Nuclear Energy: Solution to Climate Change or Dangerous Distraction?


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  • Members want safe and healthy communities in which to live, smart energy solutions to combat global warming, and an enduring legacy for America’s wild places
  • The Sierra Club opposes the expansion of nuclear power in the United States with current regulations. Given the current crisis in Japan, could the United States ever change its policies enough to make nuclear power a viable alternative? The Sierra Club has opposed nuclear energy since 1974, as it is too dangerous, too expensive and too slow to be a viable energy source that can effectively address climate change. As the tragedy in Japan shows us, nuclear has serious, unresolved safety issues involving waste storage and operations, not to mention mining and weapons. Even the most technologically advanced nations are unable to overcome these obstacles. In addition, investing billions in nuclear diverts limited funds to counter climate change with safer, cleaner more effective alternatives such as energy efficiency, upgrading our grid, or renewables like wind and solar.
  • Someone asked about the process of decommissioning a plant, which involves finding permanent storage locations for waste and plant components. I don’t know the details of this process, but I do know that the cost was projected to be over a billion dollars for the Vermont Yankee plant, which I could imagine ratepayers paying for.
  • Nuclear Energy: Solution to Climate Change or Dangerous Distraction?

    1. 1. Nuclear Energy: A Solution to Climate Change or A Dangerous Distraction? Shahla Werner, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter 222 South Hamilton St, #1, Madison, WI 53703 (608) 256-0565 [email_address]
    2. 2. The Sierra Club <ul><li>Founded in 1892 by John Muir </li></ul><ul><li>Sierra Club is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. </li></ul><ul><li>1.3 million members in North America </li></ul><ul><li>We use grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation to protect natural resources. </li></ul>
    3. 3. Sierra Club Mission <ul><li>To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; </li></ul><ul><li>To practice and promote the responsible use of the </li></ul><ul><li>earth's ecosystems and resources; </li></ul><ul><li>To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and </li></ul><ul><li>To use all lawful means to carry out these objectives. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter <ul><li>Formed in 1963, we are the statewide branch of the Sierra Club in Wisconsin </li></ul><ul><li>We follow the footsteps of legendary Wisconsin conservationists: John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd Olson and Gaylord Nelson.  </li></ul><ul><li>Two Priority Issues: Protecting Water and Reducing the threat of Climate Change </li></ul><ul><li>15,000 members and supporters in Wisconsin </li></ul>
    5. 5. Human Induced Climate Change <ul><li>Over the past 250 years, increased concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gases have caused the Earth’s climate to warm 1.4 degrees F, glaciers to shrink, plant and animal ranges to shift and changes in plant phenology. </li></ul><ul><li>Fossil fuel burning is largely responsible for this problem. </li></ul>
    6. 6. Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are major causes of climate change since 1750. The current 386 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest level it has been in the past 650,000 years. Although other greenhouse gases like methane may have more heat trapping potential, they are far less abundant in the atmosphere and their retention time is far shorter than CO2.
    7. 7. Top Carbon Dioxide Emitters Although China now emits more CO2 than the US, their per capita emissions are 4.6 tons/capita vs our 19.6
    8. 8. Nuclear Energy: Carbon Free? <ul><li>Nuclear energy supplies 20% of US electricity from 104 reactors. </li></ul><ul><li>Nuclear power proponents argue that nuclear plants are needed to produce carbon-free “base-load” power. “Emission-free” refers to any generating source that does not produce emissions of CO2, NOx, or SO2 during its operations. But it ignores carbon emissions from uranium mining and enrichment. </li></ul>Building 100 new nuclear reactors would take at least a decade and require a capital investment of $250 billion to $1 trillion and would only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12%.
    9. 9. Sierra Club’s Position on Nuclear Energy <ul><li>The Sierra Club opposes the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing fission, pending: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Development of adequate national and global policies to curb energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Resolution of the significant safety problems inherent in reactor operation, disposal of spent fuels , and possible diversion of nuclear materials capable of use in weapons manufacture. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Establishment of adequate regulatory machinery to guarantee adherence to the foregoing conditions. The above resolution does not apply to research reactors. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Adopted by the Board of Directors, December 12-13, 1974 </li></ul>
    10. 10. Nuclear Energy Safeguards = Common Sense Protections <ul><li>Before a new nuclear plant can be built, WI law (Wisc. Stat. 196.493) requires that 1) there is a federally-licensed facility to dispose of high-level radioactive waste, and 2) The PSC finds that a nuclear power plant is the least cost option for Wisconsin ratepayers </li></ul><ul><li>Federally, the Price Anderson Act forces the federal government to cover the insurance payouts for nuclear accidents that exceed $12.6 billion. </li></ul><ul><li>Removing safeguards saddles taxpayers with financial and safety risks of nuclear power </li></ul>
    11. 11. Nuclear Energy and Water Use <ul><li>Nuclear power requires water to absorb the waste heat left over after making electricity, and to cool equipment used in generating electricity. </li></ul><ul><li>Nuclear reactors are about 33% efficient. For every three units of thermal energy generated by the reactor core, one unit of electrical energy goes out to the grid and two units of waste heat go into the environment. (Source, UCS) </li></ul><ul><li>Water could be come scarce as a result of global warming. Even in closed systems where water re-circulates, replenishment is needed to make up for water lost as vapor. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Uranium Mining Risks 25 tons of uranium are needed to fuel a reactor for a year. This requires 500,000 tons of waste rock and 100,000 tons of mill tailings. Tailings contain uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and emit radon-222. They remain toxic for thousands of years. Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. - David Thorpe, Guardian UK , December 2008.
    13. 13. Uranium Enrichment <ul><li>Ordinary natural uranium contains only 0.72% U-235 and 99.3% U-238. Gaseous diffusion is used to enrich Uranium in the US (Paducah, KY). Centrifuge separation is used in Iran. </li></ul><ul><li>Enrichment to fissionable U235 results in leftover depleted U238. </li></ul><ul><li>Although depleted uranium munitions have been used extensively by the US Military, WHO and VA studies have not found lasting health impacts on kidneys or lung function. </li></ul>
    14. 14. Uranium Enrichment: Same Process for Energy and Weapons There is global concern over Iran’s efforts to enrich Uranium (currently at 7%). 90% U-235 is required for weapons. A “nuclear renaissance” could result in more nuclear weapons worldwide.
    15. 15. Why Can’t we be like the French? Mais Non! <ul><li>The French get 80% of their electricity from nuclear power </li></ul><ul><li>Reprocessing facilities are expensive; reprocessing generates additional waste; only 1% of Plutonium (MOX) is used for fuel, 99% is stored at the reprocessing facility. </li></ul><ul><li>Plutonium may be used for weapons production </li></ul><ul><li>The French release 100 million gallons of radioactive waste into the English Channel annually </li></ul>
    16. 16. Nuclear Accidents: Three Mile Island <ul><li>Three Mile Island, Middletown, PA : On March 28, 1979, the nuclear core partially melted down (the core heated up to 5,000 F and a large hydrogen bubble formed in the reactor). Small quantities of xenon and iodine radioisotopes were released.  </li></ul><ul><li>Elevated thyroid cancer rates have been observed in Lancaster and York (but not Dauphin Counties) since 1995. </li></ul>
    17. 17. Nuclear Accidents: Chernobyl <ul><li>Chernoble, Ukraine, April 26, 1986 : While conducting a test, operators disabled safety equipment which led to reactor explosions and meltdown. </li></ul><ul><li>The accident resulted in 56 immediate deaths and elevated cancer incidence (estimates vary from 4,000, UN International Atomic Energy Agency Chernobyl Forum report to 270,000, Greenpeace based on cancer data from Belarus). </li></ul><ul><li>Chernobyl and surrounding evacuated areas remain ghost towns to this day. </li></ul>
    18. 18. <ul><li>Earthquake and tsunami (9.0) struck northern Japan March 11, leaving 10,489 dead and over 17,000 missing. </li></ul><ul><li>Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Over heating, radiation leaks, fires, and hydrogen explosions at several of the six reactors. Now trying fresh, rather than sea water to cool reactor 3, which is smoking. Spent fuel rods exposed, in reactor 4. </li></ul><ul><li>Long term impacts unknown , monitors unreliable. We do know: evacuations beyond 10 miles, extended blackouts, contaminated food and water- even in Tokyo, radioactive material that has breached its containment area in several reactors (burning 3 workers). </li></ul>Nuclear Accidents: Fukushima Daiichi Plant, Japan
    19. 19. Nuclear Energy and Vulnerability to Terrorism <ul><li>CNN, 03/13/10: Al Qaeda suspect's work at nuclear sites prompts call for probe </li></ul><ul><li>Senator Schumer calls for probe into background check system for nuclear plant workers </li></ul><ul><li>Suspected al Qaeda member Sharif Mobley did routine labor at five nuclear plants from 2002 to 2008 </li></ul><ul><li>Mobley is accused of killing security agent while trying to flee a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen </li></ul>
    20. 20. Aging Nuclear Reactors: Kewaunee Power Station, Carlton, WI <ul><li>556 MW, operating since 1974 </li></ul><ul><li>Shut down in 2004 when lake weeds inhibited cooling; notice of violation in 2008 due to faulty radiation monitors; shut down in 2009 after instrument problem. </li></ul><ul><li>On Feb. 24, 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the operating license of Kewaunee Power Station, extending the station's operation an additional 20 years until 2033 . </li></ul>
    21. 21. <ul><li>Point Beach Unit 1, 512 MW, operating since 1970, renewed until 2030; Unit 2, 514 MW, 1973, renewed until 2033 </li></ul><ul><li>Shut down for 20 months 1996-1998 upon a small explosion inside a dry cask of nuclear waste; 2005: shutdown when a circulating water pump failed </li></ul><ul><li>Clean WI and CUB opposed a plan to expand generation by 17% in Jan 2011 due to Wisconsin’s overcapacity of power. </li></ul>Aging Nuclear Reactors: Point Beach Nuclear Plant, Two Rivers
    22. 22. Aging Nuclear Reactors: Davis Besse <ul><li>The OH plant, which has since reopened, was closed in 2002 after a worker found that a boric acid leak had nearly eaten through the reactor’s 6-inch-thick steel cap. The NRC had missed a deadline for plant inspection. </li></ul><ul><li>In 2003, the plant’s computer system was infected with a worm virus. The incident allegedly “did not pose a safety hazard”. </li></ul>
    23. 23. Aging Nuclear Reactors: VT Yankee <ul><li>The Vermont Yankee, one of America's oldest reactors, has had several leaks of radioactive tritium dating back to 2005. One of the plant’s cooling towers collapsed in 2007 and 2008. </li></ul><ul><li>An Entergy official testified under oath that there were no pipes carrying water beneath the plant. There are 40 such pipes. </li></ul><ul><li>State Senate voted 26-4 in Feb. 2010 to deny a 20 year operating extension; plant is slated to close in 2012. Decommissioning will cost $1 billion. </li></ul>
    24. 24. Safe, Permanent Waste Storage? <ul><li>Every reactor creates 20 tons of radioactive waste per year, which must be isolated for thousands of years. The federal government has not found a permanent storage site. It currently sits in temporary storage in 39 states. Yucca Mtn no longer considered. </li></ul><ul><li>The Obama administration recently created a 15-member commission (headed by former congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft) on nuclear waste storage, including alternatives to Yucca Mountain. </li></ul>
    25. 25. Dry Cask Storage <ul><li>Nuclear waste is stored in dry casks — steel-lined concrete silos that require no liquid cooling or forced ventilation — and those are licensed for 20 years. At three plants, the licenses have been extended for another 20. </li></ul><ul><li>1,365 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored at the Point Beach and Kewaunee nuclear plants (nationwide dry cask storage is at 47,000 metric tons). Waste is also stored on the Mississippi in Genoa, WI and at the Prairie Island Plant in MN. </li></ul><ul><li>Metal parts of such casks can begin corroding in weeks if salt hits them, the NRC has found.  </li></ul><ul><li>Edward F. Sproat III, said, “you can’t keep that stuff in those canisters forever. They’re not designed that way.” </li></ul>
    26. 26. Nuclear Waste Leaks <ul><li>In 2007, 50-100 gallons of radioactive waste leaked at the Hanford, WA nuclear waste storage site. This site covers about 560 square miles in south-central Washington, and contains the nuclear waste from the production of weapons. </li></ul><ul><li>In 2008, 7,925 gallons of low-grade uranium leaked at the Tricastin facility near Marseilles.  Three Rivers, including the Rhone, were contaminated. France is now examining water near all of its plants. </li></ul><ul><li>In 2009, thousands of liters of radioactive waste leaked into the Firth of Clyde from the Hunterston nuclear power station in Scotland. </li></ul><ul><li>In Feb 2010, Radio Netherlands reported that two drums at the nuclear reactor near the Dutch town Petten leaked radioactive waste </li></ul>
    27. 27. The Cost of Nuclear Energy <ul><li>Building 100 new nuclear reactors requires capital investment of $600 billion (range $250 billion - $1 trillion) and would only reduce CO2 by 12%. </li></ul><ul><li>Nuclear costs $5,000-$10,000/kilowatt, 10 - 20 cents per kWh </li></ul><ul><li>Wall Street won’t finance nuclear energy. The Congressional Budget Office assumes that 50% of loans to nuclear power projects will default.  </li></ul><ul><li>“ I don't have to bet my company on any of this stuff. You would never do nuclear. The economics are overwhelming” - CEO of General Electric, Financial Times, Nov 2007 </li></ul>
    28. 28. Nuclear Energy & Corporate Welfare <ul><li>The Nuclear Industry is seeking 100% federal loan guarantees for 80 percent of capital cost. </li></ul><ul><li>In mid-February 2010, President Obama proposed $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for nuclear energy. He also granted 8.3 billion in guarantees for two new GA plants. </li></ul><ul><li>Nuclear power has already benefited from more than $140 billion in federal subsidies over the last 50 years, from liability protection to loan guarantees. </li></ul>
    29. 29. The Potential of Energy Efficiency <ul><li>Enacting a Federal Energy Efficiency Standard, requiring 15% electricity and 10% natural gas savings by 2020 would: </li></ul><ul><li>save Americans $170 billion in energy costs </li></ul><ul><li>save enough energy to power 48 million households by 2020. </li></ul><ul><li>create over 220,000 jobs </li></ul><ul><li>reduce CO2 emissions by 262 million metric tons </li></ul><ul><li>eliminate the need for 390 power plants </li></ul><ul><li>Performing basic weatherization on homes built before 1990 in Wisconsin could reduce average home energy consumption by 27 percent, using currently available techniques and materials. </li></ul>
    30. 30. Relative Cost of Renewable Energy <ul><li>Wind: 8 to 12 cents/Kwh </li></ul><ul><li>Solar thermal: 12 to 15 cents and coming down </li></ul><ul><li>Solar PV: 20 cents large scale, 25 cents intermediate scale (~1 MW). PV expected to be 10 cents or less in five years </li></ul><ul><li>Fuel free forever once installed </li></ul>
    31. 31. Baseload Alternatives <ul><li>Building a Smart grid: consuming devices talk to producing devices: storage devices, smart meters. Our grid needs upgrades either way. Upgrading costs $900 billion over the next 20 years (but DOE estimates that it could save $46-117 billion). </li></ul><ul><li>Solar and wind integration (sun shines during the day, wind blows more at night). Back up with hydro, natural gas, biomass </li></ul><ul><li>In 2009, when asked about new coal and nuclear plants, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Wellinghoff said, &quot;we may not need any ever.&quot; He then said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future demands. He added, &quot;People talk about, 'Oh, we need baseload.' It's like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don't need mainframes, we have distributed computing.&quot; </li></ul>
    32. 32. In Conclusion <ul><li>Nuclear energy: </li></ul><ul><li>Carries significant, long-term environmental and health risks </li></ul><ul><li>Is very expensive; require taxpayer subsidies </li></ul><ul><li>Take too long to reduce climate change </li></ul><ul><li>Diverts billions of dollars from true low carbon solutions like efficiency and renewables. </li></ul><ul><li>Taxpayers shouldn't be asked to take a risk Wall Street is not willing to take. </li></ul><ul><li>“ As a species, we must back the right horse and stop being misled by the coal industry's delaying tactics. There's a big opportunity cost in time and resources to going down the wrong path.” - Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Treehugger , 2006 </li></ul>