Posted by Mark Halper

Nuking CO2. This slide presented earlier this month by Nobel winning physicist Burton Richter shows that the lifecycle CO2 emissions of nuclear – including mining and manufacturing – are lower than those of biomass and solar, and are on a par with hydro and geothermal. As a low emitter, nuclear trounces fossil fuels. The chart comes originally from a group of University of Wisconsin PhD students.

Today’s post is a sort of de facto double guest blog.

After Bloomberg all but sounded the death knell for new nuclear power projects in the Czech Republic and across Europe last week, some staunch defenders of the nuclear faith emerged.

Bloomberg had quoted energy experts saying that capital costs, risks and lengthy delays would scupper the two proposed new reactors at Temelin in the Czech Republic, and would likely do the same for a pair of reactors in the UK and at several other proposed sites in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

The story cited declining energy prices and the low cost of carbon credits, among other factors.

“The future of nuclear energy in Europe looks very dim indeed,” said one of the experts, Mycle Schneider, an independent consultant on energy and nuclear power based in Paris. “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”

Nuclear new builds would die, despite government mandates to decrease reliance on CO2-emitting fossil fuels. As the Bloomberg story noted, “While the Czech government says it wants new reactors to replace coal plants and reduce dependence on Russian gas, consensus is proving difficult to find.”


No sooner did Bloomberg run the story than the rebuttals started popping up in the comments section.

Here are two of them, word for word.  The first comes from Alex Cannara, the Bay Area radiation expert and thorium supporter. I particularly like his point about nuclear’s low lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to renewables like wind (a point essentially backed up by the chart above presented by Nobel prize winning Stanford University physicist Burton Richter at an EDF “Science Day” in Sausalito, Calif. earlier this month):

Hope they didn’t pay this ‘consultant’ much for:  “Nuclear is too capital intensive, too time-consuming and simply too risky.”

Germany thinks it’s ok to emit tens of mega-tons more of CO2 because they like coal & ligniite better than nuclear?  Remind us how many Germans have died from nuclear-power radiation.  What about Americans?  English?  French?  Oh yes, all zero.

Whoever wrote the advice above seems ok with the deaths and disease from combustion, mining, etc. — all things needed for windmills, by the way.

So when we see German coal & gas burning costing ~180 years of human life per TW-hour, we should say that’s ok, despite German nuclear costing less than 1/6 those years of life?  Really?

Remember, making 1 large Siemens windmill requires processing about 2000 tons of materials via fossil fuels — steel needs coal and iron ore, etc.  Concrete needs kilned limestone & mined/crushed aggregate., etc.  So the emissioins burden of wind is higher than nuclear.  And we’re not even talking about the vast tracts of land/sea taken for wind.  Nor are we talking about species threats, maintenance emissions, worker dangers, and even maritime dangers for offshore windmills.

And here we thought the Germans the smartest — must have been some PR, or the beer.


Soon after Cannara piped up, thorium advocate Timothy Maloney from the Thorium Energy Alliance weighed in, after another commenter had suggested “pumped hydro” and its “85 percent” efficiency as a sustainable form of generating electricity. Note Maloney’s encouragement of a LFTR reactor (pronounced “lifter”), which is a thorium-fueled molten salt reactor:

Pumped Storage Hydro is efficient, but not quite 85%.  The NREL’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study,  Vol 1, p.181, cites 80%.

The problem with PSH is that it doesn’t carry us for a very long time.  The NREL study, p. 106, note 21 estimates only 8 hours maximum.

Hydro is the least expensive current generation method, but it’s not baseload.  Hoover Dam works 100% of the time, for now, but most dams do not.  Worldwide, the capacity factor for all hydro installations is only 44%.  James Conca, Forbes , June 15, 2012, The Naked Cost of Energy.

Hydro’s  total life-cycle cost is about 3 cents per kWh.   We in the Thorium Energy Alliance think we can beat that handily with Liquid-Fuel Thorium Reactors – LFTR.

Our total life-cycle plant construction cost is about one-half cent per kWh (50 years plant longevity at 100% capacity factor).   The fuel itself (thorium) is so inexpensive it’s essentially zero cost.  Add 1 cent per kWh for plant Operation & Maintenance, the standard estimate, and we come in at about 1.5 cents per kWh.

About half the cost of Hydro.

The game is not yet over in Europe. In fact with superior alternatives like thorium, molten salt and others waiting in the wings, nuclear should continue to have a vital role. China and India are making such a play, Europe would look foolish not to.


  1. Terry Floyd says:

    Now let’s see the comparator chart of energy yields?????

    N ^
    U |
    C |
    L |
    E |
    A |
    R | _ All the rest combined

    The above chart by {PLANET THORIUM/GOOGLE+}

  2. Tony Day says:

    I am a great supporter of LFTR. Uranium is an unsatisfactory fuel, and fusion technology relies implicitly on solving the critical engineering problem of the controlling the almost instantaneous change from a fusion reactor being a massive energy absorber to an even more massive energy emitter.

    The very useful chart of relative emissions intensity of various technologies is incomplete. My colleagues and I have the privilege of access to the sole remaining complete copy of the engineering and economic analyses underpinning the joint HMG/British Gas Corporation ’30 Year Plan’ to supply the whole of UK gas demand by Synthetic Natural Gas (SNG) when north Sea Gas ran out. Like the LFTR, this promising large scale development programme was closed for political reasons, but being Britain, no technical information has ever reached the Public domain. All SNG plants are inherently Carbon Capture Ready at very low Marginal Abatement Cost of Carbon (MACC).

    By using residual mixed hazardous and non-hazardous wastes for a large part of the fuel supply, mixed with some biomass, and a proportion of coal to provide the fuel to drive the gasification processes, it is possible to produce low cost carbon negative SNG, combined with low cost CCS, from mixed renewable and fossil energy resources.

    The projected economic and emissions outputs for a 4 year study the combining the British Gas SNG technology with mixed fuels and CCS are:

    Net process efficiency: 75.75% to 60 bar SNG.
    Cost of carbon negative: SNG: 40 to 45 p/therm.
    Implied cost of carbon negative electricity: £40 to 50/MWh.
    MACC: 40 p/tonne CO2 (capture and pipeline injection only exc transport and storage.
    CO2 product: 99.5% purity ultra dry150 bar supercritical phase CO2.
    Negative emissions: -45 gCO2/kWh in a carbon negative SNG fired 60% efficient CCGT.
    Zero hazardous emissions. Heavy metals captured in certified non-leaching inert vitrified aggregate recyclate. 99.9995% efficient permanent destruction of Persistant Organic Pollutants (UNEP 2006).

    A well-balanced fleet comprising a MIX of:

    Gen IV nuclear/LFTR.
    Renewables: Wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and hydro.
    Biomethane and BioSNG.
    Carbon negative SNG fired conventional CCGT’s.
    Coal with CCS.
    Embedded micro-generation.

    will provide a balanced portfolio of affordable, sustainable and secure energy supplies.

    Best wishes,

    Tony Day

  3. Timok says:

    Thorium LFTR seems to attract supporters like some religious cult !

    I suggest studying in detail ORNL reports on LFTR, CNRS reports, patent literature, scientific literature on the subject to get a realistic perspective. A serious accident involving a LFTR (with its hard-Gamma radiologically hard salt fuel) would be particularly hazardous to clean up. Moreover, continuous chemical processing of the LFTR fuel when in operation gives rise to many opportunities for making dirty bombs. That is the reality. There are many many other potential problems associated with LFTR. One prototype LFTR at ORNL is hardly representative of a potential industrial LFTR design.

    However, having stated various practical issues above (which may make Thorium LFTR enthusiasts feel a bit uncomfortable), Thorium LFTR does offer one very important feature: it allows the transmutation and safer disposal of vast stockpiles of conventional nuclear waste, which otherwise needs to be stored safely for 100000 years. USa has 77000 tonnes of such high-level nuclear waste, and Japan has 17000 tonnes of such waste, mostly located around nuclear sites such as Fukushima Dai’ichi. Fukushima Dai’ichi is rapidly becoming a radioactive swamp, sadly.

    A solution that may be adopted is to dump the nuclear waste, and defunct nuclear reactor cores, off the coast of Norway, as the Russians have done, as reported recently in the Norwegian press. When the reactor cores corrode, the nuclear waste will leach into Norwegian salmon stocks; this is not good news for multi-billion USD Norwegian salmon industry.

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