What is the carbon footprint of renewable electricity?

As part of an analysis of the carbon footprint of nuclear power, Keith Barnham notes the footprint of renewables. The british Climate change commission (CCC) has recommended any new power stations should not exceeed 50 gCO2/kWh.

When comparing the carbon footprints of electricity-generating technologies, we need to take into account carbon dioxide emitted in all stages in the life of the generator and its fuel. Such a study is called a life cycle analysis (LCA).

There are other gases such as methane that are more dangerous greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The most reliable LCAs take all greenhouse gases into account and present equivalent carbon dioxide emissions.

In a recent paper in Energy Policy, Daniel Nugent and Benjamin Sovacool critically reviewed the published LCAs of renewable electricity generators. All the renewable technologies came in below the 50 gCO2/kWh limit.

The lowest was large-scale hydropower with a carbon footprint one fifth of the CCC limit (10 gCO2/kWh). A close second was biogas electricity from anaerobic digestion (11 gCO2/kWh). The mean figure for wind energy is 34 gCO2/kWh, and solar PV comes in a shade under the 50g limit, at 49.9 gCO2/kWh. Bear in mind that rapidly evolving PV technology means that this last figure is contantly falling.

It’s a lot more difficult to do the calculation for nuclear power, because of the concentration of uranium affects the energy to enrich; the costs of decommissioning (dismantling and waste disposal) are poorly known. Barnham’s article goes into more detail about the wide range of estimates and their assumptions.… Read more >>

We’re not impressed with the draft terms of reference for the Nuclear Royal Commission

“This Royal Commission will be hearing evidence in a vacuum: the draft terms forbid it from considering any aspects of the industry we are familiar with (mining), and insist it consider aspects of the hypothetical future next generation reactors, which are so wonderful that no-one is building them commercially.”, said Roman Orszanski, Climate & Energy campaigner for Adelaide Friends of the Earth.

The full media release is here

Next Gen Nukes for the hard sell

FoE Australia’s very own Jim Green looked at the possibilities for the new generation of nuclear power reactors (since the current crop are unlikely to impress anyone), and found the kinds being spruiked by pro nuke advocates in SA have a few problems.

Integral Fast Reactors … it gets ugly moving from blueprint to backyard

Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc. The US and UK governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs.

The UK government found that:

  • the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated;
  • waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and
  • little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.

The US government has also considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors – ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that:

  • the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration;
  • it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and
  • the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.

Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned

Scientists puts it: “The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”

Small Modular Reactors … no-one actually wants to buy one

In any case, IFRs are yesterday’s news.…

Foe Submission to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Terms of Reference

SA Premier Jay Weatherill recently announced a Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle and gave the public one week to make submissions into the terms of reference.

He says he is motivated by concerns over climate change and the state of SA’s economy.

The royal commission will look at uranium enrichment, nuclear power and a nuclear waste dump. Environment groups are calling for it to include issues with existing uranium mining, legacy waste sites, export markets and weapons proliferation as well as a close examination of the impact of a proposed dump on remote communities. We also call for a full economic analysis of nuclear power in relation to renewables.

A group of people who want to work together over the next year of the royal commission is forming. Meetings will be hosted by the Conservation Council at their new HQ 111 Franklin St Adelaide (the old bus station, next to the new bus station).  The group is currently meeting on Tuesdays, please contact Robyn for more information

FoE Adl submission to Nuclear Royal Commission terms of referenceRead more >>

Nuclear Lessons Unlearned in Japan

On 11 March it will be four years since a huge earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. There is still no end in sight for the suffering of the people of Fukushima, but now it seems that the government and the electric power industry are moving inexorably towards the restart of reactors which have been shut down for most of the time since the accident.

“How can this be?”, incredulous observers might wonder. There are a few key factors which make it possible for the government to ignore the wishes of the bulk of the Japanese population for a nuclear phase out.

First, the current government, led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), came to power not because of its support for nuclear energy, but because of the incompetence of its predecessor. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) enjoyed a brief three years in government, a period which happened to coincide with the nuclear accident. Responding to public opposition to nuclear power, it declared a goal of phasing out nuclear energy by 2039, but due to its many other failings it was decimated in December 2012 elections and has failed to recover since. The LDP has returned to the pre-eminent position it has occupied for most of the last 60 years as Japan’s leading party and, because it has no challengers, it is riding roughshod over the public will.… Read more >>