Net-zero Reality Check #2

Net-zero Reality Check #2

(This is the second of five articles, using published data and simple logic, to demonstrate net-zero carbon is unattainable by 2050 with wind, solar or nuclear, or a combination of these methods for power generation.)

Climate change scaremongers insist we eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

But what does that really entail?

Here is the second reality check: Can nuclear power achieve net-zero carbon?

Three steps are required to determine the number of new nuclear power plants needed to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.

Step 1

Step one determines the number of new nuclear power plants needed to replace all the electricity generated by fossil fuels in 2021.

Today, there are 94 nuclear power plants in operation which generate 18.9% of the 4,116 billion kWh consumed in the United States. 

The amount of electricity generated by fossil fuels in 2021 is 2,512 billion kWh, which is arrived at by subtracting renewables and nuclear from the total.

Step one, therefore, is to establish the number of new nuclear plants needed to replace the 2,512 billion kWh generated by fossil fuels. On average, each existing nuclear plant generates 8.3 billion kWh in 2021.

  • Number of new nuclear power plants to replace fossil fuels = 304

Step 2

Step two is to determine how many new nuclear power plants are needed to supply the electricity needed when all light vehicles are battery-powered, and homes use electricity for heating rather than natural gas. The national renewable energy lab (NREL) has determined that total electricity consumption will double when all light vehicles are BEVs and homes rely on electricity for heating. Hydro can’t be doubled, and without increasing other renewables the additional electricity needed to be generated by nuclear will equal the amount generated by all methods in 2021, i.e., 4,116 billion kWh.

  • Number of new nuclear power plants  to double electricity consumption by 2050 = 497

Step 3

Step three is to determine the number of new nuclear power plants that will be needed to generate the electricity required to produce enough hydrogen to make steel and cement that meet net-zero carbon requirements. ( Cement will also require carbon capture and sequestration to be fully net-zero carbon.) There’s little reliable data on using hydrogen in the making of cement, while there is considerable data for using hydrogen in the making of steel. The estimate shown here for the number of additional nuclear plants is based on the amount of hydrogen required to make 62 million tons of steel, which excludes the amount of steel made using scrap in electric arc furnaces, and then doubling the number of nuclear plants to compensate for the production of cement. (The United States produced 87.9 million tons of steel in 2021.)

  • Number of new nuclear power plants required to generate the electricity used by electrolyzers to produce the hydrogen to make steel and cement = 80

The total number of new nuclear power plants to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050 is:

  • 304 + 497 + 80 = 881

Or, 31 new nuclear power plants every year between now and 2050.

This, in the face of the fact that the US hasn’t been able to build one new nuclear plant over the past ten years.

Additional considerations

Nuclear power plants are scheduled to be shut down beginning in 2032 unless their operating licenses are renewed, with all existing nuclear power plants shut down by 2064. While two units in Georgia are likely to be completed in the next year or two, both Diablo Units in California are scheduled for closure in 2025. There is no provision in the above calculations for additional nuclear power plants to replace any shut down before 2050.

Wind and PV solar have expected lives of 20 years. This means that:

  • All 54,244 wind turbines and all PV solar panels installed before 2022 will also have to be replaced with additional nuclear power plants before 2050.
  • All wind turbines and all PV solar panels installed between now and 2030 will also have to be replaced with additional nuclear power plants before 2050.

These additional nuclear power plants have not been included in the above calculations.

Conclusion

If nuclear power is used in an attempt to eliminate fossil fuels, it will require building at least 31 new nuclear power plants every year between now and 2050. 

  • However, not one new unit has been built during the past ten years, during which time there has been an ongoing effort to build 2 units in Georgia.

This reality check should give everyone pause, as it demonstrates that it’s not possible to eliminate fossil fuels using nuclear power.

Net-zero carbon cannot be achieved using nuclear power.

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4 Replies to “Net-zero Reality Check #2”

  1. So are you suggesting we not start to build new nuclear plants at all?

    • No. I am a fan of nuclear power. Its major problem is cost, which must be brought down. The Vogtle units will cost over $10,000 per KW before they are finished. They were to have cost $6,000 per KW which is still too much. Nuclear must cost no more than $3,000 per KW to be competitive. I’m looking forward to the SMRs being built and the possibility of micro nuclear plants in the future.
      Thanks, for asking. I was concerned people might assume I was opposed to nuclear, but I’m actually a fan.

  2. Where is the comprehensive breakdown of the total cost of nuclear power? Fuel doesn’t grow on trees. It has to be mined with heavy machinery, the ore has to be transported and refined in multiple large scale steps. The plants them self are built like refineries, only with much higher standards of materials. Finally, the waste has to be transported and stored safely in vaults for eternity, by a responsible party.
    I’ve never seen these extra steps accounted for, only the running of the plants. It’s a bit like electric cars, that “green” technology merely offsets the energy and resource consumption to somewhere out of sight.
    I’d be in favor of nuclear if there were in fact a net gain, and if our government corportocracy weren’t run by unaccountable psychopaths.

    • Thanks for your comments.
      Without going into great detail, the cost of the uranium is included in the LCOE of the electricity produced, as are the costs of building the plant.
      The cost of storage of used fuel are partially included, as are some of the demolition costs at the end of the useful life of the plant. Demolition costs are supposed to be set aside during the operating life of the plant, but probably aren’t sufficient. The industry has also contributed to building the storage facility.
      Except for the fuel, most of the materials are commonplace and readily available. This isn’t the case with electric vehicles, wind and solar where some of the materials are rare or hard to mine and process.
      These are only a few off-the-cuff thoughts concerning your comments. It’s a complex matter that could use better transparency. Just as there should be better transparency with wind, solar and batteries.