Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nuclear Energy and Opportunity Costs

Nuclear power is often portrayed as the carbon neutral, environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuel based alternatives.

Think twice, according to an article in the Scitizen:

1. The speed at which nuclear needs to be rolled out in such a scenario appears infeasible. Given the projection that 1/3 of all electricity need to come from nuclear by 2075, three average size new nuclear reactors need to be built per month. France, the leader in nuclear power plants has built 3.4 reactors per year.
2. Nuclear reactors are capital intensive and costs are likely to escalate.
3. Volatility in price of uranium and deoendency on imports of uranium. Fuel accounts for 15% of lifetime costs of a nuclear plant.
4. When environmental costs for the whole nuclear fuel cycle are accounted, that includes mining and milling of uranium, operation, and disposal of radioactive waste.
5. Disputable safety record.
6. Carbon emission over nuclear fuel cycle is about half of that of a natural gas alternative,
certainly not carbon neutral.

Without disputing the above, the article does not present a choice between alternative energy options. There is no way one can disregard one option without evaluating what the next best option would look like.

Economists have a great term for this called opportunity cost.

In a world of limited available resources (which includes a scarce environment!) transparency about the implications of alternative choices will serve us better then driving or disregarding specific energy options from the outset.

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