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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 39  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 170-171  

Summary of a report, “nuclear power and the clean energy future”

Associate Editor, RPE, Internal Dosimetry Section, Radiation Safety Systems Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication30-Nov-2016

Correspondence Address:
D D Rao
Associate Editor, RPE, Internal Dosimetry Section, Radiation Safety Systems Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-0464.194967

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How to cite this article:
Rao D D. Summary of a report, “nuclear power and the clean energy future”. Radiat Prot Environ 2016;39:170-1

How to cite this URL:
Rao D D. Summary of a report, “nuclear power and the clean energy future”. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 May 30];39:170-1. Available from: https://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2016/39/3/170/194967

This Report is Prepared by the “Horinko Group” for NUCLEAR MATTERS and released in September, 2016. The excerpts of the report are summarized below: Available from: http://www.hps.org/newsandevents/societynews.html. In the end, the last paragraph is on India's position on climate change which is not part of the above report and is sourced separately and added.

Nuclear power––the largest source of clean, reliable, baseload power in the USA––is critical to a clean energy future. It provides nearly double the power of wind, solar, and hydroelectric combined, and accounts for 20% of the nation's electricity overall.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) contribute to climate change, the most pressing threat to public health and the environment of our time. The risks include increases in extreme weather causing flooding, droughts, and heat waves, sea-level rise, food- and air-borne illnesses, and deaths. The U.S. electricity sector emits 2.3 billion tons (ton refers to short ton which is equal to 2000 pounds) of GHG carbon dioxide (CO2) each year, but nuclear power emits none. GHGs include numerous gases, most prominently CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Each of these gases has a different global warming potential (GWP) when measured over a period of time. Thus, the unit carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) is often used to show how much CO2 would have the same GWP as a given mixture of GHGs over a specified time period. For example, over a 100-year period, methane has a GWP of 21, so 1 ton of methane is equivalent to 21 tons CO2 eq.

  Comparison of Electricity Fuels Top

Each type of electricity fuel––coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar––differs in scale, operating characteristics, and environmental impact. Scale and operating characteristics contribute to each source's ability to provide sufficient power when needed, but those characteristics do not necessarily correlate with environmental impact. Nuclear energy is unique in its ability to provide reliable baseload power without emitting CO2. Baseload power demand for electricity varies seasonally and within each 24 h period of the day. The minimum amount of demand for electric power in nonpeak hours of the day is baseload power. Nuclear and many fossil-fueled power plants are capable of running continuously to meet baseload power demand, but nuclear power plants are the only ones that do so without emitting GHGs. In the USA, natural gas-fired power plants emit about 580 million tons of CO2 annually and coal-fired power plants emit over 1500 million tons per year. Thus, although these sources of electricity can provide baseload power, they do so at a significant environmental cost. Some renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower offer similar environmental benefits as that of nuclear power, in that they do not emit GHGs when generating electricity. Unlike nuclear power, however, these sources cannot be counted on to provide a steady output of around-the-clock power.

  Lost Nuclear Power Means a Rise in Greenhouse Gases Emissions Top

Past experience demonstrates that when nuclear power is lost, it is replaced by fossil-fueled power, which causes GHG emissions to increase. Further, premature nuclear retirements will most likely continue to be replaced by fossil-fueled sources because of their comparable operating characteristics and scale. When nuclear power is lost, a rise in GHG emissions is to be expected. Following are some of the examples for rise in GHGs:

  • After years of declining GHG emissions, in 2015, New England's GHG emissions rose by 2,000,000 tons after the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed
  • In 2012, GHG emissions rose in California with the 2011 closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and drought that reduced hydropower. In all, the state lost 33 TWh of clean electricity; the state relied on additional natural gas generation to meet electricity demand
  • When Japan shuttered its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, GHG emissions rose significantly as coal-fired power stepped in to replace nuclear power
  • With decreasing reliance on nuclear power, Germany has seen a corresponding increased reliance on lignite coal-fired power. As a result, Germany has made little progress toward its emission reduction goals, despite significant expenditures on additional wind and solar power.

The climate benefits of nuclear power are indisputable. One study estimates that if all nuclear power plants worldwide were to cease production, the world would see a cumulative increase of between 80 and 240 gigatons of CO2 eq over a 40-year period, equivalent to 14–41 times annual U.S. emissions. These figures starkly reveal the importance of nuclear power in avoiding CO2 emissions.

  Clean Power Plan Top

Finalized by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA, in August 2015, the CPP sets CO2 emission performance rates for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. It also sets CO2 emission targets for each state based on the performance rates and the states' individual mixes of coal- and natural-gas-fired power, allowing states the discretion to determine how best to shape their compliance plans. As a result of the rule, EPA projects that CO2 emissions will be about 32% <2005 levels by 2030.

  Renewables: Important, but not Enough Top

Nuclear energy and nonemitting renewables such as wind, solar, and hydropower can generate electricity without GHG emissions. All these sources of power play an important role in the clean energy future. But if nuclear power were lost, states would find it difficult, if not impossible, to meet their clean energy goals within the next several decades. Currently, renewable resources cannot supply steady baseload power at the scale provided by nuclear power. Nuclear power provides reliable baseload power running around the clock regardless of the weather. However, wind, solar, and hydropower are variable––they are incapable of providing always-on electricity. The capacity factors (nuclear – 90%; coal – 52%; hydro – 33%, wind – 31%, and solar – 28%) reflect these differences.

  Land-Use Implications of Nonemitting Renewables Top

Wind, solar, and hydropower are important resources for the low-carbon future. However, their land-use implications are an important public policy consideration. In particular, wind and solar power are small in both scale and capacity factor, requiring a substantial number of turbines, photovoltaic panels, or concentrated solar equipment to generate the same amount of power as one nuclear power plant.

  India's Position Toward Climate Change Top

India joins Paris Climate Change Agreement by submitting the instrument of ratification at United Nations headquarters on October 2, 2016 (the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi) by putting Gandhi's seal on the climate deal. The country will now urge the global community to adopt “Gandhian way of life” (shun extravagant lifestyles) to reduce their carbon footprints and protect the earth from adverse impact of climate change. India accounts for about 5.7% of global total GHG emissions, while the USA accounts for 15.6% and China for 22.7%, the three largest contributors of GHGs globally, in the world. The Paris agreement of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) asks both rich and poor countries to take action to curb the rise in global temperatures that is melting glaciers, raising sea levels, and shifting rainfall patterns. It requires governments to present national plans to reduce emissions to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. India has committed that by 2030, at least 40% of its electricity will be generated from nonfossil sources. This includes 175 GW renewable energy capacity by 2022.


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Comparison of El...
Lost Nuclear Pow...
Clean Power Plan
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