Nuclear Power is not green, despite what the nuclear industry wants you to think.
Every stage of nuclear power production relies on fossil fuel. Energy is used in every step and beyond; from mining, transport of raw material, enrichment, processing, manufacture of fuel rods, more transport, and finally with the use of nuclear fuel to produce energy – all based on fossil fuel. We are not even talking about other costs, such as security, and spent fuel pools, storage, waste transport and entombment. Nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it, when mining uranium ore, refining and enriching fuel, building the plant, and operating it are included. A big 1,250 megawatt plant produces the equivalent of 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year during its life.
Nuclear plants cause warming of the rivers they are situated next to because there is an incredible amount of heat that must be discharged into the air and water. This causes fish die offs and species decline.
Nuke Plants also use incredible amounts of water from rivers (just to keep from overheating), Billions of fish and fish eggs perish every year by getting sucked up into the cooling system, or by being exposed to higher than normal temperatures.
Again Nuclear power is not green and not renewable, it is powered with a limited amount of uranium, a mined material that is not overly abundant on the planet, which needs to be imported to the US.
Very simply, this is how uranium fuel is produced:
The ore is extracted from the ground through mining methods that use power and water. The ore is milled (in the Pittsylvania County case, it will be milled on site) to extract the uranium. The extracted uranium, also called “yellowcake” is then packed in barrels and transported to an enrichment facility, if not purchased outright to keep on the market as yellowcake. Currently, the only U.S. enrichment facility is located in Paducah, Kentucky. This “gaseous diffusion plant” is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and it is leased and operated by the U.S. Enrichment Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of USEC, Inc. (United States Enrichment Corporation). The uranium is enriched through a method now considered hopelessly antiquated, but it used nonetheless (see below). The enrichment process demands power. A coal-burning plant in the nearby town of Joppa, Illinois (directly across the Ohio River from Paducah) provides a thousand megawatts of power to filter out the U-235 that is used to power nuclear power plants from the yellowcake. One thousand megawatts represents more than the entire electrical output of the nation of Yemen.* This list does not address the power that is needed on site at the uranium mine and mill, nor does it address the amount of water needed to mine and mill uranium. It simply addresses the coal-powered power that one of six international enrichment plants uses in one cycle to create U-235.
The process, goes like this:
The uranium that arrives in Paducah, Kentucky, goes through a top-secret process that turns yellowcake into fuel pellets. This process was pioneered at Oak Ridge, Tennessee as part of the Manhattan Project that created the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Paducah plant was built in 1952.
The process includes forcing uranium hexaflouride gas (UF6) through a series of chambers webbed inside with wire-mesh screens that filter out the lighter U-235 atoms.
This gas is corrosive and hard on industrial pipe material and screens. The material used for the screens is classified information. Each compressor consumes massive amounts of coal-produced energy as it spins a ringed cylinder inside conversion chambers. This cylinder acts much like a blender as it forces uranium gas against the screens to separate the U-235 from the other materials.
This plant was noted, in the past, to burn out of smokestacks at night, and radioactivity has been found in the soil nearly one mile away. Workers at this plant never were told about their dangerous working conditions until 2000, after an investigation probe conducted by Joby Warrick of the Washington Post. The exposure of the plant’s dangers were then addressed by the Department of Energy. Clean up at this plant is ongoing, and the baseline date for completion of this cleanup is slated for 2030. Whether or not this plant is slated for decommission is unknown.
Furthermore, these lists also do not include the carbon footprints created when various military units are deployed for emergencies, when yellowcake is transported from one site to another and when the completed U-235 is transported to the nuclear power plant. Also, these lists do not address the carbon footprints created when dealing with the cleanup and transport of radioactive waste materials created during the mining, milling and enrichment process.
In conclusion, we do not believe and cannot believe that nuclear power is carbon neutral nor “carbon-constrained” as it is produced today. To claim that nuclear power is “clean” energy when it employs so much coal-powered energy to produce fuel for nuclear power is to divorce nuclear power generation from the fuel that generates that power.
* For more information about the history of uranium and its current market conditions and uses, you might want to read the book, Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World, by Tom Zoellner (try your local library, too). This book, published in 2009, focuses on the plutonium aspect of uranium and the politics surrounding uranium; however, it is a good primer on the history of uranium mining, milling and enrichment processes as well.