Publication Laka-library:
Comparison of Greenhouse-gas Emissions and Abatement Cost of Nuclear and Alternative energy Options from a Life-Cycle Perspective (updated)

AuthorÖko-Institut, Fritsche
DateJanuary 2006

From the publication:

1 Introduction
The political, societal, and scientific debate on nuclear energy has a long history: Starting in
the early 1970ies with concerns about low-level radiation, nuclear accidents, and final
disposal of spent fuel, the late 1970ies focused on limited energy resources for which nuclear
promised relieve in applying reprocessing with breeder cycles. In this time frame, associated
proliferation risks were discussed as well.
In the 1980ies, the debate focused on the economics of nuclear power, and of its alternatives.
In the 1990ies, global concerns regarding the greenhouse effect peaked in the Rio Convention
on Climate Chance, and the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from
industrialized countries which entered into force in February 2005. Accordingly, proponents
argue that nuclear electricity is favourable in terms of its “zero” greenhouse-gas emissions.
Since September 11, 2001, issues of nuclear terrorism are under discussion as well.
In parallel to this debate, nuclear expansion slowed down due to rising costs, and a de-facto
moratorium in OECD countries after the Harrisburg (1981), and Chernobyl (1986) accidents
could be observed. Disregarding voices calling for a nuclear “renaissance” in the 1990ies and
after, several European countries endorsed nuclear phase-out policies. In other parts of the
(developing) world, nuclear electricity continued a rather slow expansion 1 .
As the issue of nuclear risks in its various forms – from radiation released during uranium
mining to severe reactor accidents, and leakage from fuel reprocessing and repositories for
spent fuel - is beyond the scope of this paper, we concentrate the following analysis on the
more recent issues for which a scientifically “reasonable” range of data is available.
In that respect, two arguments favouring nuclear electricity can be identified:
         • It is allegedly “free” of CO2, and
         • It is allegedly low cost.

In this paper, we address both, presenting results of life-cycle cost and emission analyses of
energy systems with respect to current technologies 2 .
We discuss the results with respect to other findings in the literature, and also indicate the
cost-effectiveness of CO2 abatement in the electricity sector.
The scientific work from which this paper draws was sponsored by a variety of sources,
including the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Protection, and Nuclear
Safety (BMU), German Federal Ministry for Research and Education (BMBF), The Federal
Environment Agency of Germany (UBA).