(June 21, 2007) A new report Nuclear Power Joint Fact Finding Dialogue (published 14 June 2007) underestimates the cost of expanding nuclear capacity, overstates power plant safety and security, correctly concludes that reprocessing poses serious proliferation and terrorism risks.
(657.5810) WISE Amsterdam - The report was meant to be a consensus report, sponsored by the Keystone Center and written by nuclear industry representatives, environmental and consumer advocates, academics and state officials. The "joint fact-finding" process began in March 2006 and examined a number of key issues, including waste disposal, safety and security, proliferation risks, and cost. The report received immediately mixed reviews from, amongst others, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
"Before we consider expanding the capacity of nuclear power, the industry has to adequately address safety, security, waste and proliferation issues," said UCS. "There are faster, safer and significantly cheaper ways to meet our energy needs, including renewable energy sources and cogeneration technologies that produce both heat and power. Nuclear power is not a current solution for global warming."
The Keystone participants did not agree on whether nuclear expansion is likely or not. But the panellists did reach a consensus on several points that illustrate the significant obstacles to expansion. For example, they concluded that providing a "wedge" of carbon emission reductions (a widely used measure of a meaningful contribution, equal to billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, developed by Princeton's Pacala and Socolow) would require, over the next 50 years, building about 21 new 1,000 megawatt (MW) reactors worldwide each year, plus adding as many as 22 new enrichment plants to the 17 now in existence, 18 new fuel fabrication plants to the 24 currently operating, and 10 nuclear waste repositories the size of the proposed facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The United States would have to build about five of the new 21 reactors every year.
To build enough nuclear capacity to achieve the carbon reductions of a Pacala/Socolow wedge would require the industry "to return immediately to the most rapid period of growth experienced in the past (1981-90) and sustain this rate of growth for 50 years. This projection is more optimistic than indicated by the current announcements of proposed plant construction reported by the World Nuclear Association, is higher than the average historical growth rate during the industry's first 40 years". UCS experts find this scenario unlikely.
The Keystone panellists projected that the cost of nuclear power would be from 8 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) (in 2007 dollars). By comparison, UCS experts pointed out that the average U.S. price of wind energy was 4.9 cents per kWh in 2006 (after tax credits worth about 2 cents per kWh) and is projected to cost as much as 6.3 cents per kWh in the near term due to an increase in construction costs affecting all technologies. Energy efficiency improvements, meanwhile, cost less than 4 cents per kWh.
Overstating plant safety & security
The Keystone report's executive summary states that "commercial nuclear power plants in the [United States] are safer today than they were before the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island." "Nuclear plants are arguably safer today than they were a quarter century ago, but it remains unclear that that means they are safe enough," said Dave Lochbaum, director of UCS's Nuclear Safety Project. A 2006 UCS report documented 47 incidences in which U.S. reactors had to be shut down for at least a year for safety reasons over the last three decades.
UCS endorses conclusion on waste and reprocessing
UCS experts commended the Keystone panellists for endorsing direct disposal of spent fuel in "a deep underground geologic repository" and strongly agree with their finding that spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plants and other "bulk-handling facilities," as well as the large and growing civilian stockpiles of separated plutonium, pose serious risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
Finally, UCS agrees with the Keystone panellists' conclusion that the Bush administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) - which would involve reprocessing spent fuel to extract weapon-usable plutonium for use in new reactor fuel - is "not a credible strategy for resolving either the radioactive waste or proliferation problem." In fact, the Keystone report states that GNEP could actually worsen the proliferation problem by encouraging research and development activities in non-nuclear weapon states that would "pose a grave proliferation risk."
Sources: Keystone June 2007 report: Nuclear Power Joint Fact Finding Dialogue, at www.keystone.org; Press release Keystone Center, June 14, 2007; Press release Union of Concerned Scientists, June 14, 2007
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