Nuclear Power for Sustainable Development: Current Status and Future Prospects

  • In recent years there has been a resurgence in nuclear power- why now?
    • A global desire to diversify fuel sources, reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports, and develop immunity to power disruptions.
    • The desire to combat of volatile fuel costs due to the low dependence of the price of nuclear-produced kilowatt-hours on the price of uranium.
  • Dealing with climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions especially that from CO2.
  • A desire to decrease air pollution by taking advantage of the virtually 0 pollutant emitting nuclear power plants.
  • A way to pave the future for a transition into a hydrogen economy.   (p.5150)

Resources:

Adamantiades, A. and I. Kessides. “Nuclear Power for Sustainable Development: Current Status and Future Prospects.” Energy Policy, vol. 37, no. 12, Dec. 2009, pp. 5149-5166. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2009.07.052.

Capitalization Costs of Nuclear Power- Considerations

  • In comparison with coal and natural gas-fired power plants, nuclear energy has higher capitalization costs. The extensive and longer construction process, along with uranium mining, and  50% higher per-kilowatt generation costs, are definite drawbacks of nuclear power plants. (p.654)
  • Another drawback is that the government currently has not properly addressed is the ability to store leakage from the nuclear power plants. This is also costly. (p.655)
  • At the current state of inexpensive fossil fuels, nuclear power cannot compete due to the lack of government subsidies, long-term storage solutions for depleted uranium, and safety risks. (p.655)
  • There is more that the government could be doing, but currently there are not enough incentives due to cheap fossil fuels and residual fear of nuclear energy because of accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. (p.655)
  • The real question is how can the promise of nuclear energy be compared against the risks of intensified climate change? (p.655)

Resources:

Vanderheiden, Steve. “Confronting Risks: Regulatory Responsibility and Nuclear Energy.” Environmental Politics 20.5 (2011): 650-67. Print.

Proposals to Expand Nuclear Energy

Framework in Terms of Potential Climate Benefits Compared With Fossil Fuel-Intensive Electrical Generation

  • The biggest benefit of nuclear power is its outlook as a source of ‘green’ power. Much of this is in contrast to the large-scale electrical generation in the US that accounts for 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions. (p.654)
  • Specifically, low-carbon sources of energy are in dire need in order to replace coal-fired power plants. (p.654)
  • Fossil fuels account for 86% of total energy use and 71% of electricity generation. Nuclear energy accounts for 8% of overall energy, and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal together account for 6%. (p.654)
  • The US currently has 103 nuclear reactors but hasn’t had any new orders in place since 1978. The newest nuclear reactor in the US is called the Tennessee Valley Authority Watts Bar 1, and it was ordered in 1970 but didn’t come to use until 1996. (p.654)
  • At this rate, without any new nuclear reactors, many of the 103 nuclear reactors will cease to operate after their roughly 60 year life-span, in the year 2030. The last nuclear operator will end in 2056. (p.654)
  • As stated earlier, the lifespan is roughly 60 years, but that is if the initial 40 year operating license that most nuclear plants have, reapply for a 20-year license renewal. (p.654)

Resources:

Vanderheiden, Steve. “Confronting Risks: Regulatory Responsibility and Nuclear Energy.” Environmental Politics 20.5 (2011): 650-67. Print.

Confronting Risks: The Nuclear Option

  • Originally, nuclear energy production was an abhorrence to environmental activists; however, recently high status green spokes-peoples have began to rethink nuclear power. (p.653)
  • Activists such as James Lovelock, a British atmospheric scientist, Steward Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog, Hugh Montefiore, director and founder of Friends of the earth, and Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, have all recently endorsed nuclear power as a climate-friendly energy option. (p.653)
  • In 2006, Patrick Moore stated that “more than 600 coal-fired power plants in the US produce 36 percent of US emissions aka 10% of global emissions of CO2; the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change… Nuclear energy is the only large-scale cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely.” (p.653)
  • One argument for nuclear power discusses the contrast between the impacts on the climate by constructing nuclear power plants, and the impact from coal. Which nuclear power has the potential to replace. (p.653)
  • The real question is which is the lesser evil? With the continued use of coal for electrical generation there are bound to be catastrophic impacts on the climate; however, the risks of nuclear power are seen as worse but less likely to occur. (p.653)
  • Patrick Moore of Greenpeace claims that the inherent risks in nuclear energy have been overstated and that the risks associated with climate change have been understated. If proper risk analysis were to occur, he claims that expansion of nuclear power programs would be the more promising solution… (this claim is up for debate) (p.653)
  • For many people, especially in the US, taking climate change, and the impacts of it, more seriously would require rethinking on a fundamental level of the ways that humans today generate and use electricity. (p.653)
  • Some scientists estimate that cuts from emission levels in the 21st century will have to decrease 80-95% by 2050 in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas levels that would prevent ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’… according to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (p.653)

Resources:

Vanderheiden, Steve. “Confronting Risks: Regulatory Responsibility and Nuclear Energy.” Environmental Politics 20.5 (2011): 650-67. Print.

Confronting Risks: Introduction to the Consideration of Nuclear Energy

Introduction to the Consideration of Nuclear Energy

  • Current challenges for environmental governance revolves around the effects of climate change. Which threatens both the environment and all forms of life that in habit such locations. (p. 651)
  • Even though there are people who are still speculative about the relationship of increasing atmospheric concentration of green house gases and consequences due to climate change, there is little doubt that out dependence on fossil fuels need to be slowed and/or halted. (p.651)
  • Conservation policy efforts in combination with alternative sources of energy will be the key to dealing with climate change and other threats posed on the environment… This leads us to the discussion of proposed expansion of nuclear power. (p.651)
  • Dangers from nuclear power plants are similar to the risks from climate change itself, but the tangible impacts of nuclear plants gone wrong have been more accessible to the general population than that of climate change. (p.651)
  • Some say that climate change poses moderate and widely dispersed damage at high level of probability with uncertainty about range and extent of impact. (p.651)
  • Moving forward with nuclear power as a more prominent form of energy in the future poses threats that are significantly less but more intensified, focused, and will most likely harm fewer people. (p.651)
  • One argument is that the expansion of nuclear power would lessen the number of threats from climate change with a decrease of green-house gases, but the number of people in range of threat by a nuclear catastrophe would increase. This is the dilemma. Displacing one set of vulnerable inhabitants from one risk to the other. (p.652)

Resources:

Vanderheiden, Steve. “Confronting Risks: Regulatory Responsibility and Nuclear Energy.” Environmental Politics 20.5 (2011): 650-67. Print.

 

Nuclear Power in the USA Currently

  • The USA is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power which accounts for more than 30% of nuclear power in the world.
  • There are 99 nuclear reactors in the US in 30 different states operated by 30 different companies. And in 2016 they produced 805 TWh of energy.
  • Over the span of 30 years, few nuclear reactors have been built; however, plans two build two more nuclear reactors should come soon after the year 2020.
  • Since the 1970s the average capacity of nuclear reactors has risen from 50% to 90% in 2002. Since then the capacity hasn’t risen significantly except for a 2% increase in capacity in 2016. It’s also important to note that most of the US nuclear generating capacity comes from reactors built between 1967 and 1990.
  • Until the year 2013 there had been no new construction of nuclear power plants. Some of the reasoning behind stems from gas being the more economically favorable form of energy along with years of strong opposition to the construction of new nuclear reactors.
  • Even though there has been little construction for the past 30 years, the US’s reliance on nuclear power has grown significantly.
  • However, no more than two nuclear reactors will be built before the year 2021. Low gas prices still dominate the industry which dampen demand for nuclear power reactors.

Resources:

“Nuclear Power in the USA.” The Many Uses of Nuclear Technology – World Nuclear Association, Feb. 2018, www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/non-power-nuclear-applications/overview/the-many-uses-of-nuclear-technology.aspx.

Prospects for Nuclear Power: Financing Risks

-More so than other types of power plant production, nuclear power plants face a lot of regulatory risk. This means that they risk the change of regulations and laws that might affect the industry; changes in cost, etc… (p.55)

-However there have been efforts to streamline this process such as pre-approving designs, getting site permits early, and combining construction and operating licenses. (p.55)

-Nuclear power is also highly sensitive to each current federal energy policy. Under the Obama administration, members of congress voted for a “clean energy standard” which supported nuclear energy. Under the current legislation, it is unclear what the future of nuclear energy will be. (p.55)

-The decrease in fossil fuel prices also impacts the need and desire for nuclear power plants. Technology such as hydro-fracking has increased the availability of natural gas at a low cost. (p.55)

– It is apparent that some new form of alternative technology is necessary to face future needs. Whether this be in the form of nuclear energy, or a lower-cost and sustainable alternative, the future relies on the implementation of such forms of power. (p.56)

 

Resources:

Davis, Lucas W. 2012. “Prospects for Nuclear Power.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26(1):49-66.

Major Arguments Against Nuclear Energy

-One of the major arguments against nuclear energy is it is not a cost effective form of energy because waste disposal is so pricey. (p.13)

-Some also suggest that nuclear power is not actually clean energy because the amount of carbon dioxide released during uranium mining. (p.14)

-Currently, nuclear power plants take up to 10 years to build, so that could not contribute to reducing greenhouse gases anytime soon. (p.14)

-Safety is also a big concern when it comes to nuclear power plants. There have been catastrophic incidents in the past and also concerns of the nuclear materials being used for weapon-making and other destructive practices. (p.14)

-Nuclear is only a short term solution because it is not a renewable form of energy, we are better off investing in renewable resources and such as solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal. These forms of energy are becoming more efficient and cheaper each year. (p.14)

 

Resources:

Taylor, Graeme. “Nuclear Energy and Global Sustainability.” Social Alternatives 26.2 (2007): 12-7. Print.

Major Arguments for Nuclear Energy

There is current debate over nuclear energy. Some countries find nuclear power as a safe, cheap, and clean source of energy, while others oppose it. (p.12)

Arguments for Nuclear Energy:

– Those for nuclear energy claim that it is a reliable and cost-effective source of electrical power. (p.13)

-Dissimilar to fossil fuels, nuclear power doesn’t contribute to smog or greenhouse gases. (p.13).

-Some say that nuclear power plants are also safer than some current power plants and they are constantly becoming more efficient. (p.13)

-Even though these plants produce radioactive waste, this waste is stored deep in the ground. (p.13)

-Nuclear power may not be a renewable source of energy, but the large supplies of it could be a great alternative until better and more sustainable forms of energy can meet the needs of the current global economy. (p.13)

-Nuclear power plants can also be use to desalinate sea water in countries with water scarcity; it also has the potential to be used to produce hydrogen to replace gasoline and diesel fuels for use in transportation. (p.13)

 

Resources:

Taylor, Graeme. “Nuclear Energy and Global Sustainability.” Social Alternatives 26.2 (2007): 12-7. Print.

St. Lawrence University