Trimming the Data on Nuclear Greenhouse Emissions

Kristin Shrader-Frechette

in What Will Work

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794638
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919277 | DOI:

Series: Environmental Ethics and Science Policy Series

 Trimming the Data on Nuclear Greenhouse Emissions

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Chapter 2 begins by outlining the origins and history of nuclear technology. It goes on to show how claims that nuclear fission is a low-carbon technology are false. Such claims rely on a variety of flaws, the first of which is the fact that most nuclear-emissions studies count greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions only at point of electricity use, rather than from the entire, 14-stage nuclear-fuel cycle. By thus “trimming the data” on nuclear-related GHG emissions, proponents falsely portray fission as a “green,” low-carbon technology. In reality, once one counts GHG emissions from all nuclear-fuel-cycle stages, fission has roughly the same GHG emissions as natural gas. Another flaw with the claim that nuclear GHG emissions are low is that it fails to take into account the much higher emissions that arise from using low-grade uranium ore to create reactor fuel. Third, those who claim that nuclear GHG emissions are low are inconsistent in that they fail to apply their own logic (that we should implement energy technologies with low GHG emissions) to electricity sources (such as wind and solar photovoltaic) that are much better GHG-emissions avoiders than is nuclear power. A fourth problem is the fact that reactors generate only about 25 percent more energy, in their lifetime, than is required, as input, to the 14 stages of their fuel cycle. A fifth flaw of those who propose using nuclear energy to address CC is their failure to take account of the fact that reactors massively increase risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Using atomic energy to help combat CC worsens another, and equally catastrophic, energy problem: nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. A sixth flaw of using fission to address CC is failure to take account of the practical difficulties of tripling the number of global reactors. For all these reasons, the chapter shows that commercial atomic energy cannot address CC.

Keywords: electricity use; GHG emissions; nuclear fission; nuclear proliferation; nuclear technology; solar photovoltaic energy; terrorism; wind energy

Chapter.  16322 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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