Nuclear not Needed?

10.31.2012 | Research, Science, Faculty, Energy and Environment
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Restricting nuclear power has little effect on the global economic cost of climate policies, according to a study co-authored by a University of Dayton physics professor.

"Most people recognize that we have to completely change our energy system and move away from fossil fuels," said Bob Brecha, physics professor and coordinator of the University's Sustainability, Energy and Environment initiative. "A common assumption among policymakers and the general public around the world is that from an economic perspective, nuclear power will have to be part of this redesign. According to our research, it doesn't."

A study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that restricting nuclear power — or even eliminating it — does not significantly increase the global economic cost of even stringent greenhouse-gas emissions reductions such as cap-and-trade programs.

By applying a global energy-economy computer simulation, Brecha, part of a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research analyzed trade-offs between nuclear power and climate policies.

They considered four different nuclear power policies governments might eneact, covering scenarios from "Renaissance"— a full utilization of existing power plants and investments in new nuclear power capacities — to "Full exit," with a decommissioning of existing power plants and no new investments.

"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," lead author Nico Bauer said. "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."

The study assumed that limiting global CO2 emissions to 1,100 gigatons through the 21st century would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and would reduce global gross domestic product 2.1 percent by 2050. Retiring all nuclear power plants early would increase that GDP loss about 10 percent. If no new nuclear capacities were allowed, the GDP loss would increase about 20 percent.

Brecha said economic losses due to restrictions in nuclear power are not significant because the electricity nuclear power plants generate can be substituted relatively easily by alternative technology options, including the earlier use of renewables. Increased use of natural gas in the near-term and decreased energy consumption due to improved energy efficiency would also lessen the cost of restricting nuclear power.

For more information, contact Cameron Fullam, assistant director of media relations, at 937-229-3256 or fullam@udayton.edu.