Potential Impacts of Deploying an Electrical Generating Technology
Every electrical generating technology has characteristics that can’t be reduced to dollar and cents. The summation of these characteristics, add up to a generalized consideration called environmental footprint. One of these characteristics, energy density, can be viewed two ways.
The first is the amount of land area required for a technology. Compared to renewables, such as biomass, wind, solar, and hydro, NuScale SMRs require less than 1% of the land area for the same amount of generation. In a domino-like cascade, this land use leads to greater likelihood of impacting sensitive habitats and species, exclusion of other beneficial usage, and adverse effects on aesthetics and recreational use.
The second way to view energy density is in the amount of energy produced per unit weight of fuel. Comparing coal and low-enriched uranium, a kilogram of anthracite coal produces 8.72 kilowatt-hours (kWh), enough to power a 100W bulb for 3.6 days, while a kilogram of low-enriched uranium produces a million kilowatt-hours (kWh), enough to power a 100W bulb for 1,142 years. Other combustion fuels vary from coal by only +/- 50%. Nothing comes close to uranium.
In addition, this disparity in the mass of fuel required creates a similarly large disparity in the amount of waste generated. A 1,000 MWe coal-fired plant may produce 8 million tons of toxic fly ash over its life. Some waste issues with renewables have not yet been resolved by regulation. For example, photovoltaic panels contain lead, cadmium, and other metals. Unless exempted from current law, these scrap panels may be classified as hazardous wastes and require special treatment and disposal. This will add significantly to their life-cycle costs.
Finally, land-based wind turbines are known to be deadly to bats and birds. The effects of ocean-based wind turbines are uncertain and of great concern to biologists. Even small numbers of wind turbines are known to cause sea birds to deviate from flight paths. Similar concerns have been raised about the migratory patterns and life cycles of ocean bottom dwelling organisms disturbed by concrete structures and transmission lines for off-shore wind turbines. If developed at scales necessary to replace all fossil generation, there is the potential for grave environmental damage.
NuScale has developed SMR technology that has the smallest environmental footprint of available electricity generating technologies.