View Full Version : nuclear power vs. coal

08-17-2007, 08:47 PM
in the US, over 100,000 deaths in coal mining, tons of pollution, many many mountains destroyed, water sources polluted, and life spans shortened.

in the US, nuclear has No deaths ( or very low, couldn't exactly find a number) ecosystems have not been destroyed.

Chernobyl killed less people than coal mining?

so from how I see it at this point if the waste can be made safe nuclear is a pretty safe low impact source of energy?? no?

why are we so afraid of nuclear when coal has done so much more damage?

have we been shaped by propaganda created by the coal industry?

08-17-2007, 09:02 PM
i have no idea what the answers are to any of your questions, but i just wanted to chime in because i am continually freaked out by how dangerous mining seems to be. every time we have one of these cave-in/explosion/whatevers, it just makes me sick to my stomach. :cry: and last night, when 3 rescuers died? :brokenheart:

08-17-2007, 09:14 PM
that is what prompted my posting, I've been thinking about this for some time..... and I just cant see how coal is a superior source of energy.

Miso Vegan
08-17-2007, 09:41 PM
coal and nuclear are equally (if differently) dangerous to humans, animals and the earth. We need to be working towards alternatives to both.

08-17-2007, 09:58 PM
It's interesting to note that coal power plants produce a whole lot of radioactive waste, too. You just don't notice because it's emitted as fine particulates that float around in the atmosphere until you breathe them.

At least the radiological pollution nuclear reactors gets contained.

Heck of a lot less of the other pollutants, too.

Tidal generators still kick all their butts, though.

08-18-2007, 06:20 AM
coal and nuclear are equally (if differently) dangerous to humans, animals and the earth. both.

can you elaborate?

08-18-2007, 06:32 AM
coal and nuclear are equally (if differently) dangerous to humans, animals and the earth. We need to be working towards alternatives to both.

I agree.

08-18-2007, 08:19 AM
ahhh! upon doing more searches I found this article.'nuclear dangers' (http://healthandenergy.com/nuclear_dangers.htm)

enriching the uranium takes massive amounts of coal or petroleum energy

08-18-2007, 09:19 AM
enriching the uranium takes massive amounts of coal or petroleum energy

Wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, tidal, hydroelectric, and so on will also do the job.

Not to mention that according to the lifecycle calculations I've seen done, even if the world did do something goofy like use only coal to do the enrichment generating nuclear power would require about half as much coal to generate the same amount of electricity. In the worst case. There are things like using the spent fuel to fuel other reactors that just keep improving the efficiency of the whole system.

Whenever I've been able to find actual numbers, nuclear comes out looking like an hands-down environmental hole-in-one compared to fossil fuels. The only serious nagging concern that remains is with safety - but it looks like folks are making great strides on that, too. Apparently there are newer designs that will naturally shut themselves down before they can get out of control, making events along the lines of Chernobyl and 3-Mile Island extremely unlikely to happen.

08-18-2007, 11:55 AM
Living 4 miles from a nuclear plant (and its yet-to be relocated piles of radioactive waste), I'm literally too close to this issue to argue reasonably ... so I'll let a more level head make a few points on my behalf:

Why Not Nukes? (http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200701/nukes.asp)
Reconsidering the nuclear option
by Paul Rauber
January/February 2007

Al Gore, The Sierra Club, and environmentalists everywhere suddenly have a new best friend when it comes to fighting global warming: the nuclear industry. Helping to frame nuclear power as the solution to climate change is the industry-funded Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, headed by Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore and former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman. Nuclear power plants, they emphasize, "generate no air pollutants or greenhouse gases" and could provide for our future energy needs "without cramping lifestyles."

Alarmed by signs of a changing climate, some environmentalists are taking a fresh look at nuclear's advantages. Nukes are "base-load" plants that can operate around the clock, unlike wind and solar facilities. There haven't been any major accidents in this country since Three Mile Island in 1979 (although we came darn close in 2002 at the Davis-Besse reactor in Ohio). And nukes already provide 20 percent of the United States' electrical power and 80 percent of France's.

That fresh look, however, reveals that the now-mature nuclear industry is no closer to resolving its fundamental problems than it was 40 years ago. It has yet to find a way to safely dispose of its long-lasting, highly radioactive waste, and nuclear power remains inextricably tied to nuclear weapons proliferation. (Iran still insists, for example, that its uranium-enrichment program is for power production only.)

To affect global warming, says an influential study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at least 1,000 new reactors would have to be constructed worldwide. Building those reactors would require a stupendous amount of money. Since capital is a limited resource, there would be less to spend on the many far-cheaper ways to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions: conservation, cogeneration (utilizing the heat produced by industrial processes to make electricity), and wind, to name a few. A dollar spent on energy efficiency would save seven times more carbon dioxide than a dollar spent on nuclear power.

In the end, it's not environmentalists wearing "No Nukes" buttons who have prevented any new reactor from being ordered in this country since 1978; it's Wall Street. Even with enormous subsidies from the Department of Energy and a taxpayer-funded shield from liability for major accidents through the Price-Anderson Act, no private utility has committed to building a new plant. Why? Because virtually every other form of power is cheaper and less risky. As Peter Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told the New York Times: "The abiding lesson that Three Mile Island taught Wall Street was that a group of NRC-licensed reactor operators, as good as any others, could turn a $2 billion asset into a $1 billion cleanup job in about 90 minutes." So the government can continue to subsidize the industry, says Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, but the effect "will be the same as defibrillating a corpse: It will jump, but it will not revive."

tons of pollution?
Let's not kid ourselves ... radioactive waste is " the most lethal waste product of industrial society (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/07/03/MNGTODGNEE1.DTL)", and accumulates at a rate of over 4800 tons per year, isn't safely stored, and will remain toxic for 1 million years.

mountains destroyed ?
The 114 nuclear facilities in the U.S. "encompass an acreage equivalent to Rhode Island and Delaware combined (http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0207/feature1/fulltext.html)".
(Think we have room for 1000 more?)

water sources polluted ?
From the country considered by many to have the "safest" nuclear power model:
Radioactive waste leaking into Champagne Water Supply (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/radioactive-waste-leaking-into)

life spans shortened ?
The official (and very conservative) Chernobyl estimate: "4,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases can be expected during the next decades (http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html)"

For anyone who's concerned, I urge you to learn what you can about the very serious hazards of nuclear power and waste storage (and please look beyond pro-nuke and nuke apologist groups if you want a balanced view), and get informed about more authentically earth-friendly options that exists like efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy sources.

08-18-2007, 12:19 PM
Recently I was watching a program that was talking about the havoc that uranium open pit mining wreaked on the southwest US. Open pit mining in the US has pretty much stopped, but now they use this delightful method- In-situ leaching:

In-situ leaching (ISL), also called in-situ recovery (ISR) or solution mining, is a process of recovering minerals such as copper and uranium through boreholes drilled into the deposit. The process initially involves drilling of holes into the ore deposit. Explosive or hydraulic fracturing may be used to create open pathways in the deposit for solution to penetrate. Leaching solution is pumped into the deposit where it makes contact with the ore. The solution is then pumped to the surface and processed.

The solution? Sulfiric acid. The exact same thing pumped into the air by burning coal. Instead, it's pumped into the ground so it can go straight into aquifers.

So nuclear, taken in its totality, isn't nearly as clean as it's made out to be.

Miso Vegan
08-18-2007, 12:30 PM
Thanks, ahimsa and stegan.

08-30-2007, 07:02 PM
I think it really doesn't matter whether we use nuclear power or coal. The problem is that we are too dependent on energy. Our energy usage is increasing at an exponential rate. It's like an addiction. There's no way it can end well.

Miso Vegan
08-30-2007, 11:11 PM
Um. Should we kill ourselves now, or wait until the end comes?

08-31-2007, 12:53 AM
I would much rather live next to a nuclear power plant than a coal power plant. With nuclear power, there is a quite low (albeit nonzero) chance of a meltdown, but with coal, there is a near 100% chance of bad things happening. I'm a hesitant and reluctant supporter of nuclear power.

Unfortunately, sometimes the building of dams for hydroelectric power ends up hurting ecosystems (see Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroelectric)). Wind power is mostly good but not steady, and can kill low-flying birds (though actual figures are hard to come by). I like solar power, but again it is intermittent and would need to be supplemented with other forms of power.

One thing which hasn't been mentioned so far is fusion power, which is still decades away at soonest. A lot of my thesis research on plasma physics is applicable to the magnetic confinement of fusion plasmas. The main byproduct of a fusion reaction used in a power plant would be helium. There shouldn't be any greenhouse emission from the operation of a fusion power plant. Fusion power will have most of the advantages of fission power, but with ZERO chance of a chain reaction leading to a meltdown. Do not trust physics from Spiderman 2. The two main disadvantages of fusion power that I know of are that it uses tritium (which is potentially dangerous) and that it could end up being more expensive than other forms of power. Nevertheless, it would be a significant improvement over other forms of power.

Miso Vegan
08-31-2007, 02:08 PM
Do not trust physics from Spiderman 2.
Oh, great, now you tell me. There goes my understanding of physics. :umm:

09-04-2007, 05:03 AM
The most important thing, at least to the miners and their families, is that we make sure as we search for alternatives that the miners are given an alternate job opportunity and job training. Much of the Appalachias would simply fall apart without coal mines, as many families there have depended on the industry since their ancestors moved to this country (or sold themselves as indentured servants to work the mines). Many more will starve to death than die in accidents if we just shut the mines down. This is a depressed region already, with very little available work.

There will truly be a humanitarian crisis when they shut down the mines. I hope that we compassionate people remember every time we bring up this debate the welfare of the mining families with no other industry in their communities.

09-14-2007, 02:10 PM
The Freakanomics guys weigh in:

'NYT' Sunday Preview: Jane Fonda to Blame for Global Warming?

By E&P Staff

Published: September 14, 2007 1:50 PM ET

NEW YORK In their regular "Freakanomics" column which will appear in this Sunday's edition of The New York Times Magazine, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, pose this question: "If you were asked to name the biggest global warming villains of the past 30 years, here's one name that probably wouldn't spring to mind: Jane Fonda. But should it?"

The authors observe that Fonda's antinuclear thriller "The China Syndrome," which opened just 12 days before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, helped stoke "a widespread panic." Fonda became a high-profile anti-nuke activist in an already-strong movement. The nuclear industry halted plans for expansion. "And so," they continue," instead of becoming a nation clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels. Today such plants account for 40 percent of the country's energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions.

"Anyone hunting for a global-warming villain can't help blaming those power plants -- and can't help wondering too about the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda."

Of course, there were many other factors in the nuclear industry decline, including cost over-runs, disposal of nuclear waste, the threat of terrorism and numerous other accidents beyond TMI. But the columnists cite the "big news" that with global warming fears mounting, "nuclear power may be making a comeback in the United States," with plans for two dozen reactors on the drawing boards. Will they get built? The authors conclude that "it may all depend on what kind of thrillers Hollywood has in the pipeline."

Again, I'm mystified by the selling of nuclear as somehow "green"- it's as if people really do think that the fuel for a nuclear reactor can be made from any old atom, or that it somehow materializes out of thin air... Ugh.

09-19-2007, 11:45 PM
from http://www.worldpress.org/Asia/2442.cfm

CO2 Emissions

The nuclear industry has widely disseminated the false notion that nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases. The truth is that every step (except reactor operation) in the long chain of processes that makes up the nuclear fuel "cycle" burns fossil fuels and hence emits CO2. The emitting steps are uranium mining, milling fuel fabrication, uranium enrichment, construction and decommissioning of the reactor, and waste management.

Over the past 20 years, there have been several calculations of CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle. The most detailed come from Van Leeuwen and Smith (2005 — see www.stormsmith.nl). Van Leeuwen and Smith find that the CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle are relatively small when high-grade uranium ore (comprising 0.1 percent or more yellowcake) is used. But there are very limited reserves of high-grade uranium in the world — most are in Australia and Canada. As these are used up over the next several decades, low-grade uranium ore (comprising 0.01 percent or less yellowcake) will have to be used. This means that to obtain 1 kilogram of yellowcake, at least 10 metric tons of ore will have to be mined and milled, using fossil fuels and emitting substantial quantities of CO2. Contrary to the claims of the nuclear industry, Van Leeuwen and Smith find that total CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel chain based on low-grade uranium ore are comparable in magnitude with emissions from a gas-fired power station.

There's an excellent doco about nukes called 'a hard rain'. part of it shows how as we use more and more uranium we emit more and more CO2; enough to make it unsustainable.

What I love about renewables is that they can largely be decentralised, which means that we can decentralise the economic power associated with centralised energy production, so to facilitate a non-capitalist society. :drool:

10-19-2007, 05:33 AM
If all the world’s existing fossil fuel based power stations were replaced by nuclear, there would only be enough uranium for 3-4 years.


10-19-2007, 10:19 AM
Huh, that's fascinating.

Here's a more detailed treatment of the issue:

Apparently that limit could be pushed back to around 5-6 years if we include uranium that's more expensive to produce, up to about 4x as costly.