Nuclear Energy Unsustainable: Won't Mitigate Climate Impacts

According to a controversial study...we TreeHuggers always always love a good energy source dust up...the nuclear fuel cycle is a complex process with many steps, some of which consume a large amount of fossil fuel. The corresponding carbon dioxide emissions have been calculated by by Jan Willem Storm Van Leeuwin, a senior consultant in energy systems, together with Philip Smith, a nuclear physicist"..."For high-grade ores the energy inputs are much less than the electricity generated. But, the quantity of known uranium reserves with ore grades richer than this level is so small, that it would only last for a few decades at the current usage rate". Add more nuclear plants for growing economies in China, India, Korea, Iran and so on and the sustainability of nuclear power, by these calculations, looks questionable indeed.For more common low-grade ores, Van Leeuwin and Smith report that "the total fossil energy consumption associated with uranium mining, milling, enrichment and power station construction is so large that nuclear power emits more carbon dioxide than a gas-fired power station".

This TreeHugger has questions that need to be posed by those who underwrite rebuilt and new nuclear plants to 'save the world' from climate disaster. Ask the designers where the fuel will come from and what it will cost 40 years hence. Inquire as to who will be responsible for cleaning up the uranium mill tailings ponds (graphic above shows existing tailing cleanup sites) that will be dotting the US West once we have to go after the low grade ores? The uranium is there indeed, but in very low concentrations. The fossil fuel needed to benefact it won't be getting any cheaper.

TreeHugger recognizes that different conclusions may be supported with identical or similar data sets. We welcome comments and referencing links from those who see it differently. What's important now is to get the uranium sustainability issue publicly discussed, before some House/Senate markup committee earmarks taxpayer money to support an expansion of nuclear energy on the basis of a claim that it will mitigate climate change.

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