so I have finally graduated and so the assignment that took me a year to finish mostly due to laziness( what mostly completely I could have done it in two weeks if I’d pushed hard enough but anyway here it is if you can’t be bothered reading or just want my actual opinion,


“we should use nuclear power it is the best fuel source we have” but also heres 5000 words of me trying not to say that (as I wasnt allowed to have a opioion) for any of you bored enough or sad enough to be interested

Nuclear power and its effect on biodiversity, compared with coal



As power consumption world-wide grows at an amazing rate, the search is on for low impacting forms of energy that won’t pollute the environment, negatively affect biodiversity or contribute to climate change.  Is nuclear power a way to combat climate change and protect biodiversity, or is it more likely to have adverse effects on the environment than clean coal technologies?



The increase of electricity demand is linked with the development of the economy and a rise in the living standard in each country. This is especially true for developing countries where the electricity consumption is far below the average electricity consumption in industrialized countries (Feretic D, Zeljko T 2005).


Energy demand is increasing around the world; as the developing world quickly becomes the developed world, it is unlikely to change. Climate change has been described as the biggest threat to human life and the great moral challenge of this generation. It has been largely blamed on CO2 levels and energy production, especially fossil fuels and coal power. The question is: Is nuclear a viable alternative? To answer this, both coal and nuclear power will be examined, as they stand now and the potential they hold in future developments. They will be compared on health/ safety, environmental and economical aspects, as well as political and public options, to see which is a better option for preserving biodiversity and promoting environmental protection.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the term used to measure the amount and types of plant and animal life over a given area. For the sake of this study impacts on biodiversity will be measured by pollution levels, both in extent of impact and severity.


How coal plants work:

A coal plant works by taking coal and putting it into a boiler, then burning the coal to produce heat. This heat is then used to make steam and drive a turbine to produce electricity. The steam then goes into a condenser to cool down—usually fed by a river or lake—and then new water is pumped back into the boiler. The ash and gas released from the coal is sent up the big cooling towers and put through filters before being released into the atmosphere (See figure 1).

The filters and heat generated in the boiler are the possible changes made for clean coal. This will be discussed in greater detail later in the journal article.


Figure 1: from

How nuclear plants work:

A nuclear plant works by releasing the nuclear energy in materials such as uranium and plutonium. The normal radioactive discharge of uranium can set off other uranium atoms which in turn repeat this process, creating a chain reaction.

In the reactor the uranium fuel is highly concentrated, presented in the form of rods, with no single rod large enough to cause a chain reaction. Between them there are control rods to stop accidental fission (breaking apart). The control rods are raised and lowered to allow more or less neutrons between rods depending on the speed of the reaction.  If it is too fast the rods are lowered, slowing down neutron transfer.  If too slow they are raised to allow a manageable controlled reaction.

The energy that is released from nuclear fission is mainly in the form of heat. This heat is used to turn water into steam which then travels along a heat conducting pipe where it heats a separate pool of water.  This new water in the form of steam is then used to drive turbines which produce electricity (See figure 2). While not the most efficient way of generating power, this stops nuclear particles from contaminating the turbines and increases the safety of the plant (Halliday, Resnick, Walker, 2005).


Figure 2: from


This though may see changes in the form of fourth generation reactors which will be explained later.



Coal power is a well known, cheap and safe industry, with many years of practice; it can produce base load power and vary its output based on demand. But it is its longevity that is its biggest selling point. Being already established for so long means there was little complaint before global warming became a popular subject, as the safety and running had lost its mystery, unlike nuclear power. Coal and other fossil fuels, gas and oil account for approximately 85% of the world’s energy needs (Edward et al 2002). The commercial utilization of coal power was the driving force of the industrial revolution which has shaped the life style now enjoyed in the developed world.


Coal is a waste-intensive power source; as well as carbon dioxide emissions, it produces a considerable sum of fly ash and trace amounts of sulphur and nitrogen compounds. The level of these depends on the quality of the coal, whether it be concentrated black coal or dirty mixed brown coal. If black coal is used it is a much cleaner process, with C02 making up the largest part of the waste. In comparison, if brown coal is used less energy is produced for more waste per tonne of coal fired.

The quantity of solid and fly ash produced by firing is 1.0-1.5 billion tones per year. The quantity of residues of this kind accumulated in the past amounts to 100 billion tones (Kovacs, F Mang, B 2002).

Carbon dioxide emissions are coal powers biggest problem. Coal power produced 12.06 million tonnes of C02 in 2006, after producing only 6.58 million tonnes in 1980 (International Energy Annual 2006). This rise has coincided with the rise in the developing worlds, India doubling its release of C02 and China quadrupling it in the period. This increase in demand for electricity is unlikely to slow in the coming decades. If the carbon levels continue to rise the IPCC predicts devastating effects due to climate change in Australia and New Zealand.

These effects include:

• Water resources are likely to become increasingly stressed in some areas of both countries, with rising competition for water supply.

• Global warming is likely to threaten the survival of species in some natural ecosystems, notably in alpine regions, south-western Australia, coral reefs and freshwater wetlands.

•There will be an increased frequency of high-intensity rainfall, which is likely to increase flood damage.

• Regional reductions in rainfall in south-west and inland Australia and eastern New Zealand are likely to make agricultural activities particularly vulnerable.

• There will be an increasing coastal vulnerability to tropical cyclones, storm surges and sea-level rise.

• The spread of some disease vectors is very likely, thereby increasing the potential for disease outbreaks, despite existing biosecurity and health services.

The overall conclusions of the TAR were that: (i)climate change is likely to add to existing stresses to the conservation of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity and to achieving sustainable land use, and (ii) Australia has significant vulnerability to climate change expected over the next 100 years, whereas New Zealand appears more resilient, except in a few eastern areas (Hennessy, K et al. 2007).


This does not include ash and other pollutants which will be mentioned in greater detail later. This shows a negative future for biodiversity if the coal industry, and fossil fuels in general, are not made more environmentally concise. With the popular rise of environmentalism in response to global warming, coal is seen as a more negative option by the general population, leading to a change in the future of coal power plants.


The future:

Due to the increasing demand for low-carbon energy sources, coal power is looking to decrease its C02 footprint.  Though unoriginal, this idea is presented with new reasons.

The idea of separating C02 from flue gas streams started in the 1970s, noy with concern about the greenhouse effect, but as a potentially economic source of C02, mainly for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. Several commercial C02 capture plants were constructed in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Edward s. Rubin and b. Rao 2002).

The technology for capturing carbon from coal plants has been around since the 70s, and was thought a commercial resource for  capturing and selling C02 (Edward et al. 2002). Though largely unrefined, with modern practices and technologies, the amount of C02 released can be greatly diminished. There are many available options based on physically or chemically capturing carbon including absorption through chemical, physical, absorber beds or the regeneration method  on different physical and chemical processes including absorption, adsorption, membranes and cryogenics the some which may occur before power generation some that may occur to the post combustion gas and ash (Edwards et al. 2002).

Once captured, the gas can then be used for processes that require C02, or it can be stored. There are many storing methods, from ocean capture where the C02 is stored in sea water or deep saline aquifers or in depleted gas and oil wells or unminable coal seams. Ocean capture is a dangerous method; if the temperature of the water rises, the amount of C02 it can hold diminishes, and it can reach the point of releasing the C02 back into the atmosphere. Much like nuclear power, geologic deposits are the favoured method of disposal, with C02 being pumped and stored in depleted oil or gas wells where release is far less likely.



Nuclear power has the potential to be a low-carbon, high-energy yield, low pollution source of energy, that will last for the next century or more, depending on technology break throughs which will be mentioned later.

Nuclear powers biggest selling point is its low carbon footprint and the small volume of waste that it produces compared to coal. Recent rises in the cost of coal and oil have also seen it become a possible economic competitor, and along with global warming, have brought nuclear power back to the fight for power generation in many countries, including Australia. Australia has large uranium deposits, making nuclear power a reliable and relatively cheap fuel source. In conjunction, Australia is geologically stable with sparsely populated regions which make for effective places to store the waste.


Nuclear Waste


Radioactive waste shall be managed in such a way that will not impose undue burdens on future generations. This statement was based on the ethical consideration that the generation that receives the benefit from an activity should also commit to taking care of any liabilities from that activity, in this case, the radioactive waste that arises from nuclear energy production. It has been broadly interpreted to imply that the generation that generates radioactive waste should make all the arrangements needed for the disposal of the waste (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2003).


Nuclear waste is the name given to any non-useable product of nuclear fission. The main problem is with the high level nuclear wastes such as the remains of the fuel rods. Once fission has occurred and there is no longer enough fuel to keep the reaction going, the rods are deemed high level nuclear waste. Due to its breakdown, it is highly unstable and continues to breakdown albeit at a much slower rate and is therefore radioactive.

The main problems with the disposal of nuclear waste are its incredibly long half-life. With certain types of waste, the half-life reaches into the thousands of years. Another problem is the waste’s ability to contaminate almost anything it comes in contact with, making storage and isolation a difficult task.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear waste is stored temporally in cooling pools—normally at the power station—for at least three to five years. The waste is then taken to permanent disposal facilities which are buried up to a kilometre underground. This is known as ‘geological disposal’. The location for these disposal sites are recommended to be areas of low geological and water table activity that are removed from human settlements. Such places include the Australian outback, the Russian tundra and the Canadian Shield. These places fit this description so well that there is talk of making international disposal facilities at said sites, although there is generally strong local outcry about such plans (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2003).

Before nuclear waste can be stored, it must be put into a manageable form. In the past the nuclear waste was turned in to calcine by mixing the waste with sugar and heating it up while constantly rotating. This was done to remove all the water and nitrate from the fission products.  This works to make them more chemically stable. The calcine was then put in to a furnace with shards of glass.  The substance was heated until molten and then poured into a stainless steel cylinder. When cooled, the radioactive products have bonded with the glass and form a new glass material. When a cylinder was filled it had a lid welded on and was checked for leaks.  If secure it was sent to a permanent disposal facility (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2003).

The problem with remote geological disposal facilities is transporting the waste to the facilities. To be transported safely with adequate shielding, only small amounts can be transported in a single trip meaning a large number of vehicles must be used. This increases the chance of a crash or terrorist attack on the tucks which could contaminate large areas and put people’s lives at risk. However, the waste being underground means that once delivered it is safer than above ground storage facilities. The main advantages of above ground storage facilities are the ability to monitor and repair accidents or spills and to limit the damage done before the problem can be fixed. In comparison, geological disposal facilities are much harder and more costly to reopen and repair (Hanson 2000).

Ceramic containers, such as Synroc, now make permanent storage facilities more effective. Synroc is a particular kind of “Synthetic Rock”, invented in 1978 by the late Professor Ted Ringwood of the Australian National University.

“Synroc is an advanced ceramic, comprising geochemically stable natural titanate minerals which have immobilised uranium and thorium for billions of years in the natural environment. These can incorporate into their crystal structures which nearly all of the elements present in high-level radioactive waste (HLW) and so immobilise them. Originally some 57% of Synroc was titanium dioxide (rutile, TiO2).” (U.I.C., 2005)

The Hanford Waste Nuclear Facility in lower Washington is a prime example of what can go wrong with a nuclear reactor, operating from the 1940s–1980s in which contaminated reactor water was flushed straight in to the Columbia river. Liquid nuclear waste was also dumped in to cribs and shallow tiled fields and then seeped into the watertable.  Even the tanks they used to contain the highly radioactive waste are known to have leaked somewhere between 170 gallons and 250 gallons. It is estimated that a plume of 150 square miles of contaminated ground water exists under the Hanford site due to the 450 billion gallons of liquid radionuclide and contaminated waste released since 1944. The Columbia River is supplied by an underground spring which feeds from the contaminated ground water, contaminating the water and spreading the problem to fish and other life forms that drink the water. The areas of soil most affected are those directly under the tanks that leaked and those along the river but, due to irrigation from the river, a large amount of agricultural land has also been contaminated, leaving to crops contaminated with caesium and strontium. While the Hanford site is an extreme case and all efforts should be taken so that it never happens again, it does show the potential that nuclear waste has for disaster (Hanson, 2000).

Melt downs

The safety of nuclear power plants is heavily regulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency with many safe guards and precautions in place. Modern reactors have a built in system so that if the reaction becomes too great, the whole core is shut down with control rods lowered in a fraction of a second, stopping the fission instantly. But, as has been seen in Japan with the Fukashima plant, these are not foolproof systems and natural disasters can still cause a major problem. Although the full extent of the disaster is still unknown, it is unlikely to be a fraction as bad as the Chernobyl disaster, due to improved safety conditions and disaster clean ups. So far no deaths have been contributed to the reactor leak or melt down.


The future:

Nuclear power is currently moving towards generation four reactors that will be more efficient, generate more power and have much less waste. Here are five of the designs that could become the future of nuclear power.

Very high temperature reactors: a reactor made of mostly graphite that heats to 1000°C using thinly coated fuel particles embedded in the graphite. Therefore it is very efficient and has the potential to use fuel multiple times by transmuting plutonium. It is cooled by helium, being based on current high temperature reactors, it is largely understood. But the behaviour of graphite under such hot conditions, in addition to being bombarded with neutron, is unknown and materials able to withstand such high temperatures for long periods of time are currently very expensive.

Sodium cooled fast reactors: a reactor which can convert non fissionable U238 to fissionable P239 and fission all trans-uranic elements. Though currently expensive, these reactors are very efficient and can run on some of the waste products of other reactors. These reactors have been made and used in the past, proving their technical feasibility.

Lead cooled fast reactors:  a reactor similar to sodium cooled fast reactors but instead use lead or lead bismuth. They have operated successfully in small scale, powering Russian submarines. The negatives are that rarity of bismuth makes them expensive and the high melting point of lead requires careful maintenance and down time conditions to stop freezing in the cooling system.

Gas cooled fast reactors:  a reactor similar to the sodium cooled fast reactors but instead use helium gas to cool the reactor. It removes the difficulties of liquid cooling such as corrosion and boiling, and has a lower absorption cross section. It can also reach higher temperatures than liquid cooled reactors, though it offers poor heat transfer and needs expensive materials able to withstand much higher temperatures. No prototype has yet been made of this type of reactor.

Molten salt reactors: a reactor which is the most radical. They use less fuel and mix the coolant together with fissionable material placed inside a molten halide salt mix, then feed through a graphite core and heat exchanger. Each time a prototype of a small amount is siphoned off and refuelled with fresh fuel, then tested, though this is not yet at commercial level and will not be deployable till after 2030.


Health affects/safety:

The dangers of nuclear power plants are well know, after accidents and catastrophes at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and more recently, with the earth quakes breaching a reactor in Japan. In comparison, coal plants are considered dangerous because of air pollution and accidents by the majority of people. But because of the perception of danger associated with nuclear powers, and the risk of large consequences when something goes wrong, strict and stringent safety measures are regulated and enforced with fail safes that shut down the reactor in case of any abnormalities. Coal power is also very well regulated but, as shown in Figure 3, coal has a higher mortality rate, and most surprisingly the radiation from fly ash is more deadly or more accurately less guarded against than the radiation from nuclear fuel and waste. But the major difference in overall safety comes down to air pollution for the public and mining. For those employed in the mining of the fuel, the large difference between coal and uranium mining fatalities come down to a combination of older mines and gas veins being more prevalent among coal seams than uranium deposits.

The health risk from human exposure of radio activities and accidents in coal power and nuclear power energy chain were compared in this paper. We got the results that the health risk of coal-fired energy chain was higher than that of nuclear energy chain (li hong, fang dong 2000).

The finding by the institute of Nuclear Energy Technology at Tisnghua University, Beijing, when comparing the entire life cycles of energy from mining and refinement, to transportation and generation and finally, to disposal and pollution (See Figure 1) show that coal power is more dangerous to both the general public and the workers in that sector. For the general public coal power is approximately nine times more deadly whereas for the workers it is 3.5 times more deadly. In comparison to this information, Figure 1 shows that the majority of deaths attributed to energy production are attributed to the mining of the resource, be it coal or uranium. Only 3.2 deaths/GWa were non-mining related of the 27.82 deaths/GWa attributed to power generation as a whole.


Figure 3: institute of nuclear energy technology, tsinghua university Beijing




Figure 4: S. W. White and G. L. Kulcinski


Economic aspects:

The economics of power generation is important to look into, for if the methods to best lower the level of pollutants and the effect on biodiversity are greatly more expensive, it is unlikely that commercial interests or corporations will use them. If they are made cost effective to compete or even to beat old pollution heavy technologies, then companies will begin to use them, even if not for environmental reasons.

Currently, it is hard to calculate the price difference between coal and nuclear because the Australian Government’s carbon price is yet to be known and could make a large difference. Previously, nuclear reactors have been more expensive to build and set up. The very large capital investments have seen few commercial reactors built (See Figure 6). Most have been built by government monopolies that do not rely on investors to finance their operations ( F.A. oues, et al. 2005). With uncertain price rises of fossil fuels and the large amount of builds in China and Korea making the technology more common for nuclear reactors, nuclear power is becoming a possible competitor with coal in investors’ minds.

Today, given the urgent environmental imperative of achieving a global clean-energy revolution, public policy has sound and urgent justification for placing a sizeable premium on clean technologies. Such environmentally-driven incentives can come through carbon taxes, emissions trading, or subsidies for non-emitting generators of power (W.N.A. 2006).


Cost levelling incentives in conjunction with taxes on carbon may be making nuclear power a possible competitor, but it’s the ease of mining, and the assured supply from the large deposits in Australia that make nuclear power an attractive edge in the Australian market. If building nuclear reactors and generating nuclear power becomes legal in Australia, and if the carbon price becomes a burden to coal plants, nuclear power may hold the edge economically. The fact that all the mining, refining and production would occur in Australia creating jobs may spark government investment, but as prices currently stand, and as Figure 5 shows, coal is the more economically viable option right now.

Uranium resources are thought to be geographically more evenly distributed than any other energy resource, though are relatively few countries—including Australia, Canada, and countries in Central Asia, hold the largest shares of the most economical, high-grade uranium ores. Given this distribution of uranium resources, the risk of supply disruption is minimal as compared to oil and natural gas reserves, which are concentrated in the Middle East (Y. Zhou 2010).


Figure 5: Y. Du , J Parsons (2009)


Figure 6 Y. Du , J Parsons (2009)

People and government preconceptions, ideas and laws

A recent survey in Britain found that the majority of public have negatives feelings towards fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, as well as nuclear power. When asked to rank which they would prefer to have their electricity generated from approximately 75% chose coal. When nuclear power was posed as a method to help combat climate change nuclear power gained a 60% majority as preferred source of energy production.

The consistent message from the combined data in this survey is that while higher proportions of the GB public are indeed prepared to accept nuclear power if it is seen to contribute to climate change mitigation, very few would actively prefer this as an energy source over renewable sources, given the choice (Pootringa et al. 2006).


The lack of support for nuclear power, while willing to accept it, is likely to cause problems in local suburbs when it comes to the placement of nuclear power stations. While people may be willing to accept nuclear power as a solution or necessary action to combat climate change, they are still weary and believe nuclear power to be dangerous. As such, people will likely resist the building of power plants near their homes.


There are many competing views on nuclear power and coal; each claim superiority. While belittling the other, both raise good points and pick and choose facts that help back up their claims.

In response against nuclear power Sovacool and Cooper state:

Nuclear power plants are a poor choice for addressing energy challenges in a carbon-constrained, post-Kyoto world. Nuclear generators are prone to insolvable infrastructural, economic, social, and environmental problems. They face immense capital costs, rising uranium fuel prices, significant lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, and irresolvable problems with reactor safety, waste storage, weapons proliferation, and vulnerability to attack (2008).


In favour of nuclear power, Rhodes and Beller exclaim:


Because diversity and redundancy are important for safety and security, renewable energy sources ought to retain a place in the energy economy of the century to come. But nuclear power should be central. Despite its outstanding record, it has instead been relegated by its opponents to the same twilight zone of contentious ideological conflict as abortion and evolution. It deserves better. Nuclear power is environmentally safe, practical, and affordable. It is not the problem it is one of the best solutions (2000).


The biggest questions that need answering though should be: which is better for biodiversity in Australia, both now and in the future? Even if the next generation coal and nuclear plants can do what they claim, could the money spent developing and setting them up or retro fitting existing plants help the environment more in other places? All avenues should be explored, whether that is cleaner coal power, fourth generation nuclear power, renewable energy, natural gas or just lower consumption through changed energy use, habits and better efficiency in all aspects of power use.



As the demand for energy increases and the effects of global warming are more keenly known and felt, the push to lower carbon and protect biodiversity will become a priority. While nuclear power has a lower carbon footprint, it is unlikely the solution will be so simple. A combination of fourth generation and clean coal technologies, along with renewable energies will be used to best preserve biodiversity.



D. Feretic, Z. Tomsic Probabilistic analysis of electrical energy costs comparing: production costs for gas, coal and nuclear power plants, University of Zagreb, 2005


Edward, s. Rubin  and b. Rao , A technical, economic and environmental assessment of amine-based co2 capture technology for power plant greenhouse gas control, 2002

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WNA, The new economics of nuclear power, 2004


Halliday, D, Resnick, R, Walker, J, 2005, Fundamentals of physics 7th edition, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Hanson, L.A, 200, radioactive waste contamination of soil and groundwater at the Hanford site, university of Idaho

Hennessy, K., B. Fitzharris, B.C. Bates, N. Harvey, S.M. Howden, L. Hughes, J. Salinger and R. Warrick, 2007: Australia and NewZealand. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

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Li Hong and Fang Dong, comparative health risk assessment of coal power and nuclear power china,  Institute of Nuclear Energy Technoloy, tsinghua university, Beijing, P.R.China 2000


M. A. Rosen Energy- and exergy-based comparison of coal-fired and nuclear steam power plants, exergy 3 pg 180- 192, 2001

M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 507-540.


S. W. White and G. L. Kulcinski, Birth to death Analysis of the energy payback ratio and C02 Gas Emission rates from coal, fission, wind and DT fusion electrical power plants, 1999


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Yun Zhou, Why isChina going nuclear?, Energy Policy 38 pg 3755-3762, 2010

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WOW i cant belive you made it this far well done

  1. codebeard says:

    tl; dr


  2. You my acquaintance are a genius


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