Washington, March 5 : A new report has determined that unless there is a major improvement in nuclear power efficiency, each new power plant will simply cannibalize the energy produced by earlier nuclear power plants.
Written by physicist Joshua Pearce of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, the report has also suggested that nuclear energy production must increase by more than 10 percent each year from 2010 to 2050 to meet all future energy demands and replace fossil fuels.
Nuclear power produces a lot of heat as a byproduct and this directly heats the Earth. This is only a relatively small effect, but as energy consumption grows it must be taken into consideration when balancing the energy equation.
However, it is the whole-of-life cycle analysis that Pearce has investigated that shows nuclear power is far from the "emission-free panacea" claimed by many of its proponents.
"Each stage of the nuclear-fuel cycle including power plant construction, mining/milling uranium ores, fuel conversion, enrichment or de-enrichment of nuclear weapons, fabrication, operation, decommissioning, and for short and long-term waste disposal contribute to greenhouse gas emissions," said Pearce.
Pearce's analysis is based on current practice in the United States with regard to the mining and enrichment of ore.
He has suggested that rather than abandoning nuclear power, efforts should be made to improve its efficiency considerably.
First, we could start utilizing only the highest-concentration ores and switch to fuel enrichment based on gas centrifuge technology, which is much more energy-efficient than current gaseous diffusion methods.
Also, nuclear plants might be used as combined heat and power systems so the "waste" heat is used, rather than allowing them to vent huge quantities of heat to the environment at the end of the electricity generation cycle.
Pearce also suggested that nuclear weapons stockpiles could be "down-blend" to produce nuclear power plant fuel.