Nuclear should be in the energy mix for biodiversity

December 15, 2014 by Robyn Mills, University of Adelaide

Leading conservation scientists from around the world have called for a substantial role for nuclear power in future energy-generating scenarios in order to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity.

In an open letter to environmentalists with more than 60 signatories, the scientists ask the environmental community to "weigh up the pros and cons of different using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is 'green' ".

Organised by ecologists Professor Barry Brook and Professor Corey Bradshaw and from the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute, the letter supports their recent article 'Key role for in global biodiversity conservation', published in the journal Conservation Biology.

"Full decarbonisation of the global electricity-generation sector is required soon to avoid the worst ravages of ," says Professor Bradshaw, Director, Ecological Modelling at the Environment Institute and recently appointed Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change.

"Biodiversity is not only threatened by climate disruption arising largely from fossil-fuel derived emissions, it is also threatened by land transformation resulting from , such as flooded areas for hydro-electricity, agricultural areas needed for biofuels and large spaces needed for wind and solar farms."

In the article, the researchers evaluated land use, emissions, climate and cost implications of three different scenarios: 'business as usual' fossil-fuel dominated; a high renewable-energy mix excluding nuclear; and an energy mix with a large nuclear contribution plus some renewable and fossil-fuel sources.

They also used "multi-criteria decision-making analysis" to rank seven major energy types based on costs and benefits, testing the sensitivity of their rankings to bias stemming from philosophical ideals.

"When compared objectively with renewables, nuclear power performs as well or better in terms of safety, cost, scaleability, land transformation and emissions," says Professor Barry Brook, Chair of Climate Change at the Environment Institute for this study, and now Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania.

"Not only does next-generation nuclear power provide emissions-free electricity, it is a highly concentrated energy source that consumes legacy waste and minimises impacts to biodiversity compared to all other energy sources."

They argue that there is strong evidence for supporting advanced systems with complete fuel recycling as part of a portfolio of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency.

"Idealised mixes of nuclear and renewables are regionally dependent, and should be compared objectively without prejudice or preconceived notions of what is 'green'," says Professor Bradshaw.

The letter is published on and

Explore further: India shines with renewable energy announcement

More information: "Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation." Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12433

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not rated yet Dec 15, 2014
Nuclear powerplants measure in the terrawatts per acre while wind and solar measure in the megawatts.

Not to discount solar or wind. Coupled with grid-storage, renewables could provide 60% of the energy market. Actual energy usage is different though. Factories, refineries, mills, foundries, etc all consume lots of energy. Nukes make sense for those while also providing a solid and stable baseload for the grid at large.

Technologically we're pretty far away from the type of nukes we're going to need as a global society. The only types currently in production take years and years to build even when legal stalling tactics are not counted.

We have some serious material science questions to sort out before mass produced modular fast reactors can roll off an assembly line. Viva la supercomputer.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2014
automatically produce some of the most undesirable materials, ever, while presenting the perennial potential for wide scale disaster. And then there's Yucca Mountain
Fissiles are the most valuable material that a civilization at our stage of development can own. Fissiles are freedom, security.

They enable us to prowl the ocean depths, protecting us from enemies who would use that venue to disrupt ocean commerce. They offer an overwhelming military response to aggression.

They will enable the colonization of space. Nukes can produce habitable underground cavities on other planets and moons, per operation plowshare. They can power robotic earth borers for mining, processing, and creating more living space under the surface of these distant worlds. They will provide power in places where there is no other option.

Future gens will thank us for having the foresight to stage a phony Cold War just to produce the 1000s of tons of fissiles we now possess.
not rated yet Dec 16, 2014
Taking years to build did not prevent water-cooled reactors from being the quickest technology ever in scaling from 1 exajoule per year (31.7 GW) to 10 EJ per year (http://www.theoil...ode/8936 ). In so scaling, it became an immediate threat to Western governments' fossil fuel tax incomes.

The minimum mass of natural uranium that can go slightly supercritical is about 1 metric ton. The minimum mass for a practical, fault-tolerant radiation shield *around* such a mass, when it's throwing out 10^18s of neutrons per second, is a few hundred tonnes.

So fast reactors' ability to have smaller cores, less than a tonne, does not translate into smaller *systems*. If the Greenpeace ride seen at http://www.projec...ew/3444/ had two fast-fission modules rather than two water-cooled ones, they'd still be a few hundred tonnes each.

Plus, for existing, Greenpeace-endorsed modular reactors, seawater-derived uranium has been shown far cheaper than any fossil fuel.

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