A Special Article on Greenpeace Debunking Nuclear Power’s Benefits (August 9, 2010)

Posted: August 10, 2010 by docbabad in Academia, Environmental Posts
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By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2010, All right Reserved

This blog about a recent article I stumbled upon by Ms. Tessa de Ryck about  Greenpeace ASEAN’s nuclear position. Although clearly written and focused, I saw RED when I read-and reread the so called facts that underlay the authors beliefs. This article attempts to counter the author contention about the role that nuclear power must play to assure an equitable distribution of energy and attempting to prevent eh results of what seems to be global worming.

I have not ‘completely’ dissected Ms. Tessa de Ryck’s entire article but have assessed most of it against my knowledge, experience, and credibility against published, internationally peer reviewed references. Admittedly, of course, my prejudices also played a role in writing this rebuttal; but I didn’t let it get in the way of ‘fact finding.’.

Unfortunately, for better or worse I’ve become a believer that nuclear must be a part of the solution, fear factor, costs not with standing. As an aside I’ve lived downwind from a coal power plant in the 60’s and worked for 35 plus year at Hanford nuclear site, DOE’s most contaminated one. I also live downwind from a nuclear reactor, that I passed most days when driving to work. At 74 I’m healthier than most of my friends who live elsewhere n the US, and of course those who alas passed on.

I’m one who thinks sustainable-renewable-CO2 free nuclear power is an  appropriate, no let’s say necessary, part of an energy mix aimed at reversing greenhouse gas emissions.

Readers, I said believe, not know, not that I can prove by a preponderance of the evidence or even for now beyond reasonable doubt. However sea level rises are well, if incompletely documented, hurricanes seem to be increasing in strength as does the frequency of tornados, drought and in other locals, unusual rain patterns leading to flooding keeps globally plaguing us at an unusually high level, and of melting ice caps are visible and being quantified.

I find myself in the same fix, technologists and lover of Sci-Fi, about pursuing the idea of collecting and beaming down solar energy to our deserts, from geosynchronous collectors in space. From my perspective, technically, it seems a better bet than made-made fusion based power.

Why Do I Believe We’re In Trouble? – No nuclear, we must then rely very heavily on solar power and the force of the blowing wind. Okay tide and geothermal power might help but are located further away from where most users live.

An Uncomfortable Fact: — solar and wind are intermittent and on a square foot of land basis, land intensive. The will not work for baseload needs without a reliable and low cost ability to store the electricity generated, and release it where it’s need and on demand.

The best extrapolations I have read suggest that they can only make a dent in electricity generation when subsidized.  This can be a direct subsidy, out of the taxpayers pocket or an indirect one by ratepayers’ based on an equitable carbon tax based on tons emitted by anyone and every industry.

Alas, electric storage capacity is expensive and not yet commercially viable. [Some of this can be solved if a room temperature super conductor can be developed since that lowers the cost of shipping power but not the cost of the required grid changes.]

A Given — We must be willing to get our base load energy, that light up our cities and keep our factories, hospitals and the rest functioning 24/7, from either natural gas or coal. Sorry, Ms. de Ryck, an ecological disaster, preferably not for any world I want my grandchildren to live in.

The text, in plain type, is Tessa de Ryck words, sans quotes. My rebuttals are in italics; of coursed all references are mine since Ms. De Ryck did not provide any in the article nor was I amble to find such documentation on the Greenpeace website. Also although I would not expect references in a news article that Ms. de Ryck favors, I could find no detailed references for the underlying truths published on the Greenpeace website.

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What I Found When Data Checking

NUCLEAR’S contribution in easing climate change is “too little, too late,” the anti-nuclear group Greenpeace said. [Reference 1] “Most of the hypothetical new big reactors would start to generate energy well beyond 2020, probably after 2025, when we already need to see significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions,” said Tessa de Ryck, Greenpeace South East Asia’s regional spokesperson on nuclear power. [That’s not what the international statistics say – see the references below.]

It turns out this may be true for US reactors but certainly not in China, Russia, South Korea, India and likely Japan and Brazil. See references 2-4 at the end of this article.

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By that time, it would be too late, she told a forum on nuclear power as an energy option at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute. She was reacting to claims that nuclear power is a clean technology because it does not emit carbon dioxide, one of the so-called greenhouse gases that is warming up the planet.

De Ryck pointed out that global carbon dioxide emissions needed to be cut 30 percent by the year 2020 and at least 50 percent by the year 2050 in order for the planet to stay below a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius. .

This Is Another Example of the Misuse of the Documented Climate Data – Ms. de Ryck does not discuss Data uncertainty ranges. Neither does she mention either the UN Climate change documentation or any other specific source(s) for her claims.

Indeed The uncertainty (of data) is as important part of the result as the estimate itself. …An estimate without a standard error is practically meaningless. It’s all about credibility, not perceived truth. Scientific analysis 101, Philosophy of science 101, all fosters the paradigm of truth telling in science.

Scholars have noted that the middle-ages ended, when folks figured out that scientific evidence is not belief driven and must be duplicable by any who check your work. Although some folks were burned at the stake for wavering from the gospel according to… whomever… as Kermit said, it isn’t easy being green!

There are no absolutes in scientific research, only a need to evaluate uncertainty and then for society to balance risks. [See Reference 5]

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Between now and 2030 about $11 trillion to $14 trillion is projected to be invested in new electricity generation capacity, she said, adding “the energy investment decisions taken today will determine whether or not the world achieves the necessary carbon dioxide cuts in time.”

Okay – so what?

Baseload = Nuclear, Natural Gas (perhaps) & Coal.

Nuclear now or coal later.

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“The average construction time for all existing reactors is almost seven years while the nuclear reactors finished from 1995 to 2005 took 8.5 years to build,” de Ryck said. “Worldwide, serious bottlenecks in construction capacities are being experienced and the industry can now deliver only a maximum of 10 reactors a year.”

Even in the US, we are capable of much more as was the case in the 70’s.  Old news, this was true for existing and perhaps near term construction in the US, a litigation driven society, but not true internationally. Our industry, in the US was been hampered by Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt [FUD] created by the media and organizations like Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists after Three Mile Island In this article Ms. De Ryck is certainly doing her part. – I guess the Russian, Chinese Korean and soon Saudi Arabian construction time lines don’t count. Neither does the construction of AP-1000 Westinghouse reactors designed to be modularly constructed in about half the usual, not litigated time. [See Reference 6]

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The mean age of current nuclear reactors is 25 years and many of them will need to be replaced within the next 10-15 years, she said. At least 17 of those listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as operational did not generate any power in 2008, De Ryck added.  Yep, some of these were experimental reactors, with no generators attached. [See Reference 7]

Actually with allowed life extensions programs of 20 years, deemed safe by both the NRC and the IAEA, Ms De Ryck’s times appear about 50 or more percent wrong — what am I missing?

The selective information reported by Ms. De Ryck was at best taken out of context, or cherry picked when compared to information published by regulatory and other government international agencies and worldwide energy forums. Great for headlines, baaad for making rational and long-term global survival decisions.

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Citing the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency projection that the number of reactors will quadruple by the year 2050, she noted that 1,400 nuclear reactors will help reduce CO2 emissions by a mere 6 percent.

So what is her option, no baseload electricity, or coal?  City dwelling citizens will not tolerate having no guaranteed baseload, nor will industry. Alas, I can’t find the specific source Ms De Ryck’s ‘quoted’ information,

I thought I kept up on all the articles posted on the NEA website.  I have over the years found the information was well checked, often peer reviewed, and reliable. Unless I find the specific reference containing the 6% reference, supporting the conjectures made in this article, I remain skeptical. If the 6% is based on total CO2, from burning wood, ocean warming based releases, deforestation and population grown and living standard improvements, I remain uncomfortable with the CO2 number. In addition, opponents of nuclear say nuclear energy do in fact, create CO2 emissions, but they’re talking about mining and construction.

The CO2 emissions, from fuel for running mining equipment, transportation fuel, the carbon costs of manufacturing steel, concrete and so on must factor into any energy source evaluation whether it is solar, wind power, hydroelectric dams, coal, or nuclear. The real question is how big a total lifecycle “carbon emission contribution and land use foot print do the alternatives cost. What are the other environmental penalties these power alternative bring us [e.g., air pollution, polluted water… The article was strangely silent on that information.]

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Citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report, De Ryck said the estimated cost of constructing a nuclear power plant has increased at a rate of 15 percent per year heading into the current economic downturn. “This is based both on the cost of reactors in Japan and South Korea and on the projected cost of new plants planned in the United States. The overnight capital cost was given as $4,000 per kilowatt in 2007 money,” she pointed out.

Sorry the US as opposed to both Korea and China has a completely different basis for such estimates, in part due to their national policy and security issues. In the US regulatory issues, politics and other not technical issue drive up the costs; which the don’t do in Japan or Korea or for that matter China (gee China and I think India was also left out of the Ms de Ryck’s article, perhaps because she doesn’t consider them ASEAN countries. The conclusions (2003) MIT study I read the conclusion of the interdisciplinary experts is that the {nuclear} technology is an important option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide and other atmospheric pollutants. [The provided image comes from a 2009 report of the World Energy Association]. The recent update to the study validate the original conclusion.

“Other options include increased efficiency, renewables, and carbon sequestration, and all may be needed for a successful greenhouse gas management strategy. This study, addressed to government, industry, and academic leaders, discusses the interrelated technical, economic, environmental, and political challenges facing a significant increase in global nuclear power utilization over the next half century and what might be done to overcome those challenges.” The most recent study http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/pdf/nuclearpower-update2009.pdf saw no reason to change the initial MIT team conclusions.

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Debunking claims that “nuclear power is cheap,” De Ryck said that expanding global nuclear capacity would be accompanied by costs of nearly $10 trillion.

Doc Delights In These Nice Big Impressive (Scary) Numbers – compared to what and on what basis were the numbers generated. One of my favorite books, and a short course I took years ago was focused on how to like with statistics, ergo with numbers. Hmm… been there, studied that. That why I am a fussy, and acknowledged at times —doubting harry — peer reviewer in this technical area of knowledge. The industry and other early believers in nuclear power being too cheap to meter was long buried as were the dinosaurs. Indeed they were caused in part by:

  • Coal, railroads and hydrocarbon industry worried about their future, as it appeared that they would go the way of the buggy whip.  They fought back – and won.  Therefore the abundance of coal burning power plants – instead of 80% nuclear such as in France.

  • A congressional regulatory policy that combined regulation and safety with commercialization of this energy new source {The US Atomic Energy Agency and ERDA.} Notice, we’ve done it again, or were with British Petroleum Gulf spill disaster [e.g., US Minerals Management Service.]
  • Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accident as overblown, at least for TMI, by the media and politicians who jumped on the bandwagon. In part of due to over-zealous interveners (public advocacy groups) like Greenpeace who wanted to save the world while avoiding any thoughts of ripple effect or the laws of both unintended and unthought-of of consequences.

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Finally, the author pointed to the recent experiences of Finland {I agree}, which has four nuclear reactors generating 28 percent of its electricity (at high capacity factors that allow it to sell energy to its neighbors.) In 2005, it started construction of a new third-generation reactor, the 1,600-MW European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), a flagship of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

After more than three years of construction delays, it will take over 7.5 years to build with a cost overrun of 2.3 billion Euros, De Ryck said. The Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland has identified about 1,500 safety problems, she said.

I agree, delay is not an unusual occurrence for a first of a kind prototype construction in ant industry. Wait until someone decides to license a CO2 sequestration facility! The finding 1500 safety problems, is actually a great result! The Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland is doing their job.

It would be nice, however to find a report on which of these are fundamental to the safe operation of the reactor, and which a fixed required for a complete verifiable record. I’ll call one of my colleagues, who is active in the European waste management effort and has many contacts in the Scandinavian world, to see what he can find (in English}. I’’ report the result in my usual The Greening Continues column.

By the way, Areva has publicly agreed that the project has had some significant management-associated problems and is apparently covering the cost overruns, shielding the Finish government and citizens from the cost. However other Gen-III reactors elsewhere in the world have not apparently run into such overrun problems. Perhaps the Chinese or Koreans will buy out Areva and solve the problem – hmm nope… not only would Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkosy not allow that, but all my French friends would be PO’d at me for even thinking of such an idea.

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I do however agree with the author that:

No new nuclear power plant is possible without significant government support or loan guarantees, she said, adding that the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) report “The Financing of Nuclear Power Plants” released just last week says that governments that want to see investment in new reactors must provide policy support and, in many cases, financial support, or the budding nuclear revival may not happen.

So what’s new — there was the interstate highway system, the internet (funded by what is now the Department of Defense), building of our hydropower infrastructure, landing on the moon… hmm. Policy support and investment grade financing tools are required, yes.  Not tax dollars.

In Closing

A Philosophical View of World Energy Needs, Climate Change Control and The Role Of Nuclear Power.

The world is not a simple place and anyone who treats it so, by treating variables independently, must be either naive, or be serving on a mission of dedicated faith and belief and blind to all data but that filtered by their Weltanschauung aka world outlook.

As implied but never stated in my greening articles there is a close link and feedback between

  1. Global energy needs
  2. Worldwide climate change
  3. Loss or unavailability of potable water
  4. Moving toward an equitable and sustainable world

These four items, as an example from the real world, problems form an interlocked system.  Simplistically this is perhaps best illustrated by a 3D tetrahedron of linked associations and inter-acting and reacting subsystems. You can’t effectively make progress on one without affecting/distorting the others.

Alas, there are still paradigm-locked organizations like Greenpeace, who’ve lost their founders and other key executives due to their intractable attitudes toward nuclear energy – climate change and other items outside the scope of this article. These are still claiming that either the solutions, that are known to help {nuclear power} will and cannot help. They espouse instead those technicalities that we hope will help {solar photoelectric) but are not yet demonstrated to be self sustaining (in economic terms) and cost effective are a panacea. Check the Environmentalists for Nuclear Power site for an alternative view. [http://www.ecolo.org/]

Folks like these died-in-the wool’ foes of nuclear, all things nuclear, also have a habit of keeping g silent about Issues such as it’s okay for states / countries / governments to subsidize wind-solar and/or tide power, but not nuclear – the arguments made above by Tessa de Ryck one of Greenpeace’s regional spokesperson on nuclear power.

Indeed I’ve not found any either Greenpeace rigorous peer reviewed lifecycle costs and estimated time to either commercial viability, or even large scale subsidized viability Ms. de Ryck, or our readers please prove me wrong, only references, peer review and published will help. If you’re data is right, I’d be happy to attempt a paradigm change.

Remember, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to solve the world’s problems, or are convinced that its all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. Today’s favorite is tomorrow’s new unintended consequence. However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember, there’s no free lunch and you must always end up paying the piper! Since my semi-summaries are only a partial look at the original article, click on through if you want more details, as well as <often> my other references provided on the same topic(s). If you’re serious – Google It!

There are more attention needing claims in Ms de Ryck’s article but I’ve run out of physical energy chasing references to share all of Ms. De Ryck’s cherry picking of her data to fit her beliefs.

But by All Means Don’t Trust Me! — Do your own one-or-two day quick search. That’s the minimum I do when I’m looking for ‘facts’ or opinion on the technology issues I so enjoy writing about. This is the minimum whether it is a part of doing these articles or working sections as part of updating a textbook on things nuclear. I have at least a 100 references in my database to articles that weaken, if not contradict, the points in the Greenpeace article. Alas data taken out of context doesn’t comfort me… I keep asking who benefits by such ‘misinformation.’


1. ASEAN Greenpeace Nuclear Positions:

  • Greenpeace Debunks Nuclear Benefit:

Malaysia Business Insight By Paul Icamina, December 18, 2009;


2. Annual Energy Outlook 2009 with Projections to 2030

US DOE-Energy Information Site


3. The World Nuclear Outlook – 2009 and related Articles World Nuclear Association:

  • Nuclear Competitiveness for the Future


4.  International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] Assorted Papers including:

5. Wikipedia on Uncertainty:

6. The AP-1000 and more… (Examples of New Engineering)

7. Actual US Experience Numbers for the Last THREE Years, +90%

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The Usual Legal Stuff

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

Conflict of Interest:  Although I have worked and then consulted for ca. 35 years in the area of nuclear waste management, I have no direct vested <financial> interest in any aspect of nuclear or other power generation.

May your world get greener and all creatures on our planet become healthier and more able to fulfill their function in this Gaia’s world.
We all live in interesting times.

Harry, aka doc_Babad


Previous Greening Columns

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