further investigation into nuclear vs renewable energy

In response to my contention in class that many issues in the nuclear vs. renewables debate were not quantifiable I was challenged to do some additional research.

The first task was to better organize my investigations. In the effort I found that

The nuclear vs. renewables argument encompasses a number of sub-issues, some of which are outlined below.  Each topic deserves its own research and analysis in the larger decision making process. Each renewable can have its own set of parameters upon which to be evaluated. Several of these are easy to quantify such as the economics or cost effectiveness as discussed in my previous post on this topic.  Finding and understanding objective data in other areas can be more of a challenge.

nuclear vs renewable fuels issues



The second task was to find measurable ‘objective’ research for the additional outlined topics. In this brief effort I located several new articles.

One attempt to quantify the variables involved is an article that appears on the site This Week in Nuclear ‘Nuclear Energy’s Tiny Environmental Footprint’. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006802#s4

The article references what seems to be a well researched study on the land use demands expected from renewable vs nuclear sources. These include a reference from The Nature Conservancy:  ‘Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America.’ http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006802#s4

It is an attempt to comparatively estimate the land use intensity of different energy production methods. This pro-nuclear analysis conveniently ignores the non site related impacts of nuclear energy. For this info we look to a paper from the US Department of Energy ‘Measures of the Environmental Footprint of the Front End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. http://www.inl.gov/technicalpublications/Documents/4731816.pdf .

There is no direct reference  to renewables here but the nuclear info seems comprehensive and useful for comparative purposes.

Additional efforts to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable include: ‘The Application of Probabilistic Risk Assessment Techniques to Energy Technologies’


The abstract from the ‘annual review of energy’ indicates this is an attempt to comprehensively evaluate the comparative risks of different energy technologies. Unfortunately, The article text is pay per view.  The 1981 publication date might affect the relevance of the conclusions but it certainly indicates that there are acceptable methodologies for evaluating these very complex issues and that other like research is probably available. One additional topic was added to my investigation during this research. It is not only important to assess the probability of a disaster but also our collective ability to effectively deal with the consequences of an event like the recent one in Fukushima. http://www.propublica.org/article/us-health-care-system-unprepared-for-major-nuclear-emergency.

Two conclusions from this exercise:  1) I was incorrect about the inability to quantify many  topics   2) properly investigating and evaluating  these types of social issues represents an overwhelming task for many audience members.

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