Besides climate change, one of the major environmental problems of our age is biodiversity loss. As it is caused largely by increased human land use, stopping biodiversity loss requires us to reduce the land footprint of humanity.
A major problem with renewable-heavy or renewable-only energy scenarios is that they essentially do not acknowledge any problem with human land use. In these visions, vast areas are to be dotted with wind turbines, filled with solar panels or (perhaps most problematically) used for biofuel production to produce enough energy and to deal with intermittency of stochastic energy sources: if you’ve ever heard the explanation “it’s always windy somewhere,” you’ve heard a call to build two to five times as many wind turbines as their nominal production would suggest.
Compared to wind, solar and biomass farms of the required scale, the environmental footprint of nuclear energy is very small. The graph above attempts to show this difference, based on real-world projects in Finland (and an Australian uranium mine). Note that this is for similar annual production of about 27 terawatt hours: to produce energy of similar quality – that is, non-intermittent – one would probably require at least three wind farms of equal size, spaced far enough apart, or significant energy storage facilities.
Note also that the figure likely overestimates nuclear land use. The Olkiluoto plant contains a reserved area for fourth reactor, capable of increasing the annual production from same land area by as much as 13 TWh; and the Ranger uranium mine could easily supply many more reactors.
We would like to emphasize that this picture should not be construed as an argument against wind power or other renewables. We almost certainly need all the low-carbon energy we can have, and both wind and solar have, on the whole, much lower environmental footprint than fossil fuels. The only reason we publish this image is to show that the oft-stated claim of nuclear energy’s environmental destructiveness is misleading at best, and outright falsehood at worst.
This series of posts introduces graphics from our book Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future? The book is now available on Amazon.com in Kindle and paperback formats; see also our crowdfunding initiative which aims to deliver a copy of the book to COP21 climate delegates in Paris this December.