Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy

Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy

Currently, approximately 16% of the world’s electricity is generated from nuclear power that has a total installed capacity of about 370, 000 megawatts (Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy 16). Such increase in generation of nuclear energy is attributed to annual electricity demand that is projected to increase to more than 5 trillion KWh in the next 20 years. At the same time, it is approximated that over 60 nuclear power plants designed for electric production are being constructed in various parts of the world and countries including, but not limited to “India, China, Korea, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Finland, and France” (Mcleish 8). Nuclear energy has high capital costs, low production costs, long operational life, insensitivity to fluctuations in fuel prices, and significant regulatory costs. However, the existing nuclear energy plants have become more competitive. Moreover, Mcleish asserts that there is a significant difference in cost of nuclear energy and other forms energy such as coal and natural gas (34-5). These differences are attributed to certain costs which are mostly external to other sources of energy, yet they are internalized in the nuclear energy. Although it is believed that the nuclear energy boosts the economy in a number of ways; it is believed that the benefits of nuclear energy are subject to natural disasters and can therefore harm the economy. This paper explores various financial and economic advantages and disadvantages associated with nuclear energy both at the regional and global level. The paper also compares the cost of power from nuclear energy to that of other sources of energy.

Status and Trends of Nuclear Energy

Overall, by early 2007, about 435 nuclear plants with an installed total capacity of about 370 GWe were already operating in 30 countries while nearly 30 nuclear units were being constructed in 13 countries which represented a capacity of about 24 GWe (Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy 17). In 2006, two new nuclear energy units with total capacity of 1.5 GWe were also connected to the grid, 1 in China and the other in India. Moreover, China, Russia, and the Republic of Korea initiated construction of seven new nuclear energy units (Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy 17). However, in the same year (2006), 8 nuclear energy plants were shutdown, 4 in the US, 1 in Spain, 1 in Slovakia, and 2 in Bulgaria, reducing the capacity in service by 2.25 GWe. Overall, the global nuclear capacity reduced by about 0.75GWe.

Nuclear Energy Contributes to Local and State Economies

Nuclear energy contributes to the economy through various ways from construction through operation. First and foremost, nuclear energy is critical in economic growth because it offers jobs by providing both lasting and short-term employment opportunities to the nation’s labor forces. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that a typical nuclear energy plant generates more than $ 470 million in sales of services and goods in the local community and approximately $ 40 million in total labor income (para. 4). For instance, the operation of an average nuclear plant creates between 400 and 700 permanent jobs to the nation’s workforce. Such jobs pay approximately 36% more than the average salaries in most local and/or other corporate sectors which are perceived to be the main source of labor force. Moreover, such permanent jobs at a nuclear energy plant generate an equivalent number of more jobs to provide services and goods which are required to support the nuclear plant.

Similarly, construction of an average nuclear energy plant generates more than 3, 500 jobs at peak construction. For instance, there about 100 reactors in the United States. Such reactors generate revenue and electricity sales of between $40 and $ 50 billion annually with approximately 100, 000 workers employed in the reactors. In addition, nuclear energy creates revenue at different levels. For instance, in the United States, every dollar spent by at a nuclear energy plant creates about $ 1.04, $ 1.18, and $ 1.87 at the community, state, and national levels respectively. In addition, each nuclear energy plant generates about $ 16 million in national and state tax revenue per year (Nuclear Energy Institute para. 5). Such money benefits roads, schools, and other local and state infrastructure.

At the same time, the Canadian nuclear industry has about 150 firms which employ more than 30, 000 people (Bratt 27). However, whenever the number of people working in indirect jobs in uranium mining and nuclear plants operation are included, the total number of jobs which the nuclear energy industry creates in Canada is more than 70, 000.  According to Bratt, the Canadian nuclear energy industry generates more than $ 6.6 billion in annual revenues (together with about $ 1.5 billion in exports) and pays approximately “$ 1.5 billion to the provincial and federal taxes” (27). This implies that, if the nuclear sector in Canada was downgraded, such economic and financial benefits will be lost.

Moreover, nuclear energy contributes to a nation’s economy through export of reactors. The table below shows the nuclear energy’s contribution to the Canadian market from export of 2 reactors of CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium) 6 reactors in 2005 (see Table 1):-

 

 

The Canadian nuclear energy industry further contributes to the economic growth through export of uranium. The table below shows the Canadian nuclear energy contribution for the 2005 (see Table 2). The above data offers a reflection of the effects of nuclear energy in Canada as well as the export of uranium, reactors, and generation of electricity in the country are important. The activities help in generating revenue, employment and GDP (See Table 2).

Further studies indicate that, an average nuclear energy generates more than $ 470 million in “economic output or value” (Murray 115). These include direct output that reflects the plant’s annual electric sales of about $ 453 million. The economic benefits resulting from a nuclear plant also include secondary effects at the local level that is approximated at $ 17 million including subsequent spending that is attributed to the plant’s presence. On the other hand, the plant’s employees are often considered to be the plant’s expenditures which are filtered through the local economy (Murray 115-116). In addition, to the secondary effects at the local area, there are secondary effects at the state and national level. For a nominal 1, 000-megawatt nuclear energy plant, the secondary effects at the state and national levels are $ 80 and $393 million, respectively. Murray found that, every dollar spent by a typical nuclear energy plant creates “about $ 1.04 in the local society, about $ 1.18” in the state economy (116). The same dollar spent is approximately $1.87 in the United States’ economy. This implies that, an average nuclear energy plant pays approximately $ 16 million in the local and state taxes every year. In addition, an average nuclear energy plant pays the federal about $ 67 million per year. Such revenues benefit roads, schools, and other local and state infrastructure.

New Nuclear Energy Plant Construction Boosts Local and State Economies

Nuclear energy plants provide significant economic benefits during their construction and operations. For instance, the taxes, jobs, and secondary and direct impacts strengthen the communities’ economies with nuclear. According to the Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy, an average new nuclear energy plant represents an investment of between $6 billion and $8 billion including interests. In addition, construction of a new nuclear energy plant provides a significant boost to commodities such as steel, concrete, and manufacturers of other components which are used during the construction of the nuclear plant. In Elliott’s view, it is probably that a single average new nuclear energy plant requires 400, 000 cubic yards of concrete, about “66, 000 tons of steel, 44 miles of piping, 300 miles of electric wiring, and about 130, 000 electrical components” (57). The supply of such materials boots the local economy.

Nuclear Energy Produces Affordable Electricity

Nuclear energy produces the cheapest base load electricity. According to Mcleish, the average production cost has been below 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for last two decades (35). Such costs include that of purchasing nuclear fuel, operating and maintaining the plant, and paying for the management of used fuel from the plant. Mcleish further acknowledges that, the cost of generating electricity with nuclear energy has been “lower than that of coal-fired production since 2000” and lower than that natural gas for the last two decades (36). For instance, in 2012, the average production cost for nuclear energy was approximately 2. 4 cents per kWh, compared to that of natural gas 3. 4 cents per kWh, coal 3. 27 cents per kWh, and petroleum 22.48 cents per kWh. Nonetheless, other renewable fuels such as gaseous biofuels “uses agricultural wastes as fuel and produce” different types of electricity (Petrou and Pappis 1061).  The energy from gaseous biofuels is in two forms; the 86 kW of electricity and 148 kW of thermal heat. In addition, Raven, Berg, and Hassenzahl assert that when it is compared to renewable energy and fossil fuel sources, nuclear energy has remarkable price stability because only about 31% of the production is fuel costs (235). According to Mcleish fuel cost accounts for between 80% and 90% of the total cost of electricity generated by fossil fuel-fired production thereby making electricity from fossil plants susceptible to fluctuation in gas and coal prices (36). In fact, the fact that fossil fuels are critical in the economic growth among modern societies makes the need to “security enough fossil fuels at affordable prices” an important aspect that should first be given priority before the production process of such type of energy starts (Watson and Scott). Nonetheless, it is believed “renewable energy sources (RES) supply 14%” of the entire energy that s required by the human society (Panwar, Kaushil, and Kothari 1513). Therefore, the stable and low cost of nuclear energy reduces the prices the price of electricity that consumers pay. At the same time, solar energy being a renewable source of energy is perceived to be very important probably because it is suitable and can also be found in “many remote areas in the world where electricity” can hardly be found (1516).

Economic and Financial Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

Rather than being expensive nuclear energy subject to natural calamities and more risky compared to other sources of energy. Therefore, it can negatively affect the economy more than other sources of energy such as natural gas or coal. For instance, the March 11, 2011, 9-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Japan causing a leak in at the Fukushima nuclear plant had various impacts on the Japanese economy. The incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plant destroyed the reactor cooling system and led to explosions releasing radioactive materials (Elliott 6).  Japan derives about 33 % of its energy from nuclear energy, from 52 nuclear power plants within the country. This implies that, any incident that will affect the nuclear energy grid will lead to major loses. After the 2011 earthquake, 12 out of the 50 reactors were shut down and generators were activated to run pumps to cool the reactors. However, the flood waters reached the plants’ generators and destroyed their electric generating capacity and thus the pumps could not function. Consequently, Raven, et al., affirms that the reactors overheated leading to fire (236). The only reactor that remained in Fukushima was shut down in May 2011. Such incidence shows that nuclear energy can have more devastating economic impacts compared to other sources of energy. After the Fukushima incidence, more than 4.4 million homes in Japan lacked electricity while about 1.5 homes had no water. As such, economic activities stopped for some time.

Moreover, after breaking down, the nuclear energy reactors released radioactive substances which affected people’s health. Elliott estimates that, the effects of the radioactive substances will be felt for “several years and the clean-up and recovery costs will exceed 2.3 trillion Japanese yen,” equivalent to US $ 300 billion (Elliott 24). Prior to the 2011 incident, Japan’s nuclear industry supplied about a third of the country’s electricity. However, after the earthquake, 11 out of 50 of the country’s nuclear reactors were shutdown. Moreover, the impact was worse than the 1995 Great Hansin earthquake that occurred near Kobe that cost more than 6, 000 lives and more than 10 trillion yen ($100 billion). Overall, the Fukushima tragedy increased the cost of establishing nuclear energy plants due to new safety requirements for existing and new nuclear energy facilities and higher insurance costs.


Cost of Power from Nuclear Energy Relative to other Sources of Energy

The cost of nuclear energy is competitive compared to other sources of power generation, especially where people cannot easily access other sources of energy whose cost is low. The relative cost of producing electricity from gas, coal, and nuclear vary depending on location. However, coal is economically cheaper in countries such as the US, China, and Australia because the countries have accessible and abundant domestic coal resources. On the other hand, gas is competitive for base-load energy in many countries, especially using combined-cycle plants. Overall, nuclear energy is highly competitive for the production of electricity despite that it relatively requires high capital cost for installation.

The Cost of Fuel

Nuclear energy has low fuel costs compared to oil, gas, and coal fired plants (Frühling, Stephan, Michael, Clarke, and Andrew, 120). However, uranium that is often used to generate nuclear energy requires “processing, enrichment, and fabrication into fuel elements” (Frühling, et al., 120). These processes which are involved before uranium can produce nuclear energy are responsible for the high cost of nuclear energy. The approximately cost that one would incur to obtain 1 kg of “Uranium as Uranium dioxide reactor fuel” per US dollar often results into increased prices (Frühling, et al., 120). However, even with the conversion charges cost of fuel for a nuclear energy plant in OECD countries is approximately a fifth of the cost for gas combined cycle plant and about a third the cost of the nuclear energy plant that obtains electricity from coal.

 

Comparison of Energy Generation

Overall, the cost for nuclear energy plants includes aspects such as “fuel management, plant decommissioning, and waste disposal” (Murray 418). Although such costs are external for other forms of electricity it directly impacts nuclear energy and thus they have to be paid. For instance, the decommissioning costs are approximately 9-15% of the initial cost of the nuclear energy plant. However, when the discounted, the decommissioning cost contribute only a small percentage to the investment and generation cost. For instance, the decommissioning cost for nuclear energy plants account for between 0.1 and 0.2 cent per kWh which is 5% less compared to the cost involved production of electricity.

However, the lifecycle including, but not limited to fuel disposal or storage contributes up to extra 10% of the total cost for every kWh. However, the cost might be lower if the fuel that is used is directly disposed rather than allow it to be processed. In other words, the overall cost of nuclear energy production is costly that the cost of gas or coal-fired plants. This is because the construction of nuclear energy plant requires special materials, back-up control equipment, and sophisticated safety features. Such expenses contribute to more nuclear energy generation cost; therefore, higher costs relative to the cost of other sources of energy.

At the same time, nuclear energy has higher external costs compared to other sources of energy. Murray argues that, the difference between nuclear energy and other energy sources is energy is based on the fact that nuclear energy has some costs which are not included in the overall cost for other energy sources (418). Some of these external costs results from nuclear electricity generation such as disposal and radioactivity management which are included in the prices of the electricity.

 

In addition, nuclear energy plants often take a long time to construct. According to Murray, the period (construction period) for the nuclear energy often pushes up the financial cost involved in the nuclear energy (418-419). However, the construction duration for nuclear energy is expected to reduce after some period of time due to the technological development in various countries. For example, “the new-generation 1300 MWe Japanese reactors” which started operating in 1977 were constructed in more than four years (Frühling, Michael, and Andrew 18). However, the average projection for the nuclear energy construction period today is between 48 and 54 months. The table below shows cost estimates ($ US billion) of building nuclear plant (per unit) in different countries (See Table 3).

Despite the currency conversion challenges, the average cost for setting up a nuclear energy plant, as indicated in the above table is high thereby making it a  challenge to the potential investors to decide whether to venture into nuclear industry or not. Nonetheless, the type of data included and costing models for the nuclear energy might vary. In other words, studies might vary due to vested interest with anti-nuclear activists on one hand and nuclear industry on the other hand. However, an unbiased study conducted by Frühling, Michael, and Andrew concluded that, “nuclear energy is not an economically competitive choice” (18). That is, nuclear energy costly than Combined Cycle Gas Turbine and coal generation, even when the price of natural gas is high. The price of natural gas has declined as a result of newly accessing reserves in shale.

Moreover, a nuclear energy plant takes 15 or more years depending on the levels of country’s technological development would require substantial financial investment for its initial cost of putting up the plant. Apikyan and Diamond argue that, financing a nuclear power program poses major challenges to countries even those which already have nuclear power plants (57). Overall, the cost required to build nuclear power plants is higher than that required to set up other sources of energy. That is, compared to nuclear energy, natural gas plants require significant fuel cost and low capital investment costs. On the other hand, coal-fired plants require mid-range fuel costs and investment. Therefore, the fuel costs represent large proportion of fossil-fuel-based production cost that is sensitive to fuel price changes.

However, other sources of energy such as hydropower and wind are similar to nuclear energy because they require low generation costs and high investment costs per unit of power. However, once a nuclear energy plant is constructed, its fuel costs are often lower than the fuel cost for natural gas or coal plant (Apikyan and Diamond 57). The table below illustrates the overnight costs (assuming that a power plant can be set up overnight thus reducing the financing cost), fuel cost, and electricity base costs for various power plants (See Table 4).

From table 4: the nuclear energy costs higher than those of coal and natural gas. However, the fuel cost for nuclear energy is lower than that of natural gas and coal. This implies that, once a nuclear energy plant is set up, its overall running cost would be lower than that of either natural gas or coal. This is in-line with Apikyan and Diamond’s view that, although capital costs for nuclear energy is higher than that for gas-fired plants and coal-fired plants, “fuel costs for nuclear plants are low” (57). Therefore, countries should factor in fuel cost and handling costs whenever they are fingering out the relative costs of building energy plants.

Moreover, nuclear energy ensures abundant fuel with low cost. For instance, the US’s nuclear plants use enriched uranium for fuel. According to Frühling, Stephan, Michael, Clarke, and Andrew, uranium is considered to be relatively abundant on the surface of the earth and other nations in general because of the fact that “it occurs naturally in the earth’s crust” (123). Such state has made uranium to be relatively cheaper and less sensitive to fuel price changes when it is compared to the natural gas in the long-run. Therefore, uranium generates more electricity than any other gas. For instance, “Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona” produces more electricity each year (Frühling, et al., 124). This observation is based on comparison of electricity production by the Palo Verde Nuclear to the other US energy plants of all type including, but not limited to the hydro, natural gas, and/or coal.

The Role of Nuclear Energy in Sustainable Economic Growth and Development

Overall, nuclear energy often helps in economic growth. According to Murray, electricity is not only part of the human and society’s daily life especially for those countries which are industrialized, but also “rapidly expanding in developing countries” (427). The extended use of nuclear energy supports sustainable development. For instance, powering the world’s growing economies protects resources for future generations. That is, “safe, clean, and reliable” nuclear energy helps in sustainable development (Murray 427). For example, the US nuclear power industry comprises of electric utilities which use vendors, reactors, service organization, and equipment manufacturers (Murray 427). Moreover, nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming and pollution and provides energy security by reducing reliance on uncertain foreign oil. In other words, although energy conservation and the use of renewable sources of energy are desirable, they are not “adequate for long-term needs” (Mcleish 25). These are particularly due to the increasing need for environmental protection and growing population. However, in Panwar, Kaushil, and Kothari’s opinion, the problem that is associated with “energy is global climate change” (1514). These effects are attributed to the ever increasing emission of greenhouse gases which then trap heat energy from the surface thereby raining the atmospheric temperature. To a larger extent, there is a “link between energy security and nuclear power” has been an issue in countries such as UK for a long period of time (Corner et al., 4824).

The demand for electricity for the entire world is projected to rise by about “23% per year and 28% by 2035” (Murray 427). For the US, the electricity demand is expected to increase by 1% each year. There are about 438 reactors throughout the word which are generating approximately 14% of the electricity that helps in economic development. In addition, 61 reactors are being constructed. These will provide opportunities for suppliers to create jobs and economic growth. From the sustainable energy usage, Hughes offers the four Rs of energy security. According to Hughes, the “four ‘R’s of energy security” should entail review, reduce, replace, and restrict. These four ‘R’s are critical in mitigating the role of energy and climate change.

An important challenge of sustainable development policies is to deal with its three dimensions including environmental, economic, and social in a balanced manner, taking advantage of interactions of the dimensions and making their relevant trade-off where necessary. Energy, especially nuclear energy is linked to the three dimensions of development because energy services are important for social and economic development. According to Murray, nuclear energy has various specific features which respond favorably to important concept of sustainable economic growth (427). These include the development that meets the present needs without compromising the capacity of future generation to meet their energy requirements. Murray argues that, nuclear energy “broadens the natural resource” base (427). Such broadened natural resources base is often available for energy production to meet the needs of both the current and future generations.

In conclusion, nuclear energy often boosts the economy by creating jobs and promoting local and international manufacturers. At the same time, the nuclear energy is important in generating revenues through exports, taxes, or through sales among other economic and financial advantages. However, whenever the nuclear energy is compared to other sources of energy, it requires higher initial capital, but lower generation costs. As such, some investors prefer alternative sources of energy compared to nuclear energy because of the original cost that firms are often forced to contend with during the installation of nuclear energy. Despite the nuclear energy’s high initial installation cost, it is expected that the set up costs for nuclear energy will greatly decline in the near future; this would be as a result of technological advancement. In addition, nuclear energy is subject to higher risks including earthquake and floods which can lead to devastating impacts compared to other sources of energy. Overall, nuclear energy is relatively competitive and promotes economic growth and development. However, though nuclear energy is not a better form of energy when it comes to promoting suitable environmental management.

 

Table Reference

Table 1: Nuclear Energy Contributes to a Nation’s Economy through Export of Reactors

Total cost of 2 CANDU 6 reactors $ 3. 742 billion
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by investment in 2 CANDU 6 reactors $ 5.973 billion
GDP generated by export of 2 CANDU 6 reactors $ 1.03 billion
Employment created by construction of 2 CANDU 6 reactors 80, 233 people annually
Employment created by export of 2 CANDU 6 reactors 17, 039 people annually
Government revenue from construction of 2 CANDU 6 reactors $ 1.604 billion
Government revenue from export of 2 CANDU 6 reactors $ 260 million

 

Table 2: Reflection of the Effects of Nuclear Energy in Canada

Approximate value of nuclear power sold $ 4. 988 billion
GDP generated by nuclear energy plant operation $ 6. 303 billion
GDP created by export of uranium $ 381 million
Employment generated by nuclear energy operation 66, 694 jobs
Employment generated in export of uranium 4, 898 jobs
Government revenue from nuclear energy plant operations $ 1. 417 billion
Government revenue from export of uranium $ 100 million

 

 

Table 3: Cost Estimates for Building Nuclear Plant (per unit) in Different Countries

 

Country Plant Approximate Cost ($ US billion)
United Kingdom (UK) DTI 4.7
United Arab Emirates (UAE) KEPCO  5
The United States (US) Moody’s 5. 8
The United States (US) FP&L 6.5
Finland Olkiluoto-3 8. 2
Canada Darlington 11. 3

Source: Frühling, Stephan, Michael, Clarke, and Andrew, O’Neil. Australia’s Uranium Trade: The Domestic and Foreign Policy Challenges of a Contentious Export. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011. Print

 

 

Table 4: Overnight Costs for Fuel Cost, and Electricity Base Costs for Various Power Plants

 

Cost Fuel Cost Resulting Electricity Base Cost
Nuclear Energy $ 4, 000/kW $ 0.67mmBTU $ 0.084/kWh
Coal $2, 300/kW $ 2.60/mmBTU $ 0.062/kWh
Natural Gas $ 850/kW $ 7. 00/mmBTU $0. 065/kWh

 

 

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