Energy, Society, and the Environment/Swapping Coal for Nuclear Power

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Financial Cost[edit | edit source]

In "Carbon emissions and costs associated with subsidizing New York nuclear instead of replacing it with renewable" Felix Cebulla and Mark Jacobson break down the financial costs of maintaining a nuclear subsidy for New York state over swapping entirely to wind or swapping to mixed wind/photovoltaic (PV) systems.

(Measured in 2014 USD) They estimate the financial cost of maintaining current nuclear power plants from 2016 to 2050 at $32.4 billion (USD).

However they measure the cost of swapping to other systems at: Entirely to wind farms at $24.5 billion A mixed wind/PV system to either $31.6 billion if 25% of power is supplied by rooftop PV's A mixed wind/PV system $25.8 billion if all PV power is supplied by utility companies.

Alternatively in "Evaluating the Cost, Safety, and Proliferation Risks of Small Floating Nuclear Reactors Michael Ford, Ahmed Abdulla, and M. Granger Morgan break down the financial cost of having small offshore nuclear plants (fSMR) versus the costs of having land based nuclear power plants as well as what the costs would be if they were built by the US military.

For an SMR with an output of under 300 Mega-Watts: The cost to construct a fSMR using commercial cost it would be approximately $620 Million. The cost to construct a land based SMR of the same scale it would be approximately $760 Million. If the fSMR were built using specifications created by the US military (MILSPEC) it would cost (according to their calculations) over $1.4 Billion .

Note: (These costs are for the site and platform only, and do not include reactor or turbine equipment.)

Environmental Cost[edit | edit source]

In "Carbon emissions and costs associated with subsidizing New York nuclear instead of replacing it with renewable" Felix Cebulla and Mark Jacobson cover the life-cycle emissions of 5 scenarios across New York.

(All data is from 2014 until 2050)

Scenario 1 would see New York maintain all of their nuclear power plants until 2050 and would result in an output of 37 Mt of CO2.

Scenario 2 would see nuclear power phased out in 2028 and replaced with wind turbines. This scenario results in 17 Mt of CO2.

Scenario 3 is a total replacement of nuclear power with wind power starting in 2021 and would have the lowest emissions at 9 Mt of CO2.

Scenario 4 much like scenario three is a total replacement of nuclear power with both wind & privately owned photovoltaics. This scenario has an emissions output of 14 Mt of CO2.

Scenario 5 is the same as scenario four except the photovoltaics would be owned by utility companies.

The World Nuclear Association reported similar findings in their 2008 report titled "Comparison of Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Various Electricity Generation Sources"

Their report shows the following data for lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions measured in tonnes of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) per GWh (Gigawatt Hour):

CO2e / GWh
Mean Output Low High
Nuclear 29 2 130
Hydroelectric 26 2 237
Wind 26 6 124
Photovoltaics 85 13 731
Natural Gas 499 362 891
Oil 733 547 935
Coal 888 756 1310

Its clear from this data that doing a total replacement with wind would allow for the least amount of life-cycle emissions by far. But that any form of renewable energy is significantly better than continuing to use fossil fuels for our energy generation.

Safety[edit | edit source]

The safety of nuclear power and nuclear power plants is a hotly discussed topic and in "Reassessing the safety of nuclear power" by Wheatley, Sovacool and Sornette we see data that confirms that nuclear power plants have been getting safer over time. (Fig. 1)

Figure 1: Showing nuclear events per reactor per year.

However, Wheatley et al. state that data regarding nuclear incidents, both large and small, is wildly underreported and that a publicly available "transparent" and "centralized" database should be created for all incidents. They also stress that things like "near misses" and "minor mishaps" need to be taken more seriously in the nuclear industry as unlike the oil and gas industry these things do not need to be reported.

They also state that the current measurement scale for nuclear incidents is woefully inadequate and that levels should be uncapped and "physicality based" like the Richter scale. The example given being that the Fukushima disaster which should be rated a "ten or eleven" on a scale that only goes up to 7.

The final conclusion in their paper is that while nuclear accident prevention and safety precautions are on the rise we can still expect a nuclear event of around $20 million USD to happen every single year and a massive event (like Fukushima) to occur with a 50% probability every 60 - 150 years.

In "Exploring the relationship between safety culture and safety performance in U.S. nuclear power operations" Morrow et al. ran a survey within 97% of all United States nuclear power plants asking workers how they felt about the safety culture at their respective workplaces.

Data showed (graph to come) that nuclear plant workers felt that they were well rewarded [0.98] and felt as though they could report safety issues to their management teams [.87] however they also felt that they were not personally responsible for nuclear safety concerns. [.37]