Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The cumulative CO2 emissions of nuclear waste: A back-of-the-envelope job

If say just 10kg of coal were burned each hour for two hundred thousand years, in order to look after a given nuclear waste dump, then that adds up to about 20 million kg, or 20000 tonnes of coal. Now multiply that by say 2500, to represent the rough number of nuclear plants that would be needed across the world to satisfy current electricity demand alone: = 50 million tonnes. Now take into account the functional working lifetime of a nuclear plant: say 30 years. So, in 200,000 years, if we were running on nuclear, we would need to repeat the exercise about 6,000 times. Then the rough figure that one comes out with is that, for dealing with nuclear waste alone (ignoring entirely the other factors, such as for instance the increasing costs (in both cash and energy terms) of mining uranium, as it starts to run out), is that one would have to burn about 300 billion tonnes of coal, over a 200,000 years period. For dealing with nuclear waste alone. That is about one third of the total coal supply left in the Earth! And current estimates are that if we use more than a minute fraction of that total supply, we will bring about runaway climate change, and extinguish ourselves.

You can retort that it wouldn’t be coal that was burned: it would be nuclear power that was used to look after the nuclear waste. But remember first, that that would require yet many hundreds more nuclear power stations to be built each generation – and the energy for that, and for their nuclear waste, would have to come from somewhere; and second that nuclear power only covers at best our electricity needs, not our other energy needs.

[For a full scientific analysis to back up my little sketch here, see David Fleming's masterful deconstruction of the pseudo-attractions of a nuclear future, at http://www.theleaneconomyconnection.net/nuclear/Nuclear.pdf .]

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1. 2. 3. Rupert's Read: The cumulative CO2 emissions of nuclear waste: A back-of-the-envelope job 4. 12. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 23. 24.

25. 26. The cumulative CO2 emissions of nuclear waste: A back-of-the-envelope job 27. 28.

29.

If say just 10kg of coal were burned each hour for two hundred thousand years, in order to look after a given nuclear waste dump, then that adds up to about 20 million kg, or 20000 tonnes of coal. Now multiply that by say 2500, to represent the rough number of nuclear plants that would be needed across the world to satisfy current electricity demand alone: = 50 million tonnes. Now take into account the functional working lifetime of a nuclear plant: say 30 years. So, in 200,000 years, if we were running on nuclear, we would need to repeat the exercise about 6,000 times. Then the rough figure that one comes out with is that, for dealing with nuclear waste alone (ignoring entirely the other factors, such as for instance the increasing costs (in both cash and energy terms) of mining uranium, as it starts to run out), is that one would have to burn about 300 billion tonnes of coal, over a 200,000 years period. For dealing with nuclear waste alone. That is about one third of the total coal supply left in the Earth! And current estimates are that if we use more than a minute fraction of that total supply, we will bring about runaway climate change, and extinguish ourselves.

You can retort that it wouldn’t be coal that was burned: it would be nuclear power that was used to look after the nuclear waste. But remember first, that that would require yet many hundreds more nuclear power stations to be built each generation – and the energy for that, and for their nuclear waste, would have to come from somewhere; and second that nuclear power only covers at best our electricity needs, not our other energy needs.

[For a full scientific analysis to back up my little sketch here, see David Fleming's masterful deconstruction of the pseudo-attractions of a nuclear future, at http://www.theleaneconomyconnection.net/nuclear/Nuclear.pdf .]

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