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

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

Climate Change or Nuclear Power in Britain

by Sam Peterson

Policymakers have been challenged to formulate and introduce innovative new legislation following major international environmental awareness agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol of 1992 (a treaty created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), but public opinion shifts have frequently trailed a growing scientific consensus regarding climate change. Pidgeon et. al. (2005) find that when presented with the options of a transition from burning carbon-based fuels to the daunting spectacle of nuclear power or an increased rate of climate change, much of the British public is indecisive. The study finds that the British public is “prepared to accept nuclear power if they believe it contributes to climate change mitigation,” but this is a “highly conditional view.” There is only “reluctant acceptance” of utilization of nuclear power by policymakers, mostly due to the risks of nuclear power production. Continue reading

The Importance of Nuclear Power in Reducing Carbon Emissions and Protecting Developing Nations

by Margaret Loncki

After the recent catastrophic nuclear meltdown of Fukushima in 2011, global support of nuclear power plants has significantly decreased. Reinhard Wolf, an international relations professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, aims to demonstrate that developed nations do not have the luxury of shutting down nuclear plants out of fear of meltdowns. Wolf emphasizes the philosophical concept of one’s obligation to not seriously harm any other individual, which he believes will be the result of continuing to shutdown nuclear power plants around the world. Recent studies suggest that in 2009, climate change forced 10 million people into severe poverty and 45 million people to go hungry. The same study suggests that climate change produced 315,000 premature deaths. These affected individuals reside solely in developing countries. Continue reading

Economics of Nuclear Power and Climate Change Mitigation Policies

by Sam Peterson

The availability of nuclear power may be crucial in determining whether greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be reduced enough to reach the goal of limiting worldwide temperature increases to 2°C. The aforementioned goal, established during a 2009 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, appears contingent on the ability of nuclear power to generate electricity without GHG emissions (UNFCCC, 2009). In a 2012 study of the economics of nuclear power generation, Bauer et. al. utilized a “long-term global multiregional model ReMIND-R” intertemporal model to analyze the effects of four differing paths for global nuclear policy following the 2011 Fukishima Daiichi meltdown in Japan. Early shutdown and removal of nuclear plants is shown to contribute to “discounted cumulative global GDP losses of 0.07% by 2020,” and if policy dictates prohibition of investment in nuclear power, those losses will double. The study concluded that the discounted reduction in global GDP by 2035 would be significantly worse if global environmental policy shifts in the direction of a carbon budget of some kind, which would strongly suggest limits on and/or cap emissions from coal, natural gas and crude oil. 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

Nuclear Power Generation: High Demands for Cooling Water Use

by Cameron Bernhardt

Nuclear power is often praised for its potential to replace carbon-intensive energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and power generation. Although nuclear power may offer a promising future in this regard, it is likely to place stresses on the environment in other ways, namely through increased demands on water for cooling and space for waste disposal. Byers et al. (2014) tested six decarbonization pathways to estimate current water use in the UK electricity sector and project water use to 2050 in the UK. The study observed the water use associated with cooling for all varieties of thermoelectric power plants, but nuclear power accounts for over 20 percent of the UK’s electricity mix and is likely to share a large stake in the future of the UK’s power mix. Byers et al. concluded that the pathways with the highest projected proportion of nuclear generation resulted in tidal and coastal water abstraction that exceeded current levels by up to six times. This finding suggests that nuclear power may not be as viable a future energy source as previously thought, especially in areas where water resources are relatively scarce. It seems that the UK should extend its investigations into the merits of nuclear power, and similar studies may be warranted to assess the impacts of nuclear generation in other countries. Continue reading