United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Table 8.2 Environmental impacts of operating 1000-MW(e)-equivalent electric power plants for non-nuclear alternative generating

Table 8.2 Environmental impacts of operating 1000-MW(e)-equivalent electric power plants for non-nuclear alternative generating technologies
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Wind 61,000 ha (150,000 acres) of which 3,000 acres occupied by turbines, rest available for agriculture (Pimentel 1994) Bird collisions, loss of much of thousands of acres of habitat (Pimentel 1994); interference with animal migration routes (Pace 1991) Substantial visual and some noise impact in any location (Pace 1991; SERI/TP-260-3674; Rader 1989) Negligible (Pace 1991) Negligible (Pace 1991) Very minor amounts from maintenance of equipment, vegetation Very minor risks from accidents, noise Relatively low work force, assessed plant value—fewer potential long-term community benefits than large baseload plants Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines
Photovoltaic cells 14,000 ha (35,000 acres); no other compatible uses (Pimentel 1994; Pace 1991) Loss of 14,000 ha (35,000 acres) of natural habitat and some agricultural land (Pimentel 1994) Substantial visual impact in any location (Hamrin and Rader 1993) Small runoff from panels could cause sedimentation Negligible Very minor amounts from maintenance of equipment, vegetation; some toxics Some risk to maintenance workers Relatively small work force, assessed plant value—fewer long-term community benefits than large baseload plants Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines
Solar thermal 5,700 ha (14,000 acres); no other uses (Pimentel 1994; Pace 1991) 5,700 ha (14,000 acres) of natural habitat lost and some agricultural land (Pimentel 1994) Substantial visual impact; reflected sunlight (Pimentel 1994; Pace 1991; Hamrin and Rader 1993) Minor amounts used except where water is cooling agent (Rader 1989); possible contamination from cleaning agents (Rader 1989); some runoff potential Minor emissions of pollutants during normal operations, greater risks with accidents (Pimentel 1994) Very minor amounts from maintenance of equipment, vegetation Possible eye damage from reflected sunlight; occupational hazards from exposure to heat transfer fluids (Pace 1991); some risk to maintenance workers Relatively small work force, assessed plant value—fewer long-term community benefits than large baseload plants Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Hydroelectric 400,000 ha (1 million acres); no other uses (Pimentel 1994) 400,000 ha (1 million acres) of natural habitat and agricultural lands lost; disruption of spawning, migration routes (Rader 1989); killing of fish thru eutro-phication, passage through dam, water temperature change (Moreira and Poole 1993); altered flora, fauna populations 1 million acres visually impacted (Pimentel 1994; Hamrin and Rader 1993) Increased sedimentation (Moreira and Poole 1993); temperature changes, competition for water and arid regions (Rader 1989) Negligible Minor amounts from equipment replacement, reservoir clearing Some risks for recreational boating, swimming deaths; risk of dam failure; some risk to maintenance workers Small work force, high assessed value—some potential long-term economic/ community impacts, changes in recreation (free-flowing stream to lake) Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Geothermal 2800 ha (7000 acres)— possible subsidence; potential for other uses on unused land (DOE/EP-0093; OECD 1987) Loss of much of 2800 ha (7000 acres) of natural habitat and some agri-cultural land (DOE/EP-0093) Visual impacts to portions of affected areas (Rader) Potential contamination of surface and groundwater from disposal of geothermal fluid (OECD 1987) Potential release of various toxic gases to atmosphere, especially H2S; CO2 is greatest emission (Pace 1991, Brower 1992) Minor amounts from equipment replacement, vegetation maintenance, heavy metals sludge (Brower 1992) Very minor risks from toxic gas released, accidents to workers; noise (Brower 1992) Relatively small work force, assessed plant value—fewer long-term community benefits than large baseload plants Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines
Wood wastes About 160,000 to 320,000 ha (400,000 to 800,000 acres) for forest residue recovery. About 12 ha (30 acres) per 20 MW of facility operated (OTA 1993) Considerable potential for loss of natural habitat and biodiversity; increased soil erosion and nutrient loss (OTA 1993) Some visual impacts from residue recovery. Limited visual impacts from plant structure Approximately same water requirements as coal Not significant with residue recovery. Emission of regulated pollutants, can be effectively controlled Considerable fly ash, can be used as fertilizer and soil conditioner Occupational risks high, same as for agriculture. Particulates important, but can be controlled Source of income and employment in rural areas. Moderate size work force at plant site Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by residue recovery area, plant or transmission lines
Municipal solid waste About 12 ha (30 acres) per 20 MW of facility operated Potentially positive impacts if landfills are displaced Limited visual impacts from plant structure. Potential odors Approximately same water requirements as coal Emissions of regulated pollutants more significant than other technologies Considerable fly ash, must meet regulations Risks from toxics and particulates, safety of municipal solid waste handlers Moderate size work force at plant sites Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Energy crops About 400,000 ha (1 million acres) for crop production. About 12 ha (30 acres) per 20 MW of facility operated Impacts depend on prior land use, may either enhance or reduce biodiversity, habitat (Wright 1994; Ranney and Mann 1994) Some visual impacts from harvesting. Limited visual impacts from plant structure Irrigation not used for growing. Approximately same water requirements as coal Not significant with production of energy crops. Emissions of regulated pollutants, can be effectively controlled (Wright 1994) Considerable fly ash, can be used as fertilizer and soil conditioner Occupational risks high, same as for agriculture. Particulate important, but can be controlled (Rader 1989) Source of income and employment in rural areas. Moderate size work force at plant site Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by cropping area, plant or transmission lines
Coal 700 ha (1,700 acres) for plant site (DOE/EP-0093) and 9070 ha (22,400 acres) for entire fuel cycle (WASH-1224) Habitat loss (including nationally from acid precipita-tion; DOE/ EIS-0146); impingement, entrainment; waste heat to receiving water body; cooling tower drift, fogging; bird collisions Limited visual impacts from plant structure, additional from plume 860,000 m3 (700 acre-ft) per quad (1012 Btu) energy produced (based on thermal efficiency relative to nuclear) Emission of CO2, regulated pollutants, more than other technologies (Loftness 1984); also radionuclides Large amounts of fly ash, scrubber sludge, other solid waste— must meet regulations (DOE/EP-0093) Public risks (cancer, emphysema) from inhalation of toxics and particulates; safety risk to workers 250 workers— moderate long-term economic community benefits (UDI-021-89) Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Natural gas 45 ha (110 acres) for plant site (DOE-EP-0093) and 1500 ha (3,600 acres) for entire fuel cycle (WASH-1224) Habitat loss, impingement, entrainment; waste heat to receiving water body; cooling tower drift, fogging; bird collisions Limited visual impacts from plant structure, some from plume 817,000 m3 (662 acre-ft) water used per quad (1012 Btu) energy produced (based on thermal efficiency relative to nuclear) Emissions of CO2 and NOx regulated pollutants, radionuclides less than coal, no SO2 (Loftness 1984) Some solid waste produced— must meet regulations (DOE/EP-0093) Some public risks (cancer, emphysema) from inhalation of toxics and particulates; safety risk to workers 150 workers— moderate long-term economic, community benefits (UDI-021-89) Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines
Oil 50 ha (120 acres) for plant site (DOE/EP-0093) and 650 ha (1,600 acres) for entire fuel cycle (WASH-1224) Habitat loss (including nationally from acid precipita-tion; DOE/EIS-0146); impingement, entrainment; waste heat to receiving water body; cooling tower drift, fogging; bird collisions Limited visual impacts from plant structure, some from plume 860,000 m3 (700 acre-ft) water per quad (1012 Btu) energy produced (based on thermal efficiency relative to nuclear) Emissions of CO2, SO2, and NOx, regulated pollutants, radionuclides less than coal (Loftness) Moderate (<coal) amounts of scrubber sludge, particulates— must meet regulations (DOE/EP-0093) Some public risks (cancer, emphysema) from inhalation of toxics and particulates; safety risks to workers 200 workers— moderate long-term economic community benefits (UDI-021-89) Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Advanced light-water reactor 80–200 ha (500–1000 acres) for plant site, plus exclusion acres and 400 ha (1500–2000 acres) for entire fuel cycle Habitat loss, impingement, entrainment; waste heat to receiving water bodies; cooling tower drift and fogging; bird collisions Limited visual impacts from plant structure, some from plume 910,000 m3 (740 acre-ft) water per quad (1012 Btu) energy produced (based on thermal efficiency relative to nuclear) Very little CO2 or regulated pollutants— from vehicles not facility Some spent fuel, slightly more mixed waste and low-level waste than license renewal <1% of natural radiation sources; safety risks to workers 700 workers— substantial long-term economic, community benefits (UDI-021-89) Relatively small unless important site-specific resource affected by plant or transmission lines
Conservation Minimal Minimal Minimal Minimal Minimal Minimal Minor impacts regarding radon, perhaps other contaminants (Pace 1991) Increased jobs in conservation technologies Minimal
Imported power Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Operating impacts of hydro and coal plants similar to those in U.S. Cultural impacts to tribes in northern Canada could produce more social conflict than in United States

Table 8.2 (continued)
  Resource
Alternative Land use Ecology Aesthetics Water quality Air quality Waste Human health Socioeconomic Cultural
Delayed retirement Very few acres affected (DOE/EIS-0146) Very few acres affected—no impact Minimal changes unless cooling tower installed Substantial improvement if closed-cycle system replaces once-through (Bretz 1994), otherwise little change. Improvement to distant water bodies adversely affected by acid precipitation (DOE/EIS-0146) > 90% SO2 and NOx emissions of conventional coal plant removed (DOE/EIS-0146, Bretz 1994) For integrated gasification combined cycle: 40% waste of pulverized coal plant; for atmospheric fluidized bed: possibly double the amount from pulverized coal plant (DOE/EIS-0146) Substantial public health improvement compared with conventional, pulverized coal plant; safety risks to workers Moderate employment and tax revenue from first coal plant extended for longer period No change
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