Careful Here

What I couldn\’t understand was that he couldn\’t accept that it was also cleaner than coal or gas. For one thing it has no carbon footprint and therefore, if you think that carbon emissions are causing climate change, surely you would think nuclear power is a good thing?

That\’s Iain Dale (rightly) slagging off a greenie for refusing to think about nuclear power. However, we do need to be a little careful here. Nuclear does not have no CO2 or carbon footprint. The process of building a nuclear station, or mining and refining the ore, does indeed have emissions.

As, indeed, the process of making a windmill (they actually use more cement, power for power, than nuclear), building a damn or manufacturing solar panels all have such emissions. Camilla Cavendish gives the appropriate numbers for nuclear in today\’s Times:

Britain\’s clapped-out reactors are still our largest source of low-carbon energy. The electricity they produce creates about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (after accounting for the carbon costs of reactors), compared with about 350 from gas and 900 from coal.

That number is fractionally above offshore wind (from memory, 13 or 14 tonnes) and hydro (again, 13 or 14 tonnes from memory) and a fraction of solar PV (36 tonnes, again, from memory).

The point to remember about all of these technologies is that none of them (as with the process of life itself) have no emissions. Everything is relative.

15 comments on “Careful Here

  1. I think Ken McLeod had the right idea when he called greenies “barbarians” or “barbs” in his novels. Because they want humanity to regress to barbarism.

  2. Camilla Cavendish writes in The Times: “We already import 2GW a year of nuclear electricity from France through an undersea cable.”

    The units of gigawatts per year cannot be the correct measure (unless it is of the annual change in the amount of continuous electric power that is imported).

    The correct units give, most likely, either 2GWh/year (gigawatt hours per year) or a continuous average of 2GW (which is about 17,500 GWh/year). It would be good to know which one it is, with the former being the annual electricity consumption of about 230 homes and the latter being of around 2 million homes.

    Given this mistake in units, how can we trust Ms Cavendish (and Times sub-editors) on any other figures, such as the given comparisons of tonnes of CO2 per generated megawatt-hour, including both fuel used and power-station construction?

    And on that, Ms Cavendish writes: “The electricity [nuclear power stations] produce creates about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (after accounting for the carbon costs of reactors), compared with about 350 from gas and 900 from coal.”

    Now, a typical home uses around 1kW of electricity as the average continuous use, with perhaps a continuous equivalent (including gas etc) for heating and hot water of approaching 3kW. This 3kW is around 26MWh per year. Thus with coal, at the quoted 900 tonnes of CO2 production per MWh (around 245 tonnes of coal, assuming it is pure carbon and ignoring the amortised construction at under 2% of the total), this would be equivalent to burning 17 tonnes of coal per day per home. For those of us who can remember open coal fires as the primary heating in our homes, I don’t think deliveries ever got quite that big; nor are we nowadays the amount warmer that would arise from so much extra energy use.

    Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drax_power_station) gives the peak operation of the Drax power station as requiring 0.38 tonnes of coal per MWh.

    So far I’ve been unable to ‘guess’ the mistake; it’s not megawatt hours per megawatt year (8,760); it’s not the factor of 3.66 between tonnage of CO2 and carbon equivalent tonnes; can it really be one and the other twice reciprocated?

    How can we rely on The Times to have used the correct amortised figure for power-station construction, or even any other numbers?

    Best regards

    Tim adds: Perfectly happy with the idea that the units are garbled: I get very confused wandering around in them myself. However, the 900, 350, 15 and so on are all correct. The easiest solution, from your calculations and the Drax number, is that 0.38 tonnes of coal to produce a MWh gives us 900 kg CO2. (which sounds about right, C to CO2 is just over x2 isn’t it?) Correct ratios, wrong units.

  3. Nigel / Tim
    Unless I’m mistaken, the 1MWh that 0.38 tonnes of coal generates would power/heat the average house for 13.89 days (if you accept 3kw/h average consumption), which is roughly 27kg/day/house, not 17000kg.

  4. The Froggie cable is a 2GW link, not 2GW/h – it represents a substantial proportion of our electricity requirements (indeed, given that EdF are going to build our new nuke stations anyway, that the French are clearly better at this sort of thing than us, and that the government claims the new nukes will be commercially viable without subsidy, why don’t we just build another four undersea links and get EdF to provide the lot from France?)

    Digressionally, if you see a survey whose main conclusion is that our invasion of Iraq caused 150,000 excess violent deaths and your first thought is “ooh, that means the Lancet survey was Terribly Terribly Bad And Wrong; what a bunch of wicked lefty antiwar scientists”, you may want to rethink your priorities…

  5. Garr, that was always going to happen – I’m glad I deleted my dig at journos for being scientifically illiterate. The France link is 2GW not 2GWh per year.

  6. given that EdF are going to build our new nuke stations anyway, that the French are clearly better at this sort of thing than us, and that the government claims the new nukes will be commercially viable without subsidy, why don’t we just build another four undersea links and get EdF to provide the lot from France?)

    Concerns about security of supply?

  7. “Concerns about security of supply?”

    Only if you’re mad enough to think another war with France is on the cards (I accept the number of people who believe this is probably non-zero, and half of them are probably in UKIP…)

    If it’s possible to source enough uranium (which will not be a problem in the next 50 years), they’ll be able to generate enough electricity for our and their needs.

  8. Pingback: doctorvee » More on environmentalists

  9. john b

    Security of supply

    48% of France’s energy requirements are met by oil and gas, effectively all of which is imported. We don’t have to go to war with France to have our supplies interrupted . France only has to have serious problems with its oil and gas suppliers (eg Russia) to affect where France uses/sends its electricity and, it won’t be to the UK.

    here

  10. This is all very interesting, however seeing as the average temperature since the hottest year “1934” in the past 100 years has not been exceeded and the temperature has been cooling significantly in the past few years, the oceans are not rising, (Dr Nils Axel-Morner, ex Stockholm university, sea level specialist) The CO2 levels are not increasing, Zbigniew Zawaorski MD PHD DSc in his paper “CO2 The Greatest Scientific Scandal of our Time.” His measurements are actual measurements recorded, not reconstructed from ice cores. And advice from NASA Phil Chapman who is a geophysicist and astronautical engineer and ex NASA astronaut, that the ice at the south pole is now wider thicker than at any time since Antarctica was discovered by Captain Cook.

    Why is there a big deal about the puny amount of man recycled CO2.

    Over one thousand (1,333) under sea volcanoes were discovered as little as 10 years ago 900 KM from Easter Island,(Dan Scheirer’s team) in an area about the size of the UK, we simply have not “got a clue” how much CO2 is coming from these and thousands of other undiscovered ocean volcanoes at this point in our history. CO2 levels will always vary dependent on various causes the least, by a light year, are man influenced. We are all carbon beings from the smallest plant to ourselves, CO2 is part of the food cycle via photosynthesis. It has no smell, no taste and is invisible. We are all CO2 based beings it is the substance of every living thing. If any one wants to become carbon neutral, please don’t do it on my front lawn. I have enough trouble with the neighbors dogs. Furthermore this CO2 preoccupation is taking our green eyes off things that do matter, things like deforestation, which highly impacts rainfall and local weather conditions, air pollution which is a killer and we can actually do something about, and water pollution which is killing our marine life and reducing the viability of our oceans. Wake up, governments love this CO2 talk, it makes the best excuses for them not to act on any real environmental issues and service issues. Make them accountable.

    Please research this material before trying to heap scorn upon it.

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