Someone — I think Bart? — sent me to a paper by David Fleming called "Why nuclear power cannot be a major energy source."

I just got done reading it, and as far as I’m concerned it is devastating to the pro-nuclear argument. Game over.

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The paper — based primarily on the work of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith — carefully considers how much uranium is left in the ground, the energy balance for the full nuclear lifecycle (including cleaning up waste), the promise of breeder reactors, and just about every other aspect of nuclear power.

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The ultimate verdict: If nuclear power maintains its current contribution — roughly 2.5% of the world’s energy — it can continue for about 75 years, under ideal conditions. If we ramp it up to supply 100% of the world’s electricity, it could last about 6 years, under ideal conditions. And there are no ideal conditions.

In other words, nuclear power simply cannot bridge the coming energy gap. More than anything, it serves as a kind of techno-totem, allowing people to cling to the illusion that technology will save us and we won’t have to alter our lifestyles.

Anyway, read it. Bookmark it. Link to it. Send it to your friends. The nuclear illusion needs to be put to rest once and for all.

My favorite part of the paper is the helpful summary at the end. Here it is:

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A Lean Guide

  1. Nuclear energy could sustain its present minor contribution of some 21/2 percent of global final energy demand for about 75 years, but only by postponing indefinitely the expenditure of energy that would be needed to deal with its waste.
  2. Each stage in the nuclear life-cycle, other than fission itself, produces carbon dioxide.
  3. The depletion problem facing nuclear power is as pressing as the depletion problem facing oil and gas.
  4. The depletion of uranium becomes apparent when nuclear power is considered as a major source of energy. For instance, if required to provide all the electricity used worldwide — while clearing up the new waste it produced — it could (notionally) do so for about six years before it ran out of usable rich uranium ore.
  5. Alternative systems of nuclear fission, such as fast-breeders and thorium reactors, do not offer solutions in the short/medium term.
  6. The overall climate impact of the nuclear industry, including its use of halogenated compounds with a global warming potential many times that of carbon dioxide, needs to be researched urgently.
  7. The option that a nation such as the United Kingdom has of building and fueling a nuclear energy system on a substantial and useful scale is removed if many other nations attempt to do the same thing.
  8. The response must be to develop a programme of "Lean Energy". Lean Energy consists of: (1) energy conservation and efficiency; (2) structural change to build local energy systems; and (3) renewable energy; all within (4) a framework, such as tradable energy quotas (TEQs), leading to deep reductions in energy demand.
  9. That response should be developed at all speed, free of the false promise and distraction of nuclear energy.