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« Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 96 | WILLisms.com | Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 428 -- Taxes & Government Benefits, Both Progressive. »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 427 -- Nuclear Power & Carbon Dioxide Emissions.

Why France Can Afford To Be So Smug About Global Warming-

The world has many lessons to offer the United States, some good and some bad. We can learn from Zimbabwe that property rights are kind of a big deal. We can learn from Hong Kong that SARBOX might have been overkill. We can learn from various countries (like Iceland, or Ireland, for example) that flatter, lower taxes on corporations and individuals leads to higher economic growth. We can learn from Chile and several other countries, including socialist ones, that personal accounts in Social Security are safe and secure, reduce the government's long-term fiscal liabilities, and give people a much better deal. And we can learn from France of all countries that nuclear energy can be safe, inexpensive, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) figures, France gets 78.5% of its electricity from nuclear generators. France is also one of the cleanest countries, at least in terms of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

A look at the nuclear power generation of several countries:


Now, a look at those same countries, and how they fare on the CO2/GDP ratio (which measures a country's share of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, then divides that number by a country's share of worldwide economic output), noted in this post from last month:


A ratio above 1.0 means a country produces a greater share of global carbon dioxide emissions than its share of the global economy. A ratio below 1.0 means a country produces a greater share of the global economy than its share of the overall worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. This ratio is important, as CO2 and economic activity are intimately linked, and simple measures of CO2 per capita are misleading.

Now, let's overlap those graphs:


It's not the prettiest correlation, but then again, there aren't a lot of countries that even use nuclear energy, so our data set is somewhat limited. A limited data set also means outliers like Russia stand out far more than they otherwise would.

Still, while we're learning lessons from the world, we can see that France has a fantastic emissions/economy ratio (share of global CO2/share of global GDP) because of its nuclear energy program. Indeed, if France got its electricity from sources other than nuclear, even with its tiny cars and dearth of air conditioners, its carbon/GDP ratio would probably look more like ours. Indeed, The Netherlands is just as green and clean as France, with their bicycles and tiny cars and abundant public transportation, but the Dutch only get 3.9% of their electricity from nuclear power. Thus, the Dutch carbon/economy ratio is 0.75, hardly any better than the American ratio of 0.77.

Atomic power is not without its drawbacks. The remote risk of nuclear catastrophe looms over any discussion of nuclear energy today. As it is, certain parts of the environmental movement want to shut down existing nuclear plants. Then, there's Iran and all the other rogue nations around the world that want their own nuclear programs, possibly for energy but probably for weapons. Our own nuclear program, however peaceful, complicates international diplomacy on the Iran issue; after all, "why is the West allowed to have nuclear power, but not Iran?" Moreover, what happens to all of that NOT-IN-MY-BACKYARD nuclear waste? And clearly, in some nations (countries of the former USSR), producing a lot of electricity from nuclear power is not a panacea for greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, nuclear energy is not perfect (although, frankly, some of these criticisms are fairly assailable).

Nevertheless, if reducing carbon dioxide output is such a pressing imperative, building nuclear plants is the cheapest, quickest way to do so.

We should make every common sense effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, not because bureaucrats in Brussels or Kyoto say so, not because Al Gore says so, and not because we need to "reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil." We should do it because reducing emissions, at the local level, is good for our health. Nuclear power enables us to reduce our emissions without harming our economy. Indeed, it may boost our economy, as inexpensive, reliable energy reduces the cost of doing business and ultimately raises productivity and profitability. Atomic energy enables us to make strides toward cheaper, cleaner, more sustainable energy based on more than feel-good, pie-in-the-sky ethanol/solar/wind schemes. Moreover, we can pursue nuclear energy without harming our domestic energy industry.

All of this is somewhat hypothetical, however, as building a nuclear power plant is a sure recipe for frustrating red tape, unfair media scrutiny, and endless litigation, all without the kinds of profits that might make such hassle worthwhile.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Taxing & Spending Is Immoral.

Posted by Will Franklin · 21 March 2007 09:27 PM


The world picture on nuclear power is changing. Even if you accept the premise that nuclear is low carbon (questionable), and is safe (same), and that there is a reliable non-polluting way to store the residual waste (fantasy), the big issue is how are all the hundreds of new reactors going to be built and fuelled in time to avoid a 2 degree rise in global temperatures?

Here's a posting from Science Daily on the uranium supply issue:

"Over the past 20 years, safety concerns dampened all aspects of development of nuclear energy: No new reactors were ordered and there was investment neither in new uranium mines nor in building facilities to produce fuel for existing reactors. Instead, the industry lived off commercial and government inventories, which are now nearly gone. worldwide, uranium production meets only about 65 percent of current reactor requirements.
That shortage of uranium and of processing facilities worldwide leaves a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy and the ability to supply fuel for it, said Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT's Center for International Studies.
"Just as large numbers of new reactors are being planned, we are only starting to emerge from 20 years of underinvestment in the production capacity for the nuclear fuel to operate them. There has been a nuclear industry myopia; they didn't take a long-term view," Neff said. For example, only a few years ago uranium inventories were being sold at $10 per pound; the current price is $85 per pound.
Neff has been giving a series of talks at industry meetings and investment conferences around the world about the nature of the fuel supply problem and its implications for the so-called "nuclear renaissance," pointing out both the sharply rising cost of nuclear fuel and the lack of capacity to produce it.
Currently, much of the uranium used by the United States is coming from mines in such countries as Australia, Canada, Namibia, and, most recently, Kazakhstan. Small amounts are mined in the western United States, but the United States is largely reliant on overseas supplies. The United States also relies for half its fuel on Russia under a "swords to ploughshares" deal that Neff originated in 1991. This deal is converting about 20,000 Russian nuclear weapons to fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants, but it ends in 2013, leaving a substantial supply gap for the United States.
Further, China, India, and even Russia have plans for massive deployments of nuclear power and are trying to lock up supplies from countries on which the United States has traditionally relied. As a result, the United States could be the "last one to buy, and it could pay the highest prices, if it can get uranium at all," Neff said. "The take-home message is that if we're going to increase use of nuclear power, we need massive new investments in capacity to mine uranium and facilities to process it." "

BUT, there is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity".

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at www.mng.org.uk/green_house/no_nukes.htm .

Posted by: Robert Palgrave at March 22, 2007 03:01 AM

Please understand that nuclear power is a low-carbon technology. This is a demonstrably provable fact. Any other position on this issue is at bets misinformed and at worst a baldfaced lie.

The safety record of nuclear power is a mater of public record, compare it to any other widely used source of energy producing the same amount of dispatchable electricity and you will find that it is exemplary.

There is a reliable non-polluting way to eliminate the residual waste - burn it in a different type of reactor. The first of these was operating in the 1950's

"The take-home message is that if we're going to increase use of nuclear power, we need massive new investments in capacity to mine uranium and facilities to process it."

So what. There are no energy technologies that do not require an investment in the front-end. Also '...highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines...' and 'A large-scale HVDC transmission grid...' won't suddenly appear without a huge investment ether.

Also an energy specialist at the California Energy Commission calculated that the production of concrete per thousand megawatts of nameplate solar capacity (a proportionally high input) results in carbon emissions equivalent to 10 billion cubic feet of combusted natural gas -- approximately a year's worth of fuel for a similarly sized gas-fired plant. And the per kilowatt installed cost is still between five and 10 times greater than a gas-fired plant under current technology.

Posted by: DV82XL at March 22, 2007 12:04 PM

Robert--I think there's a lot to be said for CSP. But when you say "With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km"--are you including the losses in the AC/DC conversion at one end and back again at the other end? I'd be surprised if there isn't *at least* another 5% or so involved there.

Also, what about storage? CSP has some inherent storage capability (just insulate the molten salt or whatever heat-transfer medium) but I doubt that it's enough to ride through a couple of cloudy days.

Finally, can you imagine how difficult it would be to build a 1000km transmission line in today's NIMBY environment? Even if there were no Kennedys living along the route, it would probably take at least a decade and a half: throw in a Kennedy or equivalent and you're probably talking 50 years.

Posted by: david foster at March 23, 2007 03:07 PM

A look at your charts shows that the US produces CO2 at a level not much different from France, even with much less nuclear energy. That neat rising line on the graph is a scam, just look at the high peaks of the various socialist failure countries. Without those would the line go anywhere at all? Eyeballing it it looks like it would be flat, showing no relationship to nuclear power use at all.

I got nothing against nuclear power, but I do had people trying to scam me with graphs.

Posted by: tom bri at March 24, 2007 08:49 AM

Excel drew the trendline.

And the line actually looks a lot better and more persuasive if you take out "various socialist failure countries." But I left them in, because I wanted to include as many of the countries that use nuclear power as possible. Or if I had included only post-industrial countries, the line would have been a lot tidier.

Moreover, if I had included a random sampling of, say, 10 countries with 0% nuclear, the trend would become even more clear. If I had included every single country on earth, the trend would be phenomenal and far more obvious, without the need for an Excel-drawn trendline.

Finally, I don't think you understand that there are huge differences between 0.32 (France) and 0.77 (USA). Just huge. Really, the scale ought to pivot around 1.0, but a few countries are so bad that they alone drastically skew the results. Again, if I had not included the Russian outlier (almost 4 times! more of the world's CO2 than the world's GDP), you'd probably be able to see that.

Moreover, if I had manipulated the data into a scatter plot, maybe even using logarithmic lines, I could have made a much more compelling graph, but I thought for sure that would draw a lot of "huhs" in a non-scientific, non-academic setting.

So don't throw around words like "scam" like that, especially after only "eyeballing" it.

What's more, the point of this post is, essentially, that France's lectures on global warming should be put into the context of the fact that nuclear power is the only thing that REALLY makes them green. Also, it would probably surprise a lot of people to know that the US is "greener" than Canada, at least in this regard. Meanwhile, a country like Russia has no room for lectures on the environment, anytime, anywhere, ever.

Posted by: Will Franklin at March 24, 2007 12:06 PM