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April 05, 2011

Problems with the Union of Concerned Scientists Position on Nuclear Power

The Union of Concerned Scientists position on Nuclear Power and Global warming has the following problems

To address global warming, we need a profound transformation of the ways in which we generate and consume energy. The urgency of this situation demands that we be willing to consider all possible options for coping with climate change.

Global Warming is still happening over decades. There are actions that can be taken and more actions that will need to be taken in future decades. Actions that take time to build up to a useful impact can still be useful.

It will take many decades to electrify transportation (maybe a million electric cars by 2020 out of one to two billion total cars.) Solar power cannot make a major impact in the next ten years.

The UCS repeats the roadmap target of the Solar Energy Industries Association that solar photovoltaics can provide half of the electricity for the USA by 2025. In 2006, the state’s Public Utility Commission approved the California Solar Initiative, which dedicates $3.2 billion over 11 years to develop 3,000 megawatts of new solar electricity, equal to placing PV systems on a million rooftops.

So 3 GW of solar which at 30% availability is equal to one 1 gigawatt nuclear power plant by 2017 ? Solar matters but nuclear power does not ?



Carbon capture and storage is on the list of solutions supported by the UCS. Carbon capture and storage will take decades to scale up to large levels and has costs issues. Carbon capture and storage in many implementations will not capture other air pollutants.

Electrical grid buildout to support large scale wind power will also take decades.

Biomass is supported by UCS yet that has air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution causes 1.2 million premature deaths each year worldwide (mostly from coal power plants and oil used in cars and trucks).

It must be borne in mind that a large-scale expansion of nuclear power in the United States or worldwide under existing conditions would be accompanied by an increased risk of catastrophic events—a risk not associated with any of the non-nuclear means for reducing global warming.

These catastrophic events include a massive release of radiation due to a power plant meltdown or terrorist attack, or the death of tens of thousands due to the detonation of a nuclear weapon made with materials obtained from a civilian—most likely non-U.S.—nuclear power system.

Air pollution causes 1.2 million premature deaths and is still a problem for coal plants and oil and natural gas and biomass. Even if there was carbon capture and storage there would need to be separate air pollution control systems.

Hydro power is listed as a global warming combating energy technology. The Banqiao dam failure killed 230,000 people. There have been other dam failures that have killed tens to thousands of people

If terrorists were to attack hydro dams or the electrical grid or oil refineries they could cause thousands to millions of deaths.

Materials (oil and gases) obtained from oil storage or natural gas in pipelines could be used for military purposes to cause tens of thousands to millions of deaths.

A major expansion of nuclear power in the United States is not feasible in the near term. Even under an ambitious deployment scenario, new plants could not make a substantial contribution to reducing U.S. global warming emissions for at least two decades.

Conventional extended power uprates of existing nuclear power plants in the USA could add 10 GWe of power. New annular fuel could be used to add another 20-40 GW of nuclear power. Annular fuel was developed at MIT and is now being commercialized by South Korea. 300 TWh would be a significant addition and could be done by 2020-2025.

New nuclear power plants are being built in China and they will add about 80 GWe by 2020. They are adding 40 GWe from now to 2015. The US could build 10 GWe of new nuclear plant by 2020 and another 100 GWe by 2030.

The global warming problem will not be fixed in two decades so that clean power will be needed.

82 page version of the UCS position on nuclear power and global warming.

There chapters-
Chapter 1: Nuclear Power Today and Tomorrow
Chapter 2: Ensuring the Safety of Nuclear Power
Chapter 3: Defending against Sabotage and Terrorist Attacks
Chapter 4: Preventing Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Terrorism
Chapter 5: Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Nuclear Waste
Chapter 6: Evaluating New Nuclear Reactor Designs

Global warming is a global issue but they do not address nuclear power in China where about half of the new nuclear reactors are being built. Asia is where the construction of nuclear power is happening and they ignore it. 65 nuclear reactors are being constructed and they focus on the place where one is being built.

They talk about sabotage and terrorism and imply that the nuclear power industry should not progress until that and other safety issues are addressed. Yet, an oil tanker could be highjacked (as has happened many times around Somalia) and the oil tanker could be crashed into a port. A well coordinated attack on hydroelectric dams could be done and the controls could be set causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands (a deliberate version of the Banqiao dam failure).


Coal as we know does not need a terrorist attack but arson against a coal mine would be trivial.

Oil and natural gas pipelines are also vulnerable.

There are non-civilian nuclear plant scenarios where terrorists can get the nuclear material for a dirty bomb. Uranium can be mined from the ground anywhere. Proliferation can and has happened over 80% of the time occurred without utilizing a civilian nuclear program.

Increasing nuclear power could be part of a plant that eliminates the need for oil imported from the middle east. (Fischer-Tropsch process can be powered by nuclear). This would reduce the need for US involvement in the middle east. It would be part of the process to reduce some of the motivations for terrorism. It would arguably reduce the number of wars that the United States is currently motivated to become involved.

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