The energy source of nuclear power is a mineral from the earth’s crust: uranium. An intricate system of industrial processes is required to convert the potential energy in this mineral into useful energy, and to manage the inevitable radioactive material wastes. During operation each nuclear power plant generates each year an amount of human-made radioactivty equivalent to about 1200 exploded Hiroshima atomic bombs. Without the process chain nuclear power would be impossible, and without nuclear power these processes would not exist. The CO2 emission of these processes together form the specific CO2 emission inextricably coupled to nuclear power. The thermodynamic quality of the available uranium resources declines with time, because the highest quality resources are always mined first, for these offer the highest return on investments for the mining companies. Declining thermodynamic quality of the resources results in an exponential rise of the specific energy and the coupled CO2 emission required to extract 1 kg of uranium from rock. At a given point the required extraction energy will equal the amount of useful energy that can be produced from 1 kg of uranium. Within the lifetime of new nuclear build uranium resources cannot be considered energy resources anymore, if the world uranium consumption remains at the present level. Meanwhile the coupled specific CO2 emission will grow as large as fossil-fuelled power.
Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen 27th June 2021 read more »