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Green Corner




An A-Z of the environment & issues

by Peter Hatswell



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N is for Nuclear Power

The world’s nuclear power stations all use the process of fission (colliding particles) to release molecular energy from unstable substances such as uranium and plutonium.  This process, compared with say a coal-fired power station, uses hardly any raw material and produces even less waste – although what waste it does produce is dangerous. In the distant future we may have fusion reactors (source of the sun’s energy) which could produce virtually pollution-free energy but there are significant technical problems to be overcome first.

Our Government is pinning its hopes on some nuclear power to fill the gap left between our reducing stocks of fossil fuels and what we can provide through wind, solar and hydro-electric means. Ethanol production from and the burning of vegetable matter will only provide a small percentage of our needs because the available farm land and water supplies are limited.

So how green is Nuclear? Not very, according to a recent report from the Oko-Institut where, over the life-cycle of production (including uranium mining, shipping etc) the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated was found to be:


 31-61 grams
Wind  23 grams
Hydro   39 grams
Solar Voltaics 89 grams

However, very few people use electricity entirely for heating their homes (the National Grid would need to be five times larger if they did!) so by the time we add in the coal burning effect, average household emissions rise to 772 g/kWh with coal + nuclear and slightly less, at 747 g/kWh with coal + co-generation from gas (power generation with recovered heat).

Adding in the security risks of attacks on or accidents at nuclear facilities, the high cost of building the plants, decontamination, shortage of fissionable material etc the future for nuclear power still looks pretty bleak. This is despite enormous sums of taxpayers money being spent in this industry which arguably should have been spent on safer technologies.

Because of nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, the German Government for one has decided not to build any more traditional nuclear power stations and instead concentrate on renewables and energy efficiency.

It is a great pity that the solution to clean nuclear energy is still so far away but when it is solved some sort of utopia could be achieved.



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