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ESTIMATED LAG TIME IN GLOBAL CARBON EMISSIONS AND CO2 CONCENTRATIONS PRODUCED BY COMMERCIAL NUCLEAR POWER THROUGH 2009 WITH PROJECTIONS THROUGH 2030

Coleman, Neil M.*†; Abramson, Lee R.; Coleman, Fiona A. B.

doi: 10.1097/HP.0b013e3182364a73
Papers

This study examines the past and future impact of nuclear reactors on anthropogenic carbon emissions to the atmosphere. If nuclear power had never been commercially developed, what additional global carbon emissions would have occurred? More than 44 y of global nuclear power have caused a lag time of at least 1.2 y in carbon emissions and CO2 concentrations through the end of 2009. This lag time incorporates the contribution of life cycle carbon emissions due to the construction and operation of nuclear plants. Cumulative global carbon emissions would have been about 13 Gt greater through 2009, and the mean annual CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa would have been ∼2.7 ppm greater than without nuclear power. This study finds that an additional 14–17 Gt of atmospheric carbon emissions could be averted by the global use of nuclear power through 2030, for a cumulative total of 27–30 Gt averted during the period 1965–2030. This result is based on International Atomic Energy Agency projections of future growth in nuclear power from 2009–2030, modified by the recent loss or permanent shutdown of 14 reactors in Japan and Germany.

*U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (retired); University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research (retired).

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

For correspondence contact: Neil M. Coleman, 252 Johnstons Lane, Mercersburg, PA 17236, or email at ncoleman@pitt.edu.

(Manuscript accepted 6 September 2011)

© 2012 by the Health Physics Society