Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Atomic Power Creates More Greenhouse CO2 Emissions than Natural Gas Plants?

Osprey Natural Gas Combined Cycle Power Plant in Florida

It's been excellent to see the debate going on in the comments section over the recent posts on atomic power. One of my main aims in establishing this blog was to help promote debate on our energy future, it would also be nice to see posts on other energy sources stimulate as much discussion!

I suspect the article which is the subject of this post may further stimulate the debate.

The Australian reports that according to an Australian scientist atomic power generates more damaging greenhouse gas emissions than gas-fired power.

As federal and state politicians debate the merits of starting down the atomic power path to help reduce Australia's contribution to global warming, scientists say it may not be so clean after all.

University of NSW Institute of Environmental Studies senior lecturer Dr Mark Diesendorf says atomic power stations do not emit carbon dioxide (CO2) themselves, but the processes involved in creating atomic energy do.

Mining, milling, uranium enrichment, atomic fuel production, power station construction and operation, storage and reprocessing of spent fuel, long-term management of radioactive waste and closing down old power stations all require the burning of fossil fuels, he says.

"Most of the energy inputs to the full life cycle of atomic fuel come from fossil fuels and are therefore responsible for CO2 emissions," Dr Diesendorf writes in this month's edition of the Australasian Science magazine.

Atomic power stations using high-grade uranium ores would have to run for seven to 10 years before they created enough power to cancel out the energy required to establish them.

Wind power takes just three to six months to do the same.

For lower grade uranium ores, greenhouse gas emissions outweighed those produced by an equivalent gas-fired power station, Dr Diesendorf said.

Full Newspaper Article in the Australian

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Blogger Steve said...

Hi again James. Yes, discussion is good.

In principle, every bit of energy to build an atomic plant and procure its fuel can come from atomic plants, so it follows that atomic energy can be entirely carbon free save for the first plant. While it may be true that the particular bulldozer that dug up the uranium ore spewed CO2 in the process (and so on), I think the claim that nuclear energy is responsible for CO2 in the atmosphere is wrong because the subject should be looked at in the aggregate.

In the aggregate, had nuclear energy not been available, that much energy still would have been had, but it would have been obtained by additional combustion of fossil fuel.

In any event, the reason to want more nuclear energy is the energy. I think I'm repeating myself from your last topic, but the fact that nuclear plants will help out a bit on the global warming front is almost incidental from my perspective.

On the question of net energy, he's got the energetic payback of windmills at 3 to 6 months. I am as highly skeptical of that number as I am of the headline's claim, especially when considering wind net energy on an infrastructureal basis, taking into account the redundancy required to overcome intermittence and so on. When I try to check out this "3 to 6 months" claim for wind net energy all I find is what strikes me as marketing materials related to a single turbine.

I'm not saying wind is bad, mind you, just that I think the claimed energy payback is ridiculous.

Oh, I almost forgot, it seems that while getting natural gas out of the ground you frequently end up venting to the atmosphere tremendous amounts of contaminant CO2 that is separated from the natural gas in the conditioning process. Unless that CO2 is sequestered you have to add that production-related CO2 to the combustion product to derive the true contribution of the gas burner. I don't think this production-related CO2 is considered when talking about the production of CO2 from burning the natural gas. This seems as wrong to me as neglecting electricity transmission losses when considering the efficiency of a process using electricity. After all, electricity and gas do not come from the meters that measure them.

8:03 pm, July 04, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

This is related to the opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago, no?

I have been over the web site of the authors of that piece, and I found a number of things which are highly questionable.  They hide this by presenting a great deal of non-technical, easily-quotable material in the executive summary and introduction, and hiding the numbers in the extremely dense body of the analysis section which follows (where mere journalists fear to tread).

Don't be fooled.  In what bits I've been able to dig through, I've found such things as an unexplained 7:1 difference between the lowest energy value required for a process (selected from published data) and the figure chosen as representative by the authors.  They offer no immediate explanation for these selections.  My appraisal of the matter:  they did it because of the conclusion they desired to reach.

I strongly suspect that anyone who actually desired to analyze the best practical EROEI of the system, or select the chemistry to be used in fuels processing given expensive fossil fuels, would choose differently.  I'm currently stalled on my analysis but I hope to get back to it.

11:04 pm, July 04, 2005  
Blogger Bill Knighton said...

Near my home there's a nuke called Sharon Haris. In 2002 it produced 7.8 million megawatt hours.
1 gallon [U.S.] of diesel oil = 0.0407 megawatthour. This
= 191,600,000 gallons of fuel if it were diesel(used to build and mine) but at 27% effieciency you use 4X that amount. So that's around 707 million gallons used so far. Now mult by 10 years. Now you have 7.07 billon gallons. How many nuke plants in the US? That's 109. So 771 billion gallons of diesel are used to fuel the nukes and build the plants? US oil consumption is around 317 billion gallons/year, but only 67% of that is used for transportation. I don't know of that how much goes for cars(gas) and how much for diesel. It's seems likely that if this scientist were correct then much, much more than 100% of US diesel would go to servicing the nuclear industry. There are some problems in my numbers in that some of this energy was spent more than 10 years ago, but also US oil consumption was less. It breakes into a bunch of complicated side bars that I've not accounted for. I'm not a fan of the nuke industry, by the way. I just want critics to be credible. I am off grid using solar. Check out my blog at leavingthegrid.blogspot.com

6:47 am, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

One thing I'm 99% certain of already, and that is that the van Leeuwen and Smith study is not credible.  Not even close.

I hope to be blogging it after I get done with a piece on "going negative".

8:04 am, July 06, 2005  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Well, going negative is done (read it, it's good).  van Leeuwen and Smith, you're next... unless something else gets in the way.

10:27 pm, July 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mining, milling, uranium enrichment, atomic fuel production, power station construction and operation, storage and reprocessing of spent fuel, long-term management of radioactive waste and closing down old power stations all require the burning of fossil fuels, he says."

Something about this doesn't seem to add up. I'd like to see some figures on teritiary nuclear emissions vs direct coal-burning figures. Even if the figure is significant, in the future we can use solar panels for extraction and processing of uranium, and continue to use nuclear energy until it is much more efficient to rely on other, cleaner, and thankfully non-radioactive forms of alternative energy.

12:49 pm, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other ommitted points from this article include first, the amount of CO2 emmitted during well drilling, logging, testing, completion of natural gas wells. Each one of these steps requires big trucks which are driven all over the place. Second, you have to take into account the amount of energy used during pipelining, gas plant construction, and gas refinement (flaring). I find it hard to believe that the CO2 released during all these processes, in combination with the the CO2 released during natural gas power plant operation, is less than what is emmitted during nuclear plant construction and operation.

5:50 pm, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, yes I've found some numerical errors in earlier unrelated papers by Dr Diesendorf. Although his conclusions are unchanged, I found some sloppy calculations in "Towards a Clean Energy Future for Australia. Substituting for Western Australia's next Coal-Fired Power Station." It's a pity, because this sort of miscalculation makes it very easy to discredit by association any sort of academic analysis of sustainability.

In regard to nuclear power, in what seems to be a comprehensive and well referenced LCEA (www.world-nuclear.org/infor/inf1.htm), and a comparison to other forms of power generation it is suggested that the energy payback time is about six months (compared to a plant construction time of four to five years). True, the information is given by the World Nuclear Association, but the steps taken to get to the conclusion are explicit and, well referenced.

8:03 pm, September 21, 2005  
Blogger Chan Chan said...

Yes, but the power density from refined uranium spent over 20 years far outweighs the greenhouse gas emissions released in mining and producing the Uranium. Compared to coal, e85, oil or shale there is no comparison. Nuclear is cleaner and has higher energy density.


9:51 pm, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know the details of this fool's study, but his conclusion is intuitively wrong. His assumptions about the use of all fossile to build nuclear plants in a new economy is just wrong. With that premise, his results are suspect. without it, he has no argument. Nuclear power, if you used breeding, would operate totally without fossile fuel. Close them down at that point.

7:48 pm, May 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

16yearoldgenius ... how refreshing. Yes we need to decide whether Nuclear power is a smarter option than conventional fossil fuels, however there is huge potential for solar, wind, wave, tidal. They are not the solution to all energy supplies, but they can make a huge contribution, and they don't. It's common sense and it's financial sense.

6:36 am, June 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an absolutely absurd claim. It goes to show how misinformed the folks at Alternative Energy Blog are, and furthermore, is a perfect example of why it is taking forever to move away from coal and natural gas - people are REACTIVE.

I feel bad for your wives/husbands/children/parents/friends....

11:24 am, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so unhelpful... try being awesome

3:20 pm, October 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The main problem with Nuclear Energy is not the energy we get from it. It is the intensity and longevity of the toxicity-from the mining of the ore, to the minute and moderate daily leaks, to a history & future risk of small and large accidents; to the accumulation of radioactive waste; to the mismanagement of radioactive materials; to the lack of consensus of waste disposal; to the corruption of individuals in regulation and oversight; to the vulnerability from theft and attack; these materials affect your backyard, your friends, your enemies, those you don't know, and all creatures for thousands of years.

In a perfect world with perfect engineers, managers & politicians, perhaps we could have a Nuclear Utopia; but the past 60 years has shown a permanent contamination of uncountable parts of our planet and an industry that spends fortunes to shirk its responsibilities of clean-up.

60 years ago we didn't have well developed green technologies. We do now. Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, biomass are growing exponentially in capacity and can within a few decades give us the energy we need while creating satisfying jobs.

The other important technologies concern conservation, efficiency, storage of intermittent energy from wind and solar, transportation, sustainable agriculture, urban planning, and comprehensive tracking of these technologies.

Passive solar home design & smaller homes will reduce the environmental burden and increase comfort. A smaller house is easier to heat, cool and clean. Good insulation, windows, heating, cooling & lighting systems are available now and provide the single fastest way (after transportation) to reduce your carbon emissions. Diet: reducing your meat intake increases longevity, reduces environmental burdens, and reduces the demand to harm other creatures. Study the Embodied Energy & Embodied Water of various foods and products to see where you can choose to use wisely.

Buses with bike racks are the most effective & flexible solution for the majority of our transportation needs and have the lowest economic and ecologic costs.

Compressed air, Hydrogen, electric, and hybrid vehicles are available now and increasing in there adoption.

The solutions are here and are being adopted.
Investing in these developments can be rewarding in many ways.

Thanks & Peace

7:39 am, November 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:40 am, November 24, 2007  

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