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Challenging Nuclear Energy In India And EROEI

By Countercurrents.org

07 September, 2013

Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant

In all the discussion about Nuclear Energy and the construction of new plants across India, one crucial fact missing from the debate is EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested). There is no conclusive estimate on EROEI of nuclear energy. It varies from an optimistic 11:1 to a negative EROEI. This means that if every thing goes well, for one unit of energy invested 11 unit of energy may be returned. Some researchers believe that Nuclear is a total energy loss... huge investments will not return no amount of net energy... meaning EROEI is negative! Other experts believe that due to the huge cost going into uranium mining, construction (an estimated 20 years for a plant) and operational cost, the cost of storing spent fuel, and in the end the dismantling cost of the plant, put the net energy into negative. That is, if you invest 1 unit of energy into production, the return would be net loss of energy.

It doesn't count the environmental cost of building such a plant, like the ecological loss, loss of fisheries, clean water etc. If an accident like Fukushima Daiichi or Chernobyl happens, the cost EROEI turns hundreds of % negative and it falls upon the society to bear the cost. In this context, is it advisable to have more nuclear plants?

Here is a paragraph from an authoritative paper from Professor Charles Hall of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry


" The seemingly most reliable information on Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROI) is quite old and is summarized in chapter 12 of Hall et al. (1986). Newer information tends to fall into the wildly optimistic camp (high EROI, e.g. 10:1 or more, sometimes wildly more) or the extremely pessimistic (low or even negative EROI) camp (Tyner et al. 1998, Tyner 2002, Fleay 2006 and Caldicamp 2006). One recent PhD analysis from Sweden undertook an emergy analysis (a kind of comprehensive energy analysis including all environmental inputs and quality corrections as per Howard Odum) and found an emergy return on emergy invested of 11:1 (with a high quality factor for electricity) but it was not possible to undertake an energy analysis from the data presented (Kindburg, 2007). Nevertheless that final number is similar to many of the older analyses when a quality correction is included. "

Here is another from Scientific American


Nuclear: As with hydroelectricity, the EROI estimates for nuclear power span a very large range. Some claim that the EROI is actually less than 1—which would mean that the whole process is not a source of energy, but rather a sink—whereas others (such as the World Nuclear Association, an industry group) estimate that the EROI is much higher than perhaps any other source of energy, around 40 to 60 when using centrifuge enrichment. I drew on a paper that reviewed many studies, and estimated the EROI to be 5. Lenzen, “Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review,” Energy Conversion and Management (2008) (link).


Solar (PV): There are a wide variety of estimates of solar PV's EROI as well—in part because the technologies and production techniques are improving fast, a major reason for the large price reductions over the past decade. I used the most recent peer-reviewed study I could find (Raugei et al., 2012, cited above). Solar PV's EROI is almost certainly rising (Raugei et al., 2012; personal communication, Michael Dale of Stanford University). The latest data in Raugei's study was at least a couple of years old, so the EROI today is most likely higher than 6, the number cited in my article.

EROEI For Wind


On the other hand the EROEI of wind energy is estimated to be around 30 with very little environmental cost.

So what do you think is the direction we should be taking?



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