does nuclear power contribute to global warming?

I know it does not produce greenhouse gases, but it does produce energy (heat). Now doesnt this extra heat build up to some extrent in the atmosphere? It doesnt all radiate out, the greenhouse gases keep some in, so nuclear will still rise temperatures?

I cannot find much mention of this effect when I search on google, but I believe it is the case is it not?

The heat produced by a nuclear power-plant has to be so incredibly miniscule relative to the amount the sun itself bombards us with every minute of every day, that I can’t imagine it adding anything substantial to the global warming problem if anything at all.
I’m no expert, tho… Just wanted to get things started.

The heat produced directly from a power station is nothing, in relation to global warming. The point about the greenhouse effect is that more of the sun’s power is trapped within our athmosphere, rather than bouncing straight back into outer space, and in turn warming the oceans and melting ice caps.

There’s waste heat from both coal and nuclear stations, but this is meaningless when compared to the later effects of greenhouse gasses.

But most energy produced ends up as heat. Arent you forgetting that? Surely it would be significant?

Compared to the sun? Not really significant at all.

No, it’s not significant. Not when compared to the amount of energy the sun fires at us the whole time. Without an athmosphere, the earth would still be at -270c, like the moon. The athmosphere has created a balance, where the sun’s heat gets bounced around by various physics stuff you don’t want to bother with. Adding a whole load of CO2 to the athmosphere can upset the balance and make things change in a way we don’t want.

Yes but the atmosphere also stops a lot of the sun’s energy getting to us.

If we are in a balance situation, then surely all this extra energy we produce will raise temperatures. And it’s not just energy wasted as heat - even energy that’s used ends up as heat, so it all contributes.

Take a look here:

Well, if that same energy is produced in a coal or oil-burning power generating station it will also end up as heat, won’t it? No matter how the energy is produced it ultimately ends up that way. However the nuclear plant, as you say, doesn’t also produce greenhouse gases as do coal and oil powered plants.

The handling of nuclear waste is a serious problem but I’m beginning to think that we might have to accept that for a while as a means of gaining time. Global warming is getting serious and even if it’s not all a result of our activities, some of it is and we need to make that fraction as low as possible.

I still think the main problem with nuclear waste is not that it’s there but that it’s concentrated. Is the waste more radioactive than the original fuel that created it, or more so than the ore from which the fuel was made?

I haven’t worked out the logistics of how to do it yet, and maybe they can’t be worked out, but I think the way to handle nuclear waste is to grind it up and scatter it widely so it isn’t concentrated.

OK you guys who really know something about nuclear waste, shoot me down.

The whole point of global warming is that the greenhouse gases trap the warmth of the sun. What man does to create heat is not an issue.

A nuclear plant won’t create any more heat than a coal or oil plant, either. The energy it distributes may create heat when converted into work or waste but that is true for all power plants.

Did you have some idea that because a nuclear weapon creates tremendous heat a nuclear power plant also does? The plant is only designed to produce as much heat as it takes to boil the water to drive a turbine, again same as any fossil fuel power plant.

I’d worry a lot more about forest fires and volcanoes than power plants if heat were a problem.

No, that’s the advantage of nuclear waste.

Yes, hugely so.

This is the main reason why nuclear weapons were so feared. Not the actual damage of the bomb itself, but the radioactive fallout from the blast, which is exactly the same as ground up and widely scattered nuclear dust. Making the pieces smaller isn’t a solution: it’s the atoms themselves that are radioactive.

Your idea is the worst possible nightmare scenario. Concentrating the nuclear waste and storing it where it can’t be let loose in the way you suggest is the only way to go.


Nuclear waste is dangerous because it is extremely radioactive. Uranium-238, a common nuclear fuel, has a half life of 4.5 billion years. It therefore doesnt produce that much radiation on a day to day basis. The waste all has much shorter half lives, meaning that there are more radioactive particles flying about day to day.

Look, I know they all produce heat, my question is, does all this extra heat produced affect the temperature globally, or does the atmosphere handle it? I all global warming about greenhouse gas build-up, or does the extra energy we produce have an effect too?

it’s not the direct amount of heat that we produce as humankind, it’s gasses such as carbon dioxide that we contribute to the atmosphere that, pound for pound, has a FAR more dramatic effect. As said earlier, compared to the amount of energy the sun torches us with every second, the amount of heat we produce on a global scale is infinitesimal.

The only serious issue with heat dissipated to the environment during the operation of a nuclear power plant is the local effects it has on the ecosystem in the heat sink (river or lake) being used by the reactor. In general, the warming affect on the lake or river (downstream of the plant) can result in algal and fungal damage to the ecosystem. However, these effects are local in nature.

Got that slightly wrong, uranium-235 is the more useful fuel and it’s half life is 700 million years. Still a very long time compared to the waste material produced, which ranges from a few seconds to tens of thousands of years. waste with a half life of 10 thousand years would be emitting 70 thousand times the amount of radiation per day than the uranium that it came from.

I think the point is to note the vast difference in scale in the amount of heat generated by human activity and the amount received from the sun.


So the total energy production of the world is one ten-thousandth of the incident energy from the sun; pretty much insignificant.


Excellent catch. Further, transuranic elements (greater than At# 92) produced during the operation of an enriched uranium power reactor can be more deadly than any fission products and also have some very nasty decay daughters associated with them as well.

The point is that the 1000 megawatt electrical output of a power plant untimately winds up as heat whether it is a coal powered plant or a nuclear plant. We can ignore that heat, it’s going to be generated as long as we use the 1000 megawatts. The only way to reduce that is to make our use of the 1000 megawatts more efficient. That is we get more out of the electrical power we produce so that we don’t have to produce so many 1000 megawatt units.

OK, you’ve convinced me, at least for now.

Of course the U-235 contained a certain total energy, some of which was converted to electricity so the waste, even though it puts out energy at a higher rate, puts out less total energy. What’s the ratio between the total U-235 energy in to the energy in the waste that is left?

Thanks Dervorin!