Monday, December 19, 2011

Carbon Dioxide and Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Plant Opponents and Climate Change

Let's talk a little about carbon dioxide.
  1. Burning fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide leads to climate change.
  2. Nuclear power produces only negligible amounts of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases.
Opponents of nuclear power are stuck with these facts about carbon dioxide, but they try to get around them. They want to have their cake (close nuclear!) and eat it as they wrap themselves in environmental nobility (stop climate change!) How do they do this?
Gundersen: A Little Carbon Dioxide Doesn't Matter

At the January Janus Forum debate at UVM, Arnie Gundersen took a different approach than the ones I outlined above. He discussed nuclear plants (Vermont Yankee) and climate change. Here is what Gundersen said in January.

Gundersen's argument is that nuclear plants have poorer Carnot efficiency than fossil plants and therefore heat up the rivers more, which is bad for the fish. He claims that Vermont Yankee heated the river and decreased the shad in the Connecticut from 70,000 fish to 16 fish. Therefore, the little bit of global warming we would get if we replaced Vermont Yankee with fossil power does not matter very much. He claims we will save the river, even if we hurt the climate a tiny bit.

Actually, there are far more than 16 shad in the Connecticut River, but this post is not about refuting Gundersen. I did that in an earlier post, Hot Climate and Cold Fish. My aim in this post is to show the variety of complex, baffling, and ultimately false arguments nuclear opponents make about carbon dioxide and nuclear power.

France versus Denmark on Global Warming

Luckily for pro-nuclear people, we don't have to make complex arguments. We don't have to look at the future when (hopefully) renewables-do-it-all---and pretend that future is here right now. We don't have to tell lies about the nuclear fuel cycle being as bad for the climate as natural gas. We don't have to claim that warm water (not hydroelectric dams or imported bass) is killing the native fish.

Pro-nuclear people can be straightforward, because we have real facts and can make a real arguments. Pro-nuclear people can can look at actual countries (Denmark and France), actual carbon dioxide numbers, and cheerful videos to show that

Nuclear Energy is a major ally in the fight against carbon dioxide increase and changing climate.


Video Note: Gundersen video is from the UVM debate in January. France/Denmark video by MyLiberationBaby for Brave New Climate.

Gundersen note: Gundersen made similar remarks about the river when he was on the panel discussing the Transparent Radiation film at University of Vermont about a week ago. (I don't have links to the panel itself, so I will link to my post on the UVM film.)

Climate Change Note: I am aware that a certain portion of my readers do not believe carbon dioxide is leading to climate change. I think carbon dioxide is leading to climate change, and that is a problem. However, I was pro-nuclear long before climate change was an issue. Whether you think carbon dioxide causes climate change or not, I hope you can agree that using up our fossil fuels for generating electricity is not a good idea, since nuclear power will do the job just as well.


Anonymous said...

Quite apart from the question of CO2 and climate change, it is a demonstrable fact that burning carbon-based fuels, even relatively "clean" ones like NG, emit harmful pollutants into the biosphere. These include the oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, as well as PAHs and other particulates. In fact, the leading cause of lung cancer in third world countries is exposure to PAHs. The source? Burning wood. So much for "split wood, not atoms".

Anonymous said...

In a way, Arnie's right about the whole "one plant doesn't make a difference" argument, but fundamentally wrong.

I really hate to play the role of Captain Obvious. What I'm about to say should be pretty obvious to your average 8th grader, but it seems with Arnie Gunderson, you're reduced to explaining common sense. . .

That's like saying one person doesn't matter for litter. But, if everyone stopped littering, then there'd be no litter. So, should I say it doesn't matter if I litter because everyone else is doing it? If everyone applied that logic, we'd never, ever reduce littering - or CO2 emissions.

Deciding to replace a nuclear plant with a fossil fuel plant is like deciding to start littering after you've stopped for 40 years.

Meredith Angwin said...

Anon and Jeff. Thank you for the comments.

Anon. You are completely correct. My son-in-law works on programs to make third world wood stoves a little less likely to cause the death of women in the household, mostly from COPD and asthma and lung cancer. If third world women just had an electric stove, they would be far healthier and live longer!

Jeff. When I do slide-shows about this, I show a picture of a CFL bulb and ask the question: if shutting down Vermont Yankee and replacing with fossil doesn't matter because it is just a "little bit" of CO2, why did I replace my light bulbs? The light bulb amount of CO2 can't matter, either! I like your comment about litter.

jimwg said...

Seasons Greetings!

"...He claims that Vermont Yankee heated the river and decreased the shad in the Connecticut from 70,000 fish to 16 fish."

What's even more appalling to me than that one would actually sling around such blatantly ridiculous figures (try exactly counting 16 fish in a lake!) is that there are SO many who'd totally and unquestionably swallow them without logic or reason hook, line and sinker!

Not only nuclear education has a LONG way to go!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Mike Mulligan said...


"If third world women just had an electric stove, they would be far healthier and live longer!"

With is it about libertarians with talking about income to the bottom half. It is a dirty word. The stove for health is is only adequate income that can turn around the short and burdensome lives of these women. So she has a new stove, will she have enough income to heat the food?

Where did the women's rights movement go?

As far as our problems with CO2 and global warming...its only about adiquate income the bottom half too.

Meredith Angwin said...

Mike. Yes. Of course. She needs income. She needs the stove AND income. Actually, a gas stove and income would be fine. She doesn't need an electric stove, but she needs enough income for a safe stove.

I recommend this older blog post I wrote: It's the energy. Why I love nuclear