Nuclear powers to top of the table

06 July 2010

Power companies using a lot of nuclear energy have been shown as among America's cleanest by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) in recently published data. 


Peach Bottom (Exelon) 
Exelon's Peach Bottom nuclear
power plant (Image: Exelon)
The annual Benchmarking Air Emissions report uses publicly available data from the Energy Information Administration and Environmental Protection Agency to compile tables of the fuel use, power generation and emissions of the USA's top 100 power producers. The latest edition, based on 2008 performance, was compiled with the help of Ceres, Constellation Energy, Entergy and PSEG.


Companies using generation portfolios dominated by coal were the worst emitters per MWh generated, with Big Rivers Electric and NiSource topping the list with over 2400 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) per MWh.


By comparison companies with high proportions of nuclear like Exelon and PG&E emitted only 122 lbs and 32 lbs CO2 per MWh respectively. Using over 90% nuclear power means that Exelon ranked as the fifth-biggest generator and also the fifth-smallest CO2 polluter per unit of power produced.


Other clean mixes included large amounts of hydro, like the US Corps of Engineers - actually the 18th biggest power generator in the country but with virtually no carbon dioxide emissions due to its total reliance on hydro. The NRDC report only counts emissions at the source of generation, rather than life-cycle figures.


NextEra Energy (formerly Florida Power and Light) has a mix of about half gas-fired generation, about one quarter nuclear and the rest coal, oil and renewables. It emerged fourth on the list of big generators, but with a per-MWh emission of 646 lbs of CO2 that placed it 86th on the list of emitters.


Besides CO2 the report includes data on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury and carbon dioxide, which "are associated with significant environmental and public health problems, including acid deposition, global warming, fine particle air pollution, mercury disposition, nitrogen disposition, ozone smog and regional haze."


The NRDC has previously stated its belief that nuclear power "is not a solution" and the USA should instead focus on "the widest possible implementation of end-use efficiency improvements and policies to accelerate commercialization of clean flexible renewable energy technologies." It noted in the report that electricity is the largest sectoral contributor to CO2 emissions with 39% of total emissions. Coal provides about 48% of US electricity, nuclear about 20%, hydro 6% and other renewables 2% with the rest coming from a range of sources.


Focusing on the prospects for renewables and energy efficiency, the NRDC report includes outlook sections on each as well as for coal and natural gas. The prospects for nuclear power were omitted, as was representation of the consistently low costs of uranium in comparison to other fuels for power generation.


Nevertheless, the body said its report would help the companies make good business choices in future to prepare themselves for future environmental legislation - particularly controls on CO2.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News