation of British Industry conference. After a 48-minute delay, Mr Blair made his speech in a smaller side-hall. Forcing Blur off into a side-hall is a success, and will have annoyed him a lot.

But the "debate" about their (de)merits is as poor as ever: at least judging from radio 4 this morning. We had someone who doesn't like nukes, and then Bernard Ingham who does (I think, like Bellamy, out of an unstated assumption that its Nukes or Windfarms and he doesn't like windfarms). The green chap said Nukes are uneconomic; BI said they are. I rather suspect that they aren't, under current conditions: our present Nukes barely manage to stay afloat even with all their building costs written off; and I don't see piles of commercial applications waiting to be built. Of course some of this is due to the endless wrangling which costs; and how to cost the long term storage is obviously a bit of a poser since no-one yet knows how it will be done.

One of the arguments that the Green side is starting to push is that Nukes aren't that good for CO2: that over their lifecycle, they emit lots, comparable with coal/gas. I rather doubt that makes sense. I've never seen the figures. If it *is* true then it would account for the economics being so bad. If anyone has them, do please leave a comment.

You'll have noticed that I haven't explicitly given my opinion on this, though which side I lean should be clear enough. I excuse this by it being far from my expertise: I'm not sure why you should want my opinion. If offer this observation, though: that through the years on sci.env I have observed that the people in favour of Nukes invariably know more about them, and those against know little. Blur is likely to be an exception to this, though.


Anonymous said...

I happen to be one of those greenies who *is* informed about nukes, and as I try to imagine debating the numerous libertarians on sci.env about the issue I find myself imagining other things to do. Dealing with those wingnuts on climate issues is bad enough. (And say, who got me into that anyway?)

But really the first and most obvious argument requires little in the way of expertise: The vastly cheaper, affordable and near-term achievable options for efficiency and conservation have really hardly been touched. I don't take proponents of either nukes or industrial sequestration seriously because of this (not that they aren't dangerous). The big flashing warning sign about both nukes and sequestration is that talk rapidly turns to the need for large-scale subsidies.

A small side note: Blur can happily ignore the pretty horrific environmental impacts of uranium mining, the substantial CO2 emissions associated with which will conveniently go on somebody else's climate treaty tab.

William M. Connolley said...

Steve: The vastly cheaper, affordable and near-term achievable options for efficiency and conservation have really hardly been touched..

Yes: you're right. I should have mentioned that. And (from Blairs POV) there is a reason why: because although Nukes would be painful, they don't really involve any lifestyle changes. They are one big techno-fix. I don't see any appetite for the messy, small-scale, patient stuff needed otherwise. Blairs a big-picture type of guy, not one for the details.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw an article claiming that the current places for UK reactors may be unsuitable for new ones due to the expected sea level rise, and that finding new places would further delay building new reactors. Ironic isn't it if climate change prevents one of the measures designed to prevent it.

James Annan said...

The CO2 emissions for nukes are mainly related to the extraction of the ore, this could in theory be nuclear-powered but it isn't in practice! But of course many of the googlable figures come from anti-nuke activists, so may be somewhat exaggerated (depends on how good the ore is).

EliRabett said...

1. Any mining operation is dangerous. Uranium mining is less dangerous than most because a lot less ground has to be moved for an equivalent amount of energy (compare with coal rather than oil and gas and since nuclear displaces primarily coal for power generation that is the correct answer).

2. A lot of concrete is used in building the containment vessel which accounts for a great deal of the CO2 emissions.

EliRabett said...

The interesting thing about enriching uranium is very little has been done for quite a while and probably this will remain so for a while yet. A big part of the peace dividend from the fall of the Soviet Union was a bunch of weapons grade uranium was diluted and sold for power plants. That was one reason USEC folded AVLIS and mothballed centrifuge plants.

Even without that being the case the fuel cycle is energy positive. Frankly I think Steve Bloom is throwing pasta against the wall.

Anonymous said...

Such sticky pasta, such a receptive wall...

Well, Eli, all I said was that a) uranium mining (let's include processing) is pretty bad environmentally. Do you actually disagree with this? BTW, I made no claim as to whether it's better or worse than coal mining. But as long as we're on the subject, both are pretty bad, IMHO.

If you were implying that the existing supply of weapons-derived fuel will last so long that we don't need to worry mining issues, I'd be interested to see some sort of supporting analysis.

Saying that the fuel cycle is energy-positive is saying that nukes aren't overt money-losers given all the subsidies (starting with Price-Anderson here in the US). This is not a strong argument in their favor.

On the renewables/efficiency/conservation issue, there are plenty of cheap things that could be done right now, e.g. switching to CF bulbs, that would make a difference and require no subsidies. I find it significant that such steps are being ignored while vastly more difficult and expensive ones such as building new nukes are being promoted. I guess the CF bulb industry must be a poor source of campaign contributions.

Anonymous said...

Consumers in the province of Ontario (Canada)learned the hard way about the costs of nuclear power. The rosy forecasts of the costs of nuclear power just do not wash. Five of the twenty nuclear reactors in Ontario are non-operational, consumers have been saddled with a $28 billion debt to pay for the construction of these reactors, every reactor project has come in over budget and late, and reactor reliability has been poor. We have not addressed the waste disposal issue (ie. where does it go), nor factored the costs of waste disposal into our analyses.

And yet we are considering building more? It would be more effective to invest in efficiency and conservation.

Anonymous said...

There's a whole bunch of quantitative information about nuclear energy here:


and a quick summary by the same people here:


Bernard Ingam was retained by the nuclear industry to do PR for them some years ago. He heads up a pressure group on their behalf if I recall correctly.

Brian said...

I made a bunch of comments about this post here:


I think it mostly comes down to economics - if nuclear power is competitive, it's probably worth pursuing.

Anonymous said...

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All sides of the nuclear power debate will find items to like, and dislike, within Rad Decision. I’m not sure myself what the future of nuclear energy should be. What I am sure of is that we will make better decisions if we understand what nuclear energy is right now.

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If you find the site useful, please pass the word.

stevesadlov said...

Steve B, you definitely have experience vis a vis "Nuclear Free" Oaktown. Heck, you even went up against the US government on that one! I think it was something about Uranium Hexaflouride from Hyundai ships, or something like that. That was way back in 1989 or so. You've been at this for a while. Say, do you happen to know Sand Beck?