Nuclear Powers Carbon Footprint

Finally, and most importantly, nuclear is cited as extremely low in carbon footprint compared to nearly any other source of electricity. Studies performed in the U.S. and abroad show that while nuclear is not completely carbon free, its carbon emission is lower than any other technology currently available and some studies suggest that it is even comparable to renewables such as wind and solar. A detailed discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this chapter; hence only a brief summary is presented with details left to the references.

Table 4.1 Estimated greenhouse gas emissions for various technologies (see Refs. [17-20])


Carbon emissions (g/kWh)


900-1,000 500


Combined cycle gas turbine






There is always a price for the generation of electricity. Currently, the main source of electricity worldwide is coal. Nuclear and natural gas account for roughly the same percentage. These are followed by hydro, oil, and renewables, mainly wind. To understand the total carbon footprint of an electrical energy source, a complete life cycle analysis must be performed that accounts for all of the sources of energy used throughout the life cycle of the energy source. For an electrical generating source, the life cycle includes the energy and source of that energy for mining the fuel, processing the fuel into a usable form, transporting it, and disposing of the waste. The energy and sources of the energy to construct the facility must also be accounted for as well as the efficiency and capacity factor of the production of energy from that facility. Questions clearly arise as to how far back one must go. For example, the World Nuclear Association questions if the energy used in building the train to transport coal from a coal mine to a coal fired generating station should be counted or if the energy used and carbon emitted to construct a uranium enrichment facility should be included [17].

Most studies limit the life cycle energy costs and carbon emissions to the basic operations of mining the uranium, milling it, converting it to uranium oxide and then to uranium hexafluoride, enrichment, fuel fabrication, construction of the nuclear power station, and ultimate disposal of the spent fuel through either reprocessing and/or burial [17-20]. The carbon contribution is estimated based on various conceivable scenarios. The contributions of the construction emissions are distributed over the assumed life of the power station using an average capacity factor. Collectively, the studies provide a range of carbon emission stated as g CO2 per kWh of electricity produced. A tabulation (Table 4.1) of these studies shows that nuclear compares favorably with all other forms of generation, even wind and solar, with only hydro having a lower carbon footprint than nuclear.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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