Production in Nuclear Fuel Cycle


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Uranium: The Myth of Clean Air - CO2

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Production in Nuclear Fuel Cycle

  1. 1. Uranium: The Myth of Clean Air – CO2 Production in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Presented by: Dr. Bremley W. B. Lyngdoh Columbia University, New York London School of Economics, London Red Room, Klima Forum Copenhagen, 17th December 2009
  2. 2. Overview   Context: nuclear power and climate change   Climate change: sources and impacts   Nuclear fuel cycle: energy inputs   Core issue of uranium mining   Comparisons between nuclear and other energy technologies   Alternatives to nuclear power generation   Rio Agenda 21 of UNCED 1992   United Nations Millennium Assembly 2000   Supreme Court of India ruling   Conclusions and actions   World Uranium Hearing 1992
  3. 3. Nuclear Power and Climate Change In the face of growing energy-related problems such as global warming, acid rain and local air pollution, nuclear power is being promoted by the industry and some governments as a clean source of energy which could help to reduce energy related human impact on the environment. While at Columbia University I did some research on the threat of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) on the earth’s atmosphere and found that nuclear states pump out much more carbon dioxide and other harmful ozone depleting gases and substances into the atmosphere than non-nuclear states. Therefore I concluded that nuclear energy couldn’t be the answer for global warming either, as the dollar invested in end-use energy efficiency displaces nearly seven times more carbon that a dollar invested in nuclear power.
  4. 4. American National Energy Policy “…Nuclear power today accounts for 20 percent of our country’s electricity. This power source, which causes no greenhouse gas emissions, can play an expanding part in our energy future….” “… nuclear power plants serve millions of American homes and businesses, have a dependable record for safety and efficiency, and discharge no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere….” Source: National Energy Policy (Cheney task force, 2001)
  5. 5. Indian National Energy Policy The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission said, “Large scale development of nuclear power is essential for India’s long-term energy security, as domestic reserves of hydrocarbon fuels can sustain our energy needs only for a short time, and we cannot depend on imports.” He advocated the development of technology to use the vast reserves of Thorium, and that India having one-sixth of global population, should have an access to one-sixth of global energy which can be ensured through development of Thorium based nuclear power. The Principal Scientific adviser to Government of India said, “India with 17 per cent of global population consumes only 3 per cent of its energy and the country had to develop alternatives to hydrocarbon-based energy.”
  6. 6. Shift in Indian nuclear policy Retired Captain J. Rama Rao from the Indian Navy argues that after the second round of nuclear tests at Pokharan, there has been radical shift from the past, in which India has often been seen as a leader in the cause of nuclear abolition. He states that underlying this shift are two premises: namely that nuclear weapons are legitimate instruments of war; and India needs them for its security. Both violate the Indian stand on this issue for five decades - namely that nuclear weapons, being particularly horrifying weapons of mass destruction. Since Pokharan, the somewhat desperate tests were carried out by Pakistan in response.
  7. 7. Threat of Terrorism in a Nation From experience working in very poor countries in Asia, Africa and South America, I have seen that it is the forces of poverty and environmental degradation that give rise to sense of deprivation, hopelessness, intolerance and hatred. These desperate people can resort to desperate solutions. Intolerance also has its role. It can, in the name of religion or ideology, fan the flames of hate and ignite a belief that terrorism is the only solution to a community’s or nation’s ills. The Nation will have to guard against these internal root causes, but nuclear weapons are no solution. On the contrary they only aggravate the situation much more.
  8. 8. Hague Appeal for Peace May 1999 The nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is Man's challenge to God. It's worded quite simply: We have the power to destroy everything that You have created. If you're not (religious), then look at it this way. This world of ours is four thousand, six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon.
  9. 9. 2000 Walk for Nuclear Disarmament In July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice said, "The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international humanitarian law..." In a situation where a country is breaking international law then the Nuremberg Principles take effect. It basically states that if a country is not following United Nations laws it is every citizen's responsibility to stop its government from breaking these laws.
  10. 10. Betrayal of Gandhian Principles Looking at our country I can sense the gigantic betrayal of Gandhian principles that has taken place and people are questioning the priorities of a government that seems to have taken leave of reality. Even though many people (predominantly urban elites) are pro- bomb, the authorities are careful to support the myth of the 'peaceful' atom. As everywhere, nuclear power is justified because it provides electricity for economic development. The basic question is do we really need the generating capacity to be doubled to 200,000 MW during next 10 to 20 years and raise the nuclear power generation to 20,000 MW from the present level of 2,700 MW? Well I think that the breeding ground for nuclear power is the inflated demand projections and the system inefficiencies.
  11. 11. Five Nuclear Myths  Economically viable  Safe  Sustainable  Vital contributor to national energy supply  Climate-friendly
  12. 12. Typical Characterization of CO2 Emissions – at power plant
  13. 13. Typical Characterization CO2 emissions – from fuel cycle Source: World Nuclear Association (
  14. 14. Why is CO2 in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Important?   Typically, key issues have revolved around:  Nuclear Waste  Environmental costs  Children’s health  Safety  Sustainability  Weapons proliferation   Today, increasing concern in energy policy about options to limit GHG emissions that can cause climate change – nuclear power touted as a solution
  15. 15. The Greenhouse Effect Incoming solar Radiated out radiation to space Absorbed in atmosphere by greenhouse gases Infra-red radiation from surface
  16. 16. Changes in Carbon Stocks, 1850-1995 (WRI, 1998) The Sum of All Carbon Releases from 1850-1995 Less Carbon Absorbed During that Period
  17. 17. Expected Impacts of Climate Change   Warming: Heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather   Sea level rise: In Recife, Brazil, shoreline has receded by more than 2.4m/yr since 1985, due to sea level rise and loss of sediment supply)   Glaciers melting: Europe's Alpine glaciers have lost half their volume since 1850. US Government predicts no glaciers left in Montana's Glacier National Park by 2030   Human Health: Weather related mortality, infectious disease, decreasing air quality - respiratory illnesses
  18. 18. Sources of CO2 in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle   CO2 is emitted at every stage of the 7 stages of the nuclear fuel cycle  Uranium mining  Uranium milling  Uranium conversion  Enrichment  Fabrication into fuel rods  Reactor operations  Waste disposal
  19. 19. Nuclear Fuel Cycle
  20. 20. Mining and milling   Uranium is usually mined by either surface (open cut) or underground mining techniques and sent to a mill usually located close to the mine.   At the mill, uranium ore is crushed and ground to a fine slurry which is leached in sulfuric acid to allow the Energy Intensity of Ore Mining separation of uranium from the 3,000 waste rock. It is then recovered Energy Intensity (TJ/kt) 2,500 from solution and precipitated as uranium oxide (U308) concentrate. 2,000 1,500   Mining and milling operations produce CO2 associated with use 1,000 of diesel, natural gas & electricity. 500   Uranium mining is one of the most 0 Iron Nickel- Gold Uranium CO2 intensive industrial operations copper
  21. 21. Core issues of uranium mining   Uranium and its decay products buried deep in the earth are brought to surface.   Radon gas produced in the mine causes lung cancer.   Leftover piles of materials or ‘uranium tailings’ contain over a dozen radioactive materials.   There is no perfect storage of these radioactive materials to prevent them from finding their way into the soil, water, plants, animals, fish and humans.   According to the latest available facts admitted to by British Nuclear Regulatory Board, there is no such thing as a ‘safe dose’ of nuclear radiation.
  22. 22. Conversion   Uranium needs to be in form of a gas before it can be enriched, the uranium oxide (U308) is converted into the gas uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at a conversion plant   UF6 is then pressurized/cooled to a liquid, drained into 14-ton cylinders where it solidifies, then shipped to an enrichment plant.   Conversion operations produce CO2 associated with electricity and diesel for transport to enrichment plant.
  23. 23. Enrichment   Transforming uranium ore into enriched fuel pellets in very energy intensive   Enrichment process is principally gaseous diffusion of uranium hexaflouride gas   Enrichment operations produce CO2 associated with electricity use. It is the overwhelming majority of the energy input to the nuclear fuel cycle.
  24. 24. Fuel fabrication   Enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is transported to a fuel fabrication plant where it is converted to uranium dioxide (UO2) powder and pressed into small pellets.   Fuel is transported to power plants using all major transportation modes (rails, water, trucks)   Fuel fabrication produce CO2 emissions through electricity and the diesel fuel used in transport to the fuel fabrication and reactor sites
  25. 25. Reactor Operations   As in fossil-fuel burning electricity generating plants, heat is generated to produce steam to drive a turbine and an electric generator.   Reactor operations produce CO2 emissions through routine fossil fuel use in emergency diesel generator testing, diesel fire pump testing, and house heating boiler testing
  26. 26. Spent fuel storage   Spent fuel assemblies taken from the reactor core are highly radioactive and stored in special ponds.   Spent fuel is stored in these ponds for long periods. It can also be dry stored in engineered facilities, cooled by air. Both kinds of storage are intended as an interim step before final disposal.   Storage operations require electricity
  27. 27. Breakdown of CO2 emissions in nuclear fuel cycle 10% Enrichment stage other stages of nuclear fuel cycle (mining, milling, transport, conversion, fabrication, reactor operations) 90%
  28. 28. Comparison of Electricity Fuel Cycle CO2 Emissions Fuel Cycle CO2 Emissions 500 400 grams CO2 per kWh 300 200 100 0 NGCC wind Hydro nuclear Source: Oko-Institute for wind, nuclear, hydro; Tellus institute for NGCC
  29. 29. Fuel Cycle CO2 Emissions from U. S. Power Plants in 2000 Comparison of CO2 emission from Fuel used to Produce Electricity, 2000 100 Million tonnes of CO2 80 60 40 20 0 Nuclear power plants Oil-fired power plants Natural Gas-fired power plants Source: AEO2003 for NG and Oil, adjusted for fuel cycle, Oko- Institute for nuclear studies
  30. 30. Comparison of Electricity Fuel Cycle CO2 Emissions - Alternatives Comparison of Fuel Cycle CO2 Emissions from Alternative Sources Nuclear power Hydropower Wind power Wood gas cogeneration Biogas cogeneration -500 -400 -300 -200 -100 0 100 grams CO2 per kWh Source: Oko-Institute
  31. 31. Renewable Energy Alternatives India says 50,000 MW of power can be harnessed from solar, wind and other renewable sources. In 1996, the value of the renewable energy sector was $555 million and a U.S. report says solar energy is growing at 28% per annum in India, and wind at 22%. Annual sales of Photo Voltaic cells are $83 million and $278 million for wind. Grid-quality power generation from renewable energies has attained maturity in the past 7 years, and 7% of new additions to generating capacity will come from renewable energy technologies. The potential of Renewable Energy in India is huge and the estimated aggregated potential for these energy resources is about 130,000 MW. In addition, there is a large potential of solar energy for power generation and thermal applications. The estimated potential for the installation of biogas plants is 12 million and that of improved cook-stoves is 120 million in the country.
  32. 32. Rio Agenda 21 from UNCED 1992 Chapter 9 of Agenda 21 on Protecting the Atmosphere: “Energy is essential to economics and social development and improved quality of life. Much of the world’s energy, however, is currently produced and consumed in ways that cannot be sustained, if technology were to remain constant and if overall quantities were to increase substantially. The need to control atmospheric emissions of greenhouse and other gases and substances will need to be based on efficiency in energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption; and on growing reliance on environmentally sound systems, particularly newer and renewable sources of energy.” Chapter 25 of Agenda 21 on Youth and Sustainable Development: “Governments should ensure access for all youth to all types of education, wherever appropriate, providing alternative learning structures, ensure education that reflects the economic and social needs of the youth and incorporates the concepts of environmental awareness and sustainable development.”
  33. 33. U. N. Millennium Assembly 2000 While addressing the United Nations Millennium Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 28, 2000 as India’s Official Youth Ambassador appointed by the Prime Minister as part of the Parliamentary Delegation, a call was made to world leaders gathered in the chamber of the General Assembly to implement Agenda 21 at the national and local level by including young people as equal partners in their decision-making processes in creating green jobs through clean and safe renewable energy.
  34. 34. Supreme Court of India ruling! In response to the Writ Petition (C) No. 188 of 1999 filed by Dr. B. L. Wahdera against the DAE and UCIL, the Supreme Court order that came out on April 15, 2004 states: “In view of the affidavit, filed on behalf of respondent No. 3-Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, that adequate steps have been taken to check and contain the radiation arising out of the uranium waste, we do not find any merit in the petition. It is, accordingly dismissed.” Well you see that there is no mention at all in the ruling, which guarantees that uranium mining is safe. As a matter of fact it is clear that the Apex Court has taken into consideration that there are indeed dangers arising out of the uranium waste. It seems that in 5 years adequate steps that have been taken by the DAE and UCIL to check and contain such radiation have satisfied the Apex Court.
  35. 35. Tribal law ban uranium mining In New Mexico and Arizona, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. signed what is believed to be the first Native American tribal law, banning uranium mining and milling on April 29, 2005. As amended by the Navajo Nation Council during floor debate, the act states: "No person shall engage in uranium mining and processing on any sites within Navajo Indian Nation." The law is based on the Fundamental Laws of the Diné, which are already codified in Navajo statutes. The act finds that based on those fundamental laws: "certain substances in the Earth that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and that the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore, that its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law."
  36. 36. Conclusions and Actions   Nuclear energy cause the release of significant amounts of CO2   Other technologies are available which can provide the same service and at lower CO2 emission levels   How to get involved:  Conserve electricity and water resources  Join local and national campaigns that say NO to uranium mining and nuclear energy  Reach out to the villages and create awareness about dangers of uranium mining and milling  Lobby state/central legislation to invest more on renewable energy power generation
  37. 37. World Uranium Hearing 1992 Together we say: No more exploitation of lands and peoples by uranium mining, nuclear power generation, nuclear testing, and radioactive waste dumping. Clean up and restore all homelands: End the secrecy and fully disclose all information about the nuclear industry and its dangers. Provide full and fair compensation for damage to: Peoples, families and communities,cultures and economies, homelands, water, air and all things living.
  38. 38. Join us! Provide independent and objective monitoring of human health and the well-being of all living things affected by the nuclear chain. Further we say: In view of the unity of humanity and the world, we appeal on behalf of our future generations to use sustainable, renewable and life-enhancing energy alternatives. We call on the whole world, in particular leaders and scientists to share in our vision for peace, harmony and respect for life. Join us!
  39. 39. Thank you very much Khublei Shibun!