Nuclear Contribution to Climate Change

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Atomic power stations release greenhouse gases during operation, too. If one calculates only what is produced in the process of steam generation, the amounts are smaller than those of other non-renewable energy sources. However, this method of approach is not accurate: the complete production process from the exploitation of the resource (uranium) over its processing until the fabrication of fuel elements has to be considered and to be compared to those processes connected to other resources.

Applying this correcter practice, it becomes visible that depending on the source of uranium the climate balance is rather comparable with that of a gas-fired power plant, and that several renewable energy sources look much better. Some studies even show that modern gas-fired co-generators have a better CO² balance than atomic power stations (always presumed that the complete production process from exploitation of resources to the eventual generation of electricity is compared).

Uranium mining, separation, conversion, reconversion, fuel fabrication and further intermediate steps release significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

Furthermore, politically important is the fact that from a certain share of the electricity mixture atomic power plants constrict or even prevent the extension of renewable energy sources as these large power plants are far too inflexible to balance the unsteady (but large) amounts of renewable energies. Those power stations take days to adapt their power output. Instead, those power plants are needed that can be accelerated and descended quickly. In Germany the atomic power stations some times already caused the absurd situation of minus prices at the electricity stock exchange (meaning that the acceptor of electricity received money), because this was cheaper for the operators of large power plants than to reduce their output.

An excellent website providing detailed information on uranium mining and processing including several onlince calculators (for instance regarding CO² balance) is: WISE Uranium

A 2007 study comparing greenhouse emissions of different power plants is provided by Ökoinstitut Darmstadt.

Nuclear Power Trashing the Climate

by Marianne Birkby source: indymedia UK, August 15th, 2009

Nuclear Power produces EMISSIONS MUCH MORE POWERFUL THAN CO2 - not to mention nearly 500,000 tonnes of Co2 last year from Sellafield's gas plant. The barrage of pro nuke propaganda is aiming to bounce the country into nuclear new build.

The Nuclear Fuel cycle produces greenhouse gases thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide[1]. Following a Freedom of Information request from Radiation Free Lakeland it has come to light that Sellafield (nolonger producing electricity) quadrupled its emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from the period 2007 to 2008[2]. HFC’s are hundreds and can be thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide[3].

The reporting threshold is 100kg but Sellafield produced over 4 times this amount in 2008 alone.

The Government's 'Energy Security' report[4] urging new nuclear build published by former energy minister Malcolm Wicks proclaims new nuclear build would “boost energy security” and “tackle climate change.” Regarding “energy security,” the known UK resource of uranium is on Orkney where the Orcadians successfully won a battle in the 1970’s to keep their uranium safely in the ground[5]. Regarding climate change, Malcolm Wicks' report misleads the public into believing that nuclear power does not produce Green House Gases. This assertion is clearly untrue.

Far from being the saviour of planet Earth it was nuclear power that first blew a hole in the ozone layer[6]. Apart from hydrofluorocarbons and other potent greenhouse gas emissions, the nuclear cycle absolutely relies on the production of chemicals such as nitric acid in large quantities[7]. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is produced by nitric acid production and is not only 310 times more powerful than CO2 but it lasts over 100 years in the troposphere.

According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Sellafield is home to the most dangerous concoction of tens of millions of gallons of nitric acid (1086.7 m3) in High Level Liquid Waste tanks holding “nitric acid solution containing fission products, some actinides and some solids”.[8]

Fossil fuel and the internal combustion engine has done much to trash the environment but fossil fuel is well and truly trumped by nuclear power at the top of the polluting industrial food chain and reliant on all other polluters for its existence. For instance, Sellafield spent £30 million last year on gas at the nearby “Fellside” gas plant built at the nuclear industry’s behest to insure “security of supply” for a nuclear plant that no longer produces electricity. This plant produced 435,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The gas plant was build to ensure a 'secure oversupply' to the Sellafield nuclear plant which stopped producing electricity in 2003 but still requires energy (and 4 million gallons a day of fresh water) to keep the High Level Waste from catastrophe.

A spokesperson for Radiation Free Lakeland said “Malcolm Wicks' dodgy dossier is in the same spirit as the dodgy dossier presented as an excuse for the Iraq ‘war’. Never mind the known link between nuclear power plants and cancers[9], it is obvious that nuclear power is neither “home grown” or “climate friendly, ” to pretend otherwise is not only smoke and mirrors but the most vicious confidence trick imaginable.

Marianne Birkby

Climate Action Groups

Other Articles Related to Climate Issues



  1. Some estimates suggest that increases in HFC use could overwhelm all the planned cuts in CO2 emissions by 2040, releasing the equivalent of hundreds of gigatonnes of CO2.
  2. 10689349 - initial NDA response
    extract: Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs):
    2007: 176kg (Figure from Magnox, Thorp and FCHP).
    2008: 431kg (Figure from Magnox, Thorp and FCHP).
    the reporting threshold for HFCs is 100kg.
  4. Energy Security Paper backs Dash for Homegrown Energy
  5. In Feb '77, the Orkney Islands Council had unanimously rejected an application from the SSEB for permission to begin uranium prospecting.
  6. “In July 1962 NASA announced that high altitude nuclear tests had created a new radiation belt 750 miles deep, girdling the earth. …………military tests have massively contributed to ozone depletion and global warming” Dr Rosalie Bertell - Planet Earth the Latest Weapon of War- The Women's Press, London, 2000.
  7. The Nuclear Fuel Cycle – Royal Society of Chemistry
  10. For protection against automatical email address robots searching for addresses to send spam to them this email address has been made unreadable for them. To get a correct mail address you have to displace "AT" by the @-symbol.