Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Posts Tagged ‘life-cycle analysis

” Nuclear’s CO2 cost ‘will climb'”.

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The BBC is reporting that:

The case for nuclear power as a low carbon energy source to replace fossil fuels has been challenged in a new report by Australian academics.

It suggests greenhouse emissions from the mining of uranium – on which nuclear power relies – are on the rise.

Availability of high-grade uranium ore is set to decline with time, it says, making the fuel less environmentally friendly and more costly to extract.

A significant proportion of greenhouse emissions from nuclear power stem from the fuel supply stage, which includes uranium mining, milling, enrichment and fuel manufacturing.

Others sources of carbon include construction of the plant – including the manufacturing of steel and concrete materials – and decomissioning.

You can read the rest of the original BBC article here.

Perhaps more significantly, you can download the original academic paper in question here.

I will quote a couple of paragraphs worth:

Overall, the data clearly show the sensitivity of sustainability assessments to the ore grade of
the uranium deposit being mined and that significant gaps remain in complete sustainability reporting and accounting. This paper is a case study of the energy, water, and carbon costs of uranium mining and milling within the context of the nuclear energy chain.

In summary, the extent of economically recoverable uranium, although somewhat uncertain, is clearly linked to exploration effort, technology, and economics but is inextricably linked to environmental costs such as energy, water, and chemicals consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and broader social issues. These crucial environmental aspects of resource extraction are only just beginning to be understood in the context of more complete life cycle analyses of the nuclear chain and other energy options. There still remains incomplete reporting however, especially in terms of data consistency among mines and site-specific data for numerous individual mines and mills, as well as the underlying factors controlling differences and variability. It is clear that there is a strong sensitivity of energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to ore grade, and that ore grades are likely to continue to decline gradually in the medium- to long-term. These issues are critical to understand in the current debate over nuclear power, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change, especially with respect to ascribing sustainability to such activities as uranium mining and milling.

So, to summarise exactly what the paper says:

There are some inputs of energy  associated with the nuclear fuel cycle on a whole-of-life-cycle during uranium mining and milling, and in practice at present there are some carbon dioxide emissions associated with these energy inputs.

As reserves of easily recoverable high-grade uranium ore decline, assuming that the greenhouse-gas intensity of the energy inputs into the mining operations remain comparable, the whole-of-life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions intensity of nuclear energy might be expected to increase somewhat.

I think we already know that. Everyone already knows that.

The lead author of the paper, Gavin Mudd, is an Australian academic with a background in geohydrological engineering. He is a nuclear energy skeptic – well, not so much a nuclear energy skeptic as someone who is skeptical of the ecological sustainability of current uranium mining practices. His main area of expertise and interest with regard to nuclear energy is uranium mining.

I use the term “nuclear energy skeptic” because it’s reasonably clear that he’s anti-nuclear-energy – but I think it’s almost uncharitable and unfair to put an academic who puts forward their arguments in terms of reasonably well constructed academic papers in peer-reviewed science journals in the same category as the likes of Wasserman, Gunter or Caldicott.

This paper does not at all say “nuclear energy is unsustainable” or “uranium mining is unsustainable” – once the journalists apply a little spin to it, however, it’s easy to see how many could try and apply this paper, and especially press articles like the above, towards evidencing such a conclusion.

Describing the fact that there are energy inputs associated with uranium – which we already know – doesn’t answer the real question at all – How does the whole-of-life-cycle greenhouse gas intensity per MWh of electricity generation actually quantitatively compare to the whole-of-life-cycle greenhouse gas intensity of other energy generation technologies?

Sure – it’s somewhat reasonable to suggest that these quantities will change over the long term, into the future. Quantitatively, how will they be expected to change?

I should add, finally, that this paper is notable for being – perhaps – the first ever nuclear-skeptical study of the energy and greenhouse gas intensity of the nuclear fuel cycle that does not invoke the work of van Leeuwen and Smith. In fact, in terms of the quality of the source material cited, this paper seems pretty good.


Expansion at Olympic Dam means increased energy inputs (of course).

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Apparently, some people out there are shocked with new projections that expanded operations, proposed to be completed around 2013, at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam facility will entail significant expansion of the mine’s electricity consumption – projected to be an average of 690 megawatts per year, or around 40% of South Australia’s total electricity consumption, when the expansion is complete.

Here’s the complete story, from

(As an aside, I’m quite pleased to note, when reading the comments on the above-linked webpage, just how much pro-nuclear-energy sentiment seems to be out there.)

Olympic Dam is a copper mine. When the expanded production reaches full capacity in 2015 or so, 450,000 tons of copper metal will be produced annually.

There is a little bit of uranium, gold, and a couple of other things mixed into the orebody which are valuable too, so they extract them as well when the copper ore is processed.

It’s a homogeneous orebody – the uranium and copper and things are all mixed together, so it is impossible to mine the copper without mining uranium, too.

For that 450,000 tons of copper metal that will be produced, only about 14,000 tons of uranium oxide will be produced. The uranium is only a byproduct.

Remember – without copper being mined out of the ground, no electricity of any kind, clean, green or not, can be generated, distributed or used. Without production of aluminium metal, a popular target of so-called environmentalists, electricity transmission over overhead cables cannot be done.

Even since the stone age or the bronze age, mining has been integral to the existence of our technological civilisation. Even as we move to clean sources of energy to power our technological civilisation, such as geothermal and nuclear energy, mining will always be essential.

Now, the expanded mine will consume 690 megawatts of electrical power, on average.

A typical nuclear power reactor generating 1 gigawatt of electricity requires an amount of uranium fuel corresponding to about 200 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium oxide per year.

So, Olympic Dam will consume 690 megawatts of electricity – and it will produce enough uranium in one year to generate 70 gigawatts of electricity for one year –
over one hundred times the total power consumption of the mine.

Yes, you might be thinking that this ignores the other energy inputs into the nuclear fuel cycle – but it also assumes an extremely inefficient once-through fuel cycle using low-enriched uranium in current light water reactors, without recycling of fuel.

Of course, one must remember that the vast majority of the energy input at Olympic Dam goes into the extraction and smelting of copper metal – the overall “energy gain” typically associated with actual uranium mining operations are typically much higher than 100.

Another point that anti-mining and anti-nuclear-power activists love to make in Australia is that mines such as Olympic Dam use too much water.

The Olympic Dam mine consumes about 30 megalitres of water a day – 30 million litres, in total, for the township, as well as all mining operations. Is that a lot?

Olympic Dam, at present, produces about 200,000 tons of copper annually, along with a relatively small amount of uranium, about 4300 tons of U3O8.

Now, I’m not an expert on mineral extraction, hydrometallurgy, and mining operations, but I will make the rough assumption that the production of one ton of copper metal consumes the same amount of water as the production of one ton of uranium oxide. Therefore, we infer that uranium production at Olympic Dam consumes 2% of the total amount of water, or 600,000 litres per day, or 140 litres of water per metric ton of uranium oxide produced.

If 200 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium oxide is sufficient to make up the fuel for a 1 GW nuclear power reactor for one year, and that reactor operates with an 90% capacity factor, then the production of Uranium at Olympic Dam then consumes 3550 litres of water per TWh of electricity that can be produced from that uranium.

For comparison, the mining of coal consumes about 200 litres of fresh water per ton of coal produced. Given that a typical coal-fired power station consumes about 0.5 metric tons of coal to produce 1 MWh of electricity, the mining of coal for electricity generation consumes 100 million litres of water per TWh of electricity production.

Indian Point Nuclear Dead Baby World Tour!

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Isn’t this the most tasteless propaganda you’ve seen all year?

Indian Point Nuclear Dead Baby* World Tour. It’s affiliated with the creator of a certain other crazy lepidopterological anti-Indian Point blog. You all know the one.

* Disclaimer: The site does not actually include any references to any actual real children hurt or harmed by nuclear energy.

Now, let’s see.

“To bring attention to this issue, to oppose Entergy’s attempts to relicense these dangerous reactors, this blog will be sending symbolic dead babies (dolls) out on a world tour by leaving them at various locations.”

So, unfortunately, you couldn’t find any actual babies hurt or killed or harmed by nuclear energy, for real, in the real world?

Apparently, whilst there’s no evidence of any kind that nuclear energy actually does hurt or harm or kill real babies in the real world, it however does symbolically kill babies.

My god, won’t anybody think of the symbolic children?

“First, it seems only fair that Andrea speak, since this Indian Point Dead Baby Tour is about them, the dolls, and who it is they represent in this battle.”

Oh, silly me. It’s about dolls? Indian Point kills dolls? Not actual real, living, human babies? It seems I was misled to believe that there are somehow actual living children being killed by Indian Point… I must have been mistaken.

I hate to break it to you like this, but they’re dolls. They’re not alive – if Indian Point is killing dolls, it must be pretty dangerous indeed… right?

First, some important news on our forward progress on this environmental direct action campaign:

3. Buried three dolls in the mulch in my backyard gardens in the hopes of giving them a bit of a different soiled look, and took some incredible photographs that I hope to load onto my hard drive, again on Sunday.

That’s your environmental direct action campaign? I’m trying not to laugh.

“The doll is so elegant, that it is going to be the doll shipped over to Elena in the Ukraine with the hope that she will agree to take it with her on her next motorcycle trip through Chernobyl’s fallout zone.”

On her website, Elena Filatova posted photographs of her alleged motorcycle trips in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 18 years after the power reactor disaster there. She mainly visited the virtually abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine.

Filatova took a large number of photographs of buildings, cottages, rusting carnival equipment, the interiors of schools and homes, and even a couple people who had since returned to the area. The photos are arranged in the form of a story presented as an account of a trip by a biker who got a permit to travel alone in the radiation zone. However, Chernobyl tour guides and tourists to Chernobyl have claimed that Filatova visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone only as part of an organized tour. Chernobyl tour guide Yuriy Tatarchuk recalls that Filatova “booked a tour, wore a leather biker jacket and posed for pictures.” Her website appeared soon after.

“There is no bigger myth within the nuclear energy than their claim that nuclear energy and commercial reactors are and environmentally friendly CO2 source of electricity. From the very beginning of the uranium fuel cycle, the massive creation of and dumping of CO2 into our environment begins, as well as a trail of far deadly contaminants. First, you have to get the uranium out of the ground…uranium mining is very equipment intensive, and the large pieces of equipment use MASSIVE amounts of fossil fuels. Further, it takes tons and tons of of ore containing trace amounts of uranium to get enough actual raw uranium to be of any use. This means said materials have to be carted to processing plants…again, said transportion of such vast quantities of these raw start up materials burn up vast amounts of carbon based fuels, adding to nuclear CO2 contributions to Global Warming.”

Yes, the mining of uranium, the enrichment of uranium, the construction of reactor infrastructure and so forth consumes energy, in just the same way as mining and refining bauxite into aluminium to construct massive wind turbines, along with the construction of the infrastructure itself, consumes large amounts of energy, often generated via relatively polluting energy sources, such as burning fossil fuels.

The independently produced, accredited, Environmental Product Declarations for Swedish energy utility Vattenfall’s Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant find that, averaged over the entire lifecycle of their nuclear power plant including uranium mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, operating, decommissioning and waste disposal, the total amount of CO2 emitted is 3.3g per kWhe .

The proposed Woodlawn wind farm pro ject in New South Wales has also made available a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, in which greenhouse gas emissions are quantified on a whole-of-life-cycle basis.

Excluding values for wind farms that are significantly different from the proposed Woodlawn Wind Farm, GHG emissions on a life cycle basis range from 7-20 kg CO2e /MWh. This represents the GHG emissions from all activities, including the construction, transportation, assembly and operation of the turbines.

The idea that whole-of-life-cycle analysis can demonstrate that nuclear energy is unsustainable, both on an energy intensity basis and a greenhouse gas intensity basis, is based on a very limited set of highly dubious science, which has been widely rebutted, and found to be irreconcilable with the body of scientific literature established relating to the energy and greenhouse gas intensities of the nuclear fuel cycle.

I could go on, but this same bullshit argument has been done over, and over, and over, and over so many times… I’m sick of repeating myself.

“What lunacy sees the world wanting to build 2200 new nuclear reactors when the first 437 aging reactors have been such a dismal failure, and killed so many innocent people?”

Nuclear energy is the largest source of greenhouse gas free electricity in the world, and it is also the safest – one of the safest industrial enterprises in existence. Aside from Chernobyl, commercial nuclear power, operated safely in the Western world, has harmed or killed almost nobody – megawatt-hour for megawatt-hour, wind turbines, for example, are far more dangerous. I’d call that quite a success story, and I challenge anybody to provide credible evidence to the contrary, if they disagree.

“Look just under the surface of the commercial nuclear industry, and you find a trail of death…it is no coincedence that every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle. Look at both wars in the Middle East (Desert Storm, and the Iraq War), and you find our soldiers coming home with strange illnesses, illnesses caused by their overexposure to depleted uranium. Already in Iraq, mothers are giving birth to children with horrible deformities, deformities caused by that same exposure to Depleted Uranium, and where does that Depleted Uranium come from? The production cycle employed to produce fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.”

Is there any credible physical evidence, any evidence of any kind, that “every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle”?

What does the use of uranium munitions have to do with nuclear power? Nothing!

“That’s one of the big problems with the nuclear cycle…there is no such thing as the peaceful atom, no matter how you try to dress it up. Additionally, anywhere nuclear goes in all of its various forms, death is soon to follow. From its earliest days, even pre-dating the Manhattan Project, the exploration and exploitation of uranium has brought with it horrid deaths, devastating cancers, birth defects and destruction on a level almost unimaginable.”

Is there any evidence of any kind to support such claims in the real world?


“Going further, George Bush, our government, our military machine opposes Iran gaining the capability of enriching uranium for a very simple reason…with the capability of enriching said uranium for nuclear reactors, you gain as a part of the waste stream from enrichment operations the byproduct of Depleted Uranium.”

“You see, our Pentagon needs the commercial nuclear industry, and the infrastructure it takes to power it for its own evil purposes, including vast stockpiles of Depleted Uranium, which is used in numerous weaponry to make armour piercing ammunitions and war heads.”

Riiight. The uranium used in anti-tank kinetic penetrator munitions really doesn’t care what isotopic composition it is… Natural uranium, with no enrichment or depletion of particular nuclides, is perfectly usable for this purpose. Depleted uranium is not specifically required for this application at all.

“As our campaign moves along, we’ll share many of these photographs with our readers, but tonight, thought I would share a peek into the dolls long involvement in the Nuclear Industry, by introducing you to Priscilla and some of the members of her family who were forced, like many of our soldiers to endure nuclear bomb testing under the guise of the Friendly Atom and CHEAP ELECTRICITY.”

Exactly what, at all, does nuclear weapons testing have to do with generating electricity? Absolutely nothing.


“The tragic events surrounding the horrific aftermath of Japan’s 6.8 on the richter scale earthquake show us just how fragile and vulnerable nuclear reactors really are.”

The effects of last year’s earthquake on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Japan actually demonstrate just how robust nuclear power plants are, when subjected to the terrible destructive power of an earthquake, something that is capable of razing entire cities.

Next up, we’ve got a picture of a Hiroshima bombing victim with terrible thermal burns.

This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all.

In war, especially the most terrible of wars, as the second world war was, many civilians suffer terribly as a result of war – and civilians and soldiers alike suffer terrible thermal burns, as well as all sorts of other injuries even before the advent of nuclear weapons, and after the advent of nuclear weapons, with nuclear weapons, or without nuclear weapons.

I’d like to see a world without wars at all.

“incredibly heart wrenching photographs of the fallout area in and around Chernobyl”


This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all, aside from the large-scale production of weapons-grade plutonium in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, with electricity being produced by the nuclear reactors as well, using extremely dangerous, unstable nuclear reactor technology, with no type of containment vessel around the nuclear reactor at all, that would never have been approved or licenced in the United States or anywhere else outside the Soviet Union, at any point in history.