Is a pro-nuclear power generation policy necessary in the face of the Greenhouse problem?[1]

4 12 2007

By: Kunaifi

026.jpgIntroduction

Tester and others (2005, 2) declared that “sustainable energy is the engine of sustainable development.” The ongoing increases of energy demands are the evidence that energy, especially electricity, is required for energizing the development of the world. A simple energy analysis would come to a simple conclusion that this trend will continue into the future corresponding to the increasing of the world’s population and energy utilisations. In fact, the supply is insufficient for meeting the demand. At the same time, the global warming issue was developing, which is believed as the derivative of energy productions and consumptions. Both of these issues, the increasing demand of electricity and the warming of the globe, encourage many countries to introduce the nuclear power as one solution for two problems. This essay will discuss whether the pro-nuclear electricity generation policies necessary for resolving the greenhouse problems or not. The profile of the world’s nuclear-based electricity production will be presented briefly, followed by its advantages as well as some negative impacts can be addressed to nuclear sector. Finally, I will conclude that the pro-nuclear power generation policies are unnecessary for solving the greenhouse gasses emission problem.

027.jpgThe world nuclear profile

Nuclear power plant was firstly introduced in 1954 at Obninsk, in the former Soviet Union, which was producing 5 megawatts electricity (MW(e)) (IAEA, 2004). During five decades, the number of nuclear applications for electricity generation has been increasing drastically. By the end of 2006 there were 435 nuclear power plants (IAEA, 2007) within 30 countries, with a total production of 371.671 GW(e), contributed to about 16% of world total electricity production (IAEA, 2003). The U. S., the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, has been operating 104 nuclear plants with total net of 99.9 GW(e) (NEA 2007, 6). The other main nuclear producing countries are France which produces 63.3 GW(e) in 59 power stations, that contribute to 78.1 percent of its total electricity production; Japan (47.1 GW(e) production in 55 power stations; and Germany (20.3 MW(e) production in 17 power stations) (NEA 2007, 6).

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (2007, 1) reported that 2006 had the highest nuclear power activities worldwide. In the future, some countries e. g. Argentina, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Romania, South Africa and Vietnam are intend to start nuclear electric power programs as well, while others e. g. Canada, China, India, Japan, Russian Federation, The U. S. and the Republic of Korea will expand their existing nuclear power programs (NEA 2007, 6-7).

031.jpgThe advantages of nuclear power

There are several advantages of nuclear power technology. The first and foremost advantage is that the nuclear power has a low negative impact on the environment. According to ElBaradei (2004), nuclear power produces zero-carbon emission which is means it has no greenhouse gases problem. ElBaradei claimed that during entire nuclear power process, from uranium mining to the disposal of wastes, each kilowatthour produces 2-6 grams of carbon only, about equivalent as the emission of wind or solar electricity generation. Furthermore, France for example, which relies 78 percent of its electricity production on nuclear (IAEA 2007, 4), has contributed to approximately 20 percent of greenhouse gases reduction since 1973, while the record of world’s emission increases by 45 percent (Baptiste and Ducroux 2001, 1182). In the U.S., as another example, if all present coal-fired electricity were replaced with nuclear, the reduction of carbon emission would be down to a third (Sweet 2006, 181).

The huge available resources and the viability for reprocessing are the other advantage of nuclear power. Nuclear Energy Agency in 1997 estimated the world’s total nuclear potential resource of about 4.3 million tonnes (IEA 1998, 15). With the level of consumption of 100,000 tonnes per year (EIA 2002b; cited by Tester et al. 2005, 387), was estimated that the nuclear identified conventional resources, the total conventional resources, and the total conventional and unconventional resources will remain for 85, 270, and 675 years respectively, where counting was started by 2004 (IAEA 2007). Furthermore, practically, some parts of the nuclear waste do not need to be disposed because they can be “reprocessed for reused.” For instance, the total wastes in 1999 was about 220,000 tonnes, then approximately 75,000 tonnes (34 percent) had been reused (IAEA 2000, 12). If this is compared to oil and coal, nuclear offers a very tempting opportunity, because oil and coal have estimated to run-out in near years.

The other advantage of nuclear power is the relatively short time of construction and the long time of operation, compared to the largely magnitude of power can be generated. The IAEA members’ experience have proved that the total time, from the decision to operate a nuclear power plant to the state that a plant is ready for operation, took about 10 to 15 years only (IAEA 2007). This is very interesting, especially for some countries recently are facing the energy crisis. As an example, the estimated electricity demand of Indonesia’s Jamali Interconnected System[2] in 2025 will be 60,000 MW to 70,000 MW, while current production is 29,083 MW (41 to 48 percent) only (Haryadi et al. 2007, 18). Therefore, the Government of Indonesia and some pro nuclear analysts suggested that Indonesia must consider to build some big capacity of nuclear plants in near years to escape this problem. Beside that, the improvement of technology has considerably increased the nuclear power system life-time. In the U. S. and other countries have been applying nuclear early, for example, the licences that were for 40 years operation period, could be extended for another 20 years (Sweet 2006, 182).

028.jpgThe problems of nuclear power

There are several disadvantages of nuclear power technology that all refer to the security issue. To begin, the following finding of 2005 Chernobyl Forum of IAEA presented by Sweet (2006, 186) will describe the danger of nuclear power.

The latest authoritative international report on the consequences of Chernobyl estimates that 4,000 deaths will ultimately be attributed to the accident. There were about 2,000 additional cases of Thyroid cancer caused by absorption of radioactive iodine; 9 ended in death, 50 people died from exposure to very large quantity of radiation immediately after the accident. And, with 5 million people still living in contaminated zone 20 years after the accident, the cumulative economic cost of the disaster is virtually incalculable.

029.jpgThe impact of a leakage of a nuclear reactor, whether caused by the technical faults or even by terrorism attacks, may dilate and uncontrollable. Some nuclear supporters claimed that the accidents of nuclear power reactors caused less death then conventional electricity plants. Ferhat Aziz of Indonesian National Atomic Board (Batan) emphasised that since 1970 to 1992, the death caused by nuclear power plant accidents worldwide were only eight people per one million MW(e). At the same period, the death in other non nuclear power plants were 342 people per one million MW(e) (Haryadi 2007, 20). Probably there is nothing wrong with this statistics. But, we must be aware that the accidents in the conventional plants impact on the limited particular area only. On the contrary, according to Balanov of IAEA (2007, 7), the Chernobyl accident, for example, released the radioactive substances over a very wide area covering Europe, especially Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, more than 200,000 km2 in wide.

In the second place, the social resistances at the prospective nuclear plant and disposal areas, are the subsequent disadvantage of nuclear power. “The difficulty arises more from the reluctant of localities to accept the presence of disposal facilities than from the technical difficulties” (Tester et al. 2005, 394). Most people tend to refuse the plan of building a nuclear facility in their area. A poll in Nevada, for example, concluded that seventy percent of the surveyed inhabitant rejected a nuclear storage plan in Yucca Mountain (Gazette 2004). Indeed, a government has the power for enforcing their policy, but the social movements, especially of environmental groups, highly possible will not end.

033.jpgRelated to the rationale of the people’s opposition, I would argue that this objection is understandable. Tester at al. (2005, 394) claimed that there is no country obtains a licence to burry the HWL (high level wastes) following the standard’s requirement. Furthermore, the Uranium Institute’ investigation on four groups of nuclear wastes in 1991, as cited by Tester et al. (2005, 394), found that only LLW could be buried without dilution. Otherwise, other three classes have to be buried in under surveillance remote wastes repository areas. Tester et al. (2005, 396) also stressed that “the wastes can be remained toxic” for thousands of years, and the catastrophe would occur on a condition where the groundwater intrude the facility, then oxidize the waste package, and the impact would be the nuclear radiation contaminated water. In addition, a worse disaster would happened when a quake quiver the facility.

Another main problem of nuclear power is about providing sufficient place for wastes repository and also the issues correspond to bequeathing toxic to the next generations. Since most of the wastes must be seriously monitored for a very long period, it is very difficult to guarantee that our next millennia’s descendants would accept this ‘hot legacy’ and keep running it properly. Yucca Mountain was the big hope, because as confirmed by Beck (1999, 128), after 15 years searching in several countries, there was no proper place available for storage. The cost for preparing storage site is unbelievable. The total cost for Yucca for example, could be more than US$ 40 billion. However, in fact, this tremendous effort could only allocate some 70,000 tonnes of wastes. While, as the IAEA finding above, in 1999 alone some 220,000 tonnes of wastes must be disposed worldwide. Therefore, our toxic bequeaths would become a big burden to bear by our descendants for hundreds or thousands of year. They will not only “keep in tune” with our present waste treatment level of technology, which will probably too ancient for them, but also have to maintain many fragile repository sites.

024.jpgMoreover, the nuclear-politic close relationship raises another problem. Just date back to the cold war era when the U. S. and former Soviet Union had some difficulties of their relationship because of their nuclear programs (Kanet 2006). There was a simple premise at that time, ‘the more and the better nuclear technology did a country has, the stronger it was.’ Nowadays, the nuclear political crisis is going on, which involves North Korea, China, India, Iraq, Iran, etc. The nuclear producer countries tend to suspicious one and each other, even though some countries develop the civil-purposed nuclear program. The source of suspiciousness, according to Bunn (2001, 1), is because the nuclear reactors initially functioned as power plants can also be used to produce the nuclear weapon’s materials. Shortly, instead of building the good friendships among countries, nuclear programs, no matter their genuine purpose, often worsen the countries relationships.

030.jpgNow, rather than promoting the nuclear power through a series of policies, there are some other potential strategies of reducing the greenhouse gases; promoting the new and renewable energies, as well as energy efficiency movement.

Despite of its weaknesses, some countries have been optimistically aiming for replacing their nuclear power reactors with renewable energy. Sweet (2006, 183) presented that nuclear programs in Austria already has stopped, then will be followed by Sweden and Germany. Germany prefers to strengthen their wind turbine technology, while Sweden undoubtedly, believes they will succeed replacing their nuclear reactors with carbon-neutral biomass electricity generators. Renewables are such old technology that nowadays is reborn with its new modern ‘face.’ Recent researches and developments of new and renewable energy technologies have been achieving convincingly and significantly improvements, not only in terms of the efficiency for extracting the nature power to become electricity, but also in terms of the costs that decrease significantly. Renewable energy is an appropriate option for energizing rural areas. While the new energy technology, for example hydrogen and bio-fuel, can be used for running generators in the cities. If they now are able to run the automotives, of course, they are able to run electricity generators as well.

025.jpgConclusion

To conclude, the idea to govern the policy that supports the development of nuclear power in order to reduce the greenhouse gasses emission is not a wise option, because the high rate of nuclear development would bring some serious problems, even though nuclear power offers some advantages. The development of new and renewable energy sectors is more preferable. Even though this option still requires the technological improvement to meet the acceptable efficiency and cost, new and renewable energies offer a low-carbon emission option as nuclear does, but do not have any problem with security and disposal issues as does nuclear. Nature offers the smooth way, so why do not we welcome it?

References

Balanov, M. I. 2007. The Chernobyl Forum: Major Findings and Recommendations. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 96 (1-3): 6-12. ScienceDirect. http://0-www.sciencedirect.com.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/science/journal/0265931X (accessed 4 September 2007)

Baptiste, P. J., Ducroux, R. 2001. Which Role for Nuclear Power in the Battle Against Global Warming? The French Perspective. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference in Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies.

Beck, W. Peter. 1999. Nuclear Energy in the Twenty-First Century: Examination of a Contentious Subject. Annual Review of Energy and Environment 24: 113-137. Annual Reviews. http://0-arjournals.annualreviews.org.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/loi/energy?cookieSet=1 (accessed 3 September 2007).

Bunn, Matthew. 2001. Civilian Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons Programs: The Record. http://ocw.mit.edu/NR/rdonlyres/Nuclear-Engineering/22-812JSpring2004/DA39D9C3-72E5-426E-840C-712594207E23/0/prolif_history.pdf. (accessed 4 September 2007).

El Baradei (2004). Nuclear Power, an Evolving Scenario. IAEA Bulletin 46(1): 5-8. http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull461/index.html (accessed 15 August 2007)

Gazette, Reno. 2004. Most Nevadan Oppose Yucca Plan, Pool Says. http://www.rgj.com/news/stories/html/2004/12/19/87984.php?sps=rgj.com&sch=LocalNews&sp1=rgj&sp2=News&sp3=Local+News&sp5=RGJ.com&sp6=news&sp7=local_news (accessed 3 September 2007).

Haryadi, Rohmat., M. Agung Riyadi, and Syamsul Didayat. 2007. Tarik Ulur Nuklir Muria. Gatra Magazine, 18 July 2007:17-20.

International Atomic Energy Agency. 2000. Climate Change and Nuclear Power. http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/ClimateChange/climate_change.pdf (accessed accessed 10 August 2007)

International Atomic Energy Agency. 2003. Country Nuclear Power Profiles. http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/cnpp2003/CNPP_Webpage/PDF/2003/index.htm (accessed 17 August 2007)

International Atomic Energy Agency. 2004. From Obninsk Beyond: Nuclear Power Conference Looks to Future. http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2004/obninsk.html (accessed 16 August 2007).

International Atomic Energy Agency. 2007. Nuclear Technology Review 2007. http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Reports/index.html (accessed 16 August 2007).

International Energy Agency. 1998. Nuclear power. Sustainability, climate change and competition. Paris Cedex: OECD Publications.

Kanet, E. Roger. 2006. The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation.’ Cold War History 6 (3): 331-352. informaworld. http://0-www.informaworld.com.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/smpp/title~content=t713634851 (accessed: 2 September 2007).

Nuclear Energy Agency. 2007. NEA 2006 Annual Report. NEA Publications http://www.nea.fr/html/pub/welcome.html (accessed: 2 September 2007).

Sweet, William. 2006. Kicking the carbon habit: Global warming and the case for renewable and nuclear energy. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tester, W. Jefferson, Elisabeth. M. Drake, Michael J. Driscoll, Michael W. Golan, William A. Peters. 2005. Sustainable energy, choosing among options. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

[1] This essay was one of my assignments of the “Energy Policy” course in the first semester of my Master study at Murdoch University, WA.

[2] Jamali Interconnected System covers islands of Java, Madura, and Bali that consume 60 percent of Indonesia’s electricity production (Haryadi 2007, 20).


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