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Splitting the Atom

Jason Godesky, The Anthropik Network
I’ve recently been evaluating the alternatives to our current energy economy. In “Do you believe in magic?” I argued that biofuels, and most renewable energy sources in general, run into the basic problem that we only get so much energy from the sun every day. “The Other Fossil Fuel” took a look at coal, and why it’s an unlikely (and undesirable) replacement for our current energy usage. So, what about the new hot button energy source, touted by environmentalists from James Lovelock to Patrick Moore and Stewart Brand: nuclear?
(10 July 2006)
Good intro piece to nuclear from a peak oil perspective. -AF

G8 to discuss sharing nuclear power with emerging nations

EurActiv, PUB
G8 leaders will be joined on Monday 17 July by the so-called “outreach countries” group of nations, which includes Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. They will be shown a draft statement which refers to the development of nuclear as “a shared energy system” between developed and developing nations.

A draft version of the G8 statement was leaked by the Sunday Herald on 9 July. It says nuclear power expansion “will promote prosperity and global energy security, while simultaneously offering a positive contribution to the climate change challenge.” It proposes to do so through a “network of international centres providing nuclear fuel services” such as enrichment, in order to prevent proliferation…

However, the value of nuclear as an economically viable energy source is questioned by researchers at the Foundation for the economics and sustainability (FEASTA), an Irish charity. “Every stage in the process of supporting nuclear fission uses energy, and most of this energy is derived from fossils fuels,” says FEASTA. “Nuclear power is therefore a massive user of energy and a very substantial source of greenhouse gases,” it writes.

Moreover, FEASTA says the calculation of the real energy cost of nuclear does not take other elements into consideration, such as waste management. “The nuclear power industry is living on borrowed time in the sense that it is has not yet had to find either the money or the energy to reinstate its mines, bury its wastes and decommission its reactors; if those commitments are simply left out of account, the quantity of fossil fuels needed by nuclear power to produce a unit of electricity would be, on average, only 16 percent of that needed by gas”.
(11 July 2006)
Spotted by waegari at The full FEASTA primer on nuclear energy by David Fleming can be found here:

Secure Energy: Options for a Safer World

Oxford Research Group
The security of Britain’s supply of energy has, over recent years, become a major concern. There are four main reasons for this. The first relates to instability and conflict among the oil producing countries of the Persian Gulf, upon which the world is becoming increasingly reliant; the second to fears over the reliability of gas supplies from Russia. The third concerns climate change and efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. And the fourth is the fact that the North Sea oil and gas supplies have passed their peak and nuclear power stations are approaching end of service life.

With the Department of Trade and Industry-led Energy Policy Review, the UK Government is trying to develop an energy strategy that would enable the UK to meet its Kyoto commitments and those of Labour’s last three election manifestos; secure the supply of affordable energy to UK markets; reduce dependence on imported oil from the Persian Gulf and of natural gas from Iran and Russia; and ensure diversity of supply. Nuclear energy has been touted by the government as a partial solution to these problems and presented as a CO2 free form of electricity generation. To read Oxford Research Group’s submission to this Energy review, please click here (pdf).

In 2006, the UK Government will make a decision on whether or not to begin the process which would lead to building a new round of nuclear power plants. With our Secure Energy project we will produce six factsheets on different aspects of civil nuclear power, which together make the case for a non-nuclear UK energy policy. With these factsheets we hope to engage MPs and government officials in dialogue to examine the links between civil nuclear power and (a) nuclear terrorism, and (b) the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.

If you would like more information on this project or have a media inquiry about a particular factsheet or its author, please contact James Kemp.

In November 2005 ORG gave oral evidence to the Houses of Parliament Environmental Audit Committee inquiry ‘Keeping the Lights On: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change’. The full report was published in April 2006, and can be downloaded here. ORG’s written evidence to the Committee can be downloaded here (pdf).


Security and Nuclear Power
Factsheet 1, Dr. Frank Barnaby, November 2005

Effective Safeguards?
Factsheet 2, Dr. Frank Barnaby, November 2005

The Risk of Nuclear Terrorism in the UK
Factsheet 3, Professor Paul Rogers, May 2006

Energy Security and Uranium Reserves
Factsheet 4, Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, July 2006

Energy from Uranium
Full technical paper to Factsheet 4, Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, July 2006
(11 July 2006)
The technical paper by Storm van Leeuwen makes the important point that “Completion of a nuclear project, after retirement of the reactor, involves a number of energy-intensive activities, which together form a large energy debt.” -AF

UK: Go-ahead for £12bn atomic revival

Terry Macalister, The Guardian
The government will finally give its official endorsement to a new generation of nuclear power today, but will stress its commitment to obtaining 20% of electricity from wind and other renewables.

The long-awaited energy review will stress the twin demands of energy security and rising carbon emissions to justify an atomic programme that will cost more than £12bn if six plants are constructed.
(11 July 2006)

Power play

Matthew Tempest, The Guardian
The interesting thing about today’s energy review will be how the government tries to sweeten the nuclear pill with green initiatives, writes Matthew Tempest

The worst-kept secret in Whitehall is that today’s energy review from the government will recommend a new generation of nuclear reactors – indeed, Mr Blair as good as admitted such to senior MPs last week when he declared he had “changed his mind” on nuclear power.

So the document is likely to be of most interest for how the government tries to “sugar” the nuclear pill with green initiatives.

Primary among those will be an escalation of renewable energy provision, and measures aimed at energy conservation.
(11 July 2006)

Renewables alone cannot fill energy gap, says Darling

Matthew Tempest, The Guardian
Alistair Darling, the trade and industry secretary, declared today that renewable energy alone could not fill Britain’s energy gap, as he prepared to unveil plans for a new generation of civil nuclear reactors.

Mr Darling – who will outline the government’s energy review at 3.30pm – warned that critics of nuclear power risked being “mesmerised” by the debate on building new plants into overlooking the government’s plans for energy efficiency and green measures.

Today’s predicted announcement on new nuclear plants came amid a concerted effort by environmental groups and the Green party to show that the public was still opposed to nuclear energy.
(11 July 2006)

UK: Nuclear ‘won’t plug energy gap’

Building a new generation of nuclear power stations will not solve Britain’s looming energy crisis, a government advisory body said Friday.

A government energy review, to be published in July, is expected to recommend constructing new nuclear plants to replace Britain’s ageing stations, most of which are due to expire by 2020.

But the Sustainable Development Commission warned that nuclear power alone could not plug the energy shortfall or tackle climate change.

The Sustainable Development Commission said the nuclear option “won’t get us anywhere near tackling the U.K.’s energy and climate change crisis”.
(30 June 2006)

Sure, nuclear power is safer than in the past – but we still don’t need it

George Monbiot, The Guardian
It’s true that another Chernobyl couldn’t happen in a new reactor, but the case against is as strong as ever.

…Some groups, such as Greenpeace, the New Economics Foundation and the Sustainable Development Commission, have produced reports showing that we can meet the government’s target – a 60% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 – without recourse to atomic power. They are right, but the target is now irrelevant. In the book I am publishing in September, I will show that when you take into account both human population growth and the anticipated reduction in the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon, we require a worldwide cut of roughly 60% per capita by 2030. If emissions are to be distributed evenly, this means that the UK’s need to be cut by 87% in 24 years.

In seeking the best means by which this cut can be made across all sectors (transport, electricity, heating and construction), I have been forced to set aside my prejudices. I hate nuclear power, but do we need it to help prevent the planet from cooking?

Answering this question means challenging people on both sides of the debate…

…perhaps the strongest argument against nuclear power is that we do not need it, even to reach the extraordinarily ambitious target that the science demands. With similar levels of investment in energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage, and the exploitation of the vast new offshore wind resources the government has now identified, we could cut our carbon emissions as swiftly and as effectively as any atomic power programme could.
(11 July 2006)
More from The Guardian’s nuclear industry special report.

U.S. to Negotiate Russian Storage of Atomic Waste

David E. Sanger and Jim Rutenberg, NY Times
WASHINGTON, July 8 — The Bush administration said Saturday that it would open formal negotiations with Russia on a long-discussed civilian nuclear agreement that would pave the way for Russia to become one of the world’s largest repositories of spent nuclear fuel.

President Vladimir V. Putin has been looking to expand the country’s role in the multibillion nuclear power business. The United States has traditionally opposed any such arrangement, in part because of concerns about the safety of Russian nuclear facilities, and because the country has helped Iran build its first major nuclear reactor.

But administration officials said that once Mr. Bush endorsed Mr. Putin’s proposal last year for Iran to conduct uranium enrichment inside Russia — rather than in Iran, where the administration fears it would be diverted to weapons — it made little sense to bar ordinary civilian nuclear exchanges with Russia.

In announcing the change of course, the White House made it clear that in return, it expected Mr. Putin’s cooperation in what promises to be a tense confrontation with Iran on forcing it to give up the enrichment of uranium.
(9 July 2006)

Nuclear Waste Looms As Challenge in Asia

Michael Casey, Associated Press
…As Asia goes nuclear in a big way to feed its appetite for energy, environmentalists are warning that the growing stockpiles could either be stolen by terrorists and used to make a bomb, or end up polluting the environment.

The nuclear industry says a permanent solution will eventually be found and that the waste issue will not slow the growth of nuclear power in Asia. Temporary sites, they said, are safe.

But only the United States and Finland have come up with permanent sites, and the one at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is years behind schedule and mired in legal disputes.

One solution is to recycle spent fuel by extracting its plutonium and combining it with uranium. But the plutonium is weapons-grade and could fall into terrorist hands, warns the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

Waste-dumping has rallied anti-nuclear forces in Asian democracies that allow them to function freely.
(10 July 2006)