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The Forum > Article Comments > Why nuclear power is not the answer to global warming > Comments

Why nuclear power is not the answer to global warming : Comments

By John Busby, published 16/2/2005

John Busby argues that nuclear power is not the answer to our energy dilemma.

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Gee I expected more accurate figures supporting the anti nuclear option. I was disappointed to see the jumble of numbers supporting some imaginary need for energy. I am no Kyoto supporter and I agree that this was a political not a scientific conclusion but let's keep the debate factual. The issue is CO2 reduction not energy source shuffling.

Fact- not all energy sources produce the same amount of CO2 - coal is the worst or best at it. 65% of global CO2 from Energy production comes from coal (check out the figures at the US Dept of Energy ) but coal provides only 24% of global energy. So the nuclear chaps argue that since N Power provides 6% of global energy with 1800 odd current N power stations maybe adding only 7,000 odd more may be workable to make a dent in the CO2 output.

I also have difficulty with the old Club of Rome chestnut that this means we run out of Uranium. All the world's resources are never known because once there is enough people stop looking. Right now there are some 44 years of mapped resources. So why look ? This means counting future demand agains current known resources always produces a shortfall. Like we were going to run out of every material by 1995, really ?

The real issue is if we have to change energy sources then various non CO2 producing options will be explored. N power won't be the only starter ( and its got plenty of problems) but this article is a poor contribution to the debate. It reads like the usual bluff and bluster from the coal industry. Hey guys, remember asbestos, economically useful but troublesome materials are dropped and you look like being next
Posted by greenparrot, Wednesday, 16 February 2005 4:13:27 PM
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Greenparrot makes a good point. There is no single answer to future energy requirements, but nobody ever said there was. You could write a similar article about wind power, solar power, wave power, natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear fusion and energy from static electricity in the atmosphere like in 'Atlas Shrugged.' All of them would say that this one thing is not the answer.

It is going to take all of these energy sources, plus more efficient use, plus reduced population size to get anywhere close to the solution in the long term.

We need an energy insurance policy for future generations. I don't know how to do it. Suggestions please. Adam Smith's invisible capitalist hand does not come with an invisible pocket to save resources for future generations.
Posted by ericc, Thursday, 17 February 2005 11:09:19 AM
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Greenparrot and ericc need an answer from me.

1. Energy

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2004 (to be found on its website, gives a figure of 9741.1 million tonnes oil equivalent (mtoe) for global primary energy in 2003, which converts to 409 EJ (exajoules). Nuclear thermal energy is 595.5 mtoe, which provides 2700 TWh of electrical energy or 10 EJ, which is only 2% of the total. Greenparrot’s 6% is the thermal energy, not the electrical energy output.

There are 430 nuclear power stations in operation around the world, with a further 36 or so under construction, not 1800. If Australia were to be all nuclear with an associated hydrogen economy for transport, it would need to build around 200 nuclear power stations to produce the 6 EJ required. (The current energy consumption is around 4EJ.)

Reference to the link (
with Dzhakishev’s paper (and many other papers delivered by delegates to the World Nuclear Association’s 2003 and 2004 symposia) shows that the nuclear power industry is in crisis. In 2003, only 36,000 tonnes, i.e., 55% of the uranium demand of 66,000 tonnes in 2003 was supplied by mines, the deficit being made up by drawing from inventories. The so-called secondary sources are expected to run out within a decade, so the new stations will only be kept going by the decommissioning of the ageing reactors, which is underway in the UK.

As the best ores from Canada and Australia provide only 30% of the demand for uranium, the industry has to turn to leaner ores from elsewhere. This has two consequences, in the overall nuclear fuel cycle even more CO2 is produced and there will be little or no energy gain due to the extra energy needed to mine, mill and enrich the lower grades.

Detailed calculations of carbon releases and energy inputs associated with the nuclear fuel cycle are found in the website of nuclear experts Storm van Leeuwen and Smith. See the web link to access these. (

There is little prospect of nuclear power maintaining its 2% current contribution to global energy, let alone taking a bigger share and its claimed ‘green’ credentials are false.

2.) Global warming

There are few genuine renewable sources of energy. All require an energy input and each requires an energy audit to establish the energy gain over its operational cycle in order to judge its sustainability. Nuclear power fails its audit when the lower grades of ore have to be utilised.

If you study the graph ( with the plots of oil, gas and coal through the century and work out the various associated carbon dioxide emissions, depending on the fuel, you will find that my figure of 5 exagrams is about right. (It has been checked by others.) The Kyoto measures will reduce the rate of release of CO2, delaying the onset of climate change by perhaps a few years, but not reducing the total amount.

3.) Adam Smith

The "invisible hand" guides us to work on the web at home, rather than bear the frustration of poor transport infrastructure - just to sit in front of a computer in the office. As fossil fuels fade away, the "hand" will guide us to a lifestyle adjusted to the lesser level of energy obtained from renewable sources. I think it will be a better one.

It will be better than attempting to preserve a doomed lifestyle based on high personal energy consumption. Because uranium is subject to the same depletion scenario as oil, gas and coal, nuclear power ranks with other futile projects, such as building more roads and runways, which will just provide parking spaces for soon to be redundant vehicles and aircraft.

The problem is that the politicians believe they can deal with global warming, while continuing with economic development, paying no deference to the depletion in the very resources needed to fulfil their promises to their electorates.

John Busby
Posted by John Busby, Tuesday, 22 February 2005 3:19:50 AM
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I have to wonder whether Greenparrot and ericc read the article. They have completely missed the point. Smith and Van Leeuwen stated it clearly in the Background of their study (and John Busby also did a good job):

"In other words, the point is reached when ores become so poor that one would get more energy out of burning fossil fuels directly than by following the roundabout path of using fossil fuels to build, operate, and fuel a nuclear power plant. This is an important fact, because by far the largest part of the uranium reserves are found in very poor ores."

It therefore makes no sense to say, in criticism of the article, that yes, we must reduce CO2 emissions, so we need nuclear power, even though it won't be enough. Unfortunately, it requires a high level of specialized knowledge to be credible when pronouncing on this question. That is the service that Smith and Van Leeuwen have done.

In my experience, most nuclear engineers cannot admit the possibility that they entered the wrong field, and they will reject the OPRIT study with all their might. I tell them that they are guaranteed lifetime employment anyway, because we will need their help to safely dismantle the nuclear industry before it is too late. That is, before one or more of several looming catastrophes overtake us, and foreclose the possibility of keeping the nuclear poisons out of the biosphere.

And you cornucopians, who criticize the Club of Rome, and Malthus, and Ehrlich, and who believe that the market will always provide, and who think that ecomomics is a science: you are not members of the reality-based community.

Thank you, John Busby, for a fine article on a matter of immense importance.
Posted by Garthpool, Thursday, 3 March 2005 2:40:38 PM
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Very pleased to read John Busby's article.
We are being sold a pup about nuclear power as the solution to global warming.
As you will read here, I am not using sophisticated and "knowlegable" language.
This is partly because i really don't know much about the technical details discussed, important though they are. The basic theme of the article simply makes sense.
I am happy to read this article, and I can understand it. I hope that JohnBusby's message can be translated somehow into "mass media" language, because I believe that the Australian public is quite contented to "leave it to the experts" - and the "experts" that we hear from are Howard government cronies, who will "dazzle us" with technical jargon.
Posted by jimbonic, Saturday, 6 August 2005 11:36:55 AM
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