Restricting nuclear power has little effect on the cost of climate policies, study says

Oct 01, 2012

By applying a global energy-economy computer simulation that fully captures the competition between alternative power supply technologies, a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Dayton, Ohio, analyzed trade-offs between nuclear and climate policies. Strong greenhouse-gas emissions reduction to mitigate global warming shows to have much larger impact on economics than nuclear policy, according to the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Questions have been raised if restricting nuclear energy – an option considered by some countries after the accident in Fukushima, Japan – combined with climate policies might get extremely expensive. Our study is a first assessment of the consequences of a broad range of combinations of climate and nuclear policies," lead author Nico Bauer says. Restrictions on nuclear power could be political decisions, but also regulations imposed by safety authorities. Power generation capacities would have to be replaced, but fossil fuels would become costly due to a price on , this in sum is the main concern.

"However, in case of restricted use of nuclear power, the flexibility of allocating a long-term carbon budget over time enables higher near-term emissions due to increased power generation of natural gas," Bauer says. Along with demand reductions and efficiency improvements, these provisions could help fill the gap on electricity. The price of natural gas is projected to decrease due to demand reductions, according to the study. Decommissioning existing plants will also avoid refurbishment costs for expanding lifetimes of old .

As a result, early retirement of nuclear power plants would lead to cumulative global gross domestic product losses (GDP) that amount to about 10 percent of costs. If no new nuclear capacities are allowed, the costs would amount to 20 percent.

For their study, the scientists looked into different nuclear power policies. These cover a range of scenarios from "Renaissance", with a full utilization of existing power plants, a possible refurbishment for a lifetime expansion and investments in new nuclear power capacities, to "Full exit", with a decommissioning of existing power plants and no new investments. They contrasted each scenario with climate policies implemented via an inter-temporal global carbon budget which puts a price on carbon emissions. For the budget, the cumulative CO2 emissions from the global energy sector were limited to 300 gigatons of carbon from 2005 until the end of the century. This represents a climate mitigation policy consistent with the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

"A surprising result of our study is the rather little difference between a 'Renaissance' or a 'Full exit' of nuclear power in combination with a carbon budget when it comes to GDP losses," Bauer says. While the 'no policy case' with a nuclear phase-out and no carbon budget has only negligible effect on global GDP, the imposition of a with no restrictions on nuclear policy implies a reduction of GDP that reaches 2.1 percent in 2050. The additional phase-out of nuclear power increases this loss by about 0.2 percent in 2050 and hence has only little additional impact on the economy, because the contribution of to the electricity generation can be substituted relatively easy by alternative technology options, including the earlier deployment of renewables.

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More information: Bauer, N., Brecha, R.J., Luderer, G. (2012): Economics of nuclear power and climate change mitigation policies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1201264109

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User comments : 11

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Caliban
1 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2012
It should also be pointed out that these calculations, ironically, and unabashedly, fail to include the costs of nuclear power generation themselves, which are substantial in terms of both monetary investment and environmental health.

Instead, the study focuses on the amount of nuclear-generated electricity that would have to be replaced by other sources.

While the information provided is useful, the research is still deeply flawed, since it ignores this supremely important aspect of nuclear power.

If the savings represented in eliminating the costs of nuclear power are included in its profile, then within the same scenario, the impact of its loss may well approach zero.

Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2012
While the information provided is useful, the research is still deeply flawed, since it ignores this supremely important aspect of nuclear power.


Yes, which is that it's ultimately cheaper as long as you build new nuclear stations and don't try to give CPR to 60 year old technology.
ValeriaT
4 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2012
Actually no restriction of nuclear power did actually happen - just the nuclear plants facing closure were closed - which has been used as a green PR from political reasons.

http://www.indepe...356.html

http://www.nei.or...olicies/
Parsec
4 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2012
It should also be pointed out that these calculations, ironically, and unabashedly, fail to include the costs of nuclear power generation themselves, which are substantial in terms of both monetary investment and environmental health.

Instead, the study focuses on the amount of nuclear-generated electricity that would have to be replaced by other sources.

While the information provided is useful, the research is still deeply flawed, since it ignores this supremely important aspect of nuclear power.

If the savings represented in eliminating the costs of nuclear power are included in its profile, then within the same scenario, the impact of its loss may well approach zero.

I just love it when those people whose emotions preclude them from analyzing the pros and cons of nuclear power factually then try and justify their feelings with logic.

Fail.
JoeBlue
1.3 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2012
I advocate opening up some Thorium based reactors. It's not like the world needs anymore new nuclear weapons.
cdt
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2012
Don't forget to factor in economic losses from having huge swaths of land that were once used for all sorts of economic activities suddenly becoming unusable. I figure at the going rate we could count on something like a thousand square kilometers a decade. In a place like Japan where even farm land is sold by the square meter (well, by the 3.3 square meters, actually) the cost of an accident adds up pretty quickly. Then add into the equation the continued economic losses from not being able to use those lands for hundreds of years and I bet the phasing out option becomes much more cost effective.

Order of magnitude calculation for the cost of the land lost at Fukushima: $500/square meter x 10^6 sq.m./sq.km x 2000 sq.km = $10^12, i.e. 1 trillion dollars. I have no idea how to calculate ongoing economic losses from not being able to use that land, but a trillion dollars every couple of decades is not an insignificant cost.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2012
Why should I take these guys (the authors of the study) seriously? If they are so biased as to the existence of global warming, why should I believe they are not biased in other areas of study?
Sanescience
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2012
China plans on mega-sizing its nuclear power production. Anything done by the rest of the world will be small scale in comparison.

On the one hand that could be good news, as China burns some of the dirtiest coal around, and they want to stop burning it.

On the other hand, they are probably going to have plenty of material for lots of bombs.

On the other other hand though, they probably aren't going to have the proliferation "hangups" we have and will process their fuel and get much more of the energy out.

They might even get on the fast neutron reactor track and be able to burn all their uranium and actinides until there is nothing left so they will have a tiny fraction of waste that is relatively easy to deal with, and will have enough energy to run their economy without burning fossil fuels for electricity.

Add some electric cars and they'll completely school the "developed" world how its done.

Or their corrupt system will build a bunch of "time bombs"

we shall see...
eachus
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2012
Forget global warming and nuclear energy for a second. Don't these clowns realize that there is a science called Economics? Speaking as an economist, anything that puts an (additional) 2.1% tax on GDP means disaster? GDP is an engine, lots of economic inputs and outputs all working together to produce economic growth. Like any engine put too much of a load on it and it starts to slow down.

Robert A. Heinlein summed it up perfectly:

"Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as 'bad luck.'"

As I post this the French government has just asked for bad luck.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2012
Interesting study. It's nice to know when your gut feeling is right on the money (literally in this case)
Shakescene21
not rated yet Oct 02, 2012
@Sanescience - Very good point. To a large extent China will determine the amount of global warming and the amount of nuclear power generated. Any forecasting model that does not specifically consider China's huge and unique impact on the 21st Century is not very good.