Nuclear Fuel Cycle Economics and Tax Impacts in Spain

by Cameron Bernhardt

The long-term treatment of nuclear waste is often considered one of the most significant issues to address when developing nuclear energy generation. There are currently two fuel cycles and respective waste disposal options available to industrial scale nuclear generation: open cycle and closed cycle. The open cycle strategy functions as a “one time use” cycle where nuclear fuel elements are considered as high level waste and ought to be disposed of in a deep geological repository. The closed cycle strategy recycles uranium oxide elements for additional use, but the final waste products are still comparable to open cycle processes in the long term. Soria et al. (2015) used a comparative trend analysis model to quantify the costs of two taxes on used nuclear fuel in Spain for each waste disposal strategy. One tax applied to the production of used fuel when it was extracted from the reactor while the other applied to fuel after storage. While it was clear that these taxes would have significant impacts on the costs of back-end nuclear fuel management, Soria et al. sought to analyze the difference in management costs between open cycle and closed cycle disposal processes. Continue reading

High Costs for Achieving Emission Reductions Targets without Nuclear and C.C.S.

by Cameron Bernhardt

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation is one of the primary means by which humans can mitigate global climate change. Employing nuclear power generation and carbon capture and storage (C.C.S.) are two methods for decarbonizing electricity generation processes, but the merit of these technologies is often debated. While these technologies are typically effective in lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, they pose other environmental and economic threats that frequently limit their popularity and use. These realities have created some uncertainty regarding the future deployment of C.C.S. and nuclear power generation. Akashi et al. (2014) use a multi-scenario analysis to investigate the feasibility of the international emissions reduction target (holding the increase in the global average temperature below 2oC) in a future without nuclear or C.C.S. technology. The authors considered four different scenarios: baseline, standard 50 percent reduction, 50 percent reduction with no C.C.S. or new nuclear power plants being built, and a variant of the third scenario but with improved material efficiency. Continue reading

Electricity-Market Price Impacts from the San Onofre Nuclear Plant Shutdown

by Cameron Bernhardt

Since the Fukushima Daichii nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, the future of nuclear power generation has been challenged. A wide range of policy responses to the Fukushima incident have been employed in many countries around the world, varying from dismissal of the accident and nuclear expansion to immediate shutdowns of nuclear plants and the suspension of new plant approvals. In California, the San Onofre nuclear plant was shut down in January 2012 due to the significant wear on over 3000 different tubes in the plant. This policy decision by the California Energy Commission (CEC) naturally had a huge impact on the state of the electricity market in California; the 2160-MW San Onofre plant provided a large share of the electricity to its surrounding region. In light of this decision by the CEC, Woo et al. (2014) wanted to analyze the price impact of San Onofre’s shutdown. Woo et al. used intra-hour prices to compute average real-time market prices from roughly 24,000 observations between California’s three independent operating regions. The regression results led the authors to conclude that a $6-9/MWh increase in wholesale electricity prices occurred from the San Onofre shutdown. The authors also concluded that this price increase could be offset by reducing system load and expanding solar and wind generation. Continue reading

Aftermath of Fukushima: Public Opinion of Nuclear Power in Australia

by Cameron Bernhardt

Deciding the future of nuclear power generation is relatively high on the agenda of many countries around the world. Like all electricity generation technologies, nuclear power possesses notable advantages and disadvantages relative to other generation methods. Some of the most commonly recognized advantages of nuclear power are its low operating costs, security of supply, and the low air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that it produces. Conversely, issues of water use and waste disposal are often deterrents to the development of nuclear generation. In addition, the risk of nuclear accidents is a persistent threat to nuclear support, especially after incidents such as the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. In an effort to characterize the Australian public’s views toward nuclear power in relation to climate change and other alternative energy sources, Bird et al. (2014) analyzed random sample surveys to draw conclusions about these attitudes. These surveys were administered in March 2010 and February 2012, 12 months prior to Fukushima and 11 months following, respectively. Continue reading

Importance of Nuclear Power as a Zero-Emission Generation Technology

by Cameron Bernhardt

Although relying on nuclear as a power generation technology poses some environmental issues such as heightened demands on water for cooling uses and land for waste disposal, nuclear generation does offer several notable advantages over other generation technologies. Vine and Juliani (2014) suggest that nuclear power’s potential to produce significant amounts of electricity with nearly zero greenhouse gas emissions and to provide consistent base load power should not be overlooked. However, these advantages may not be beneficial enough to outweigh reinvigorated concerns about nuclear safety; the authors recognized that many nuclear reactors may be retired in the near future in both the U.S. and abroad. Four power companies in the U.S. alone have announced the retirement of five large reactors since late 2012, perhaps due to negative stakeholder perceptions of the risks that nuclear generation poses relative to its benefits. The authors show that nuclear power’s majority share in the U.S.’s zero-emission fuel sources will be difficult to replace should nuclear generation be phased out, especially with regard to its reliability as a base load power source. Continue reading