Monday, March 21, 2011

Critically weighing the costs and benefits of a nuclear renaissance

This article was submitted as a runner up and introduction to the Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences Volume 7, Issue 3, a special issue on the policy, science and dilemmas of nuclear energy in the 21st century. It provides an overview of some of the key challenges surrounding the so-called nuclear renaissance. It provides a broad context for the more specific concerns with the social and political aspects of radioactive waste which will be considered in the next issue. What are the likely consequences of a global nuclear power renaissance? This article answers that question by exploring six categories of costs and benefits associated with modern nuclear power plants: capital and production costs, safety and reliability, fuel costs, land degradation, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions. After weighing arguments on both sides, when costs and benefits are normalized across studies and different reactor types, the article finds that the typical nuclear power plant has 8.6 cents of damages attached to every kilowatt-hour of electricity it produces, and the industry as a whole has $223.7 billion worth of net damages every year. These costs are so large (and unavoidable) that in most countries investments in nuclear power do not occur, and they raise doubts as to whether a nuclear renaissance will produce net benefits to society.

by Benjamin K. Sovacool
Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences via Taylor and Francis Routledge Informaworld
Volume 7, Number 2; 2010; pages 105-123

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