This article (without the footnotes) appeared in the July 2009 issue of Friends Journal; ©2009 Friends Publishing Corporation; reprinted with permission.

Comments can be left on Karen's blog, at The Nuclear Energy Debate Among Friends: Another Round


The Nuclear Energy Debate among Friends: Another Round


[author credit] Karen Street, a member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting, continues to work on climate change. For references and footnotes for this article, visit Karen's blog, A Musing Environment: <>.



On December 11, 2008, a report signed by ten national lab directors, Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy (pdf), was posted on <>. Its appearance confirmed again what the scientific and policy communities had long ago concluded: there is a need for expanded nuclear power, and Yucca Mountain is adequate for long-term waste storage. Among these experts, this settled consensus on the need for nuclear power is closely connected to another long-established consensus: the overriding seriousness of climate change.

I am disturbed when I hear Friends express less fear of climate change than of using nuclear energy to help head it off. Friends whose love of the environment finds its main outlet in fighting nuclear power may be robbing the real fight of their energy and activism and helping to reduce our already inadequate options.

In my article "A Friend's Path to Nuclear Power" (FJ Oct. 2008), I shared feelings that arose when I read the latest reports on climate change—grief over the effects we can no longer prevent, and fear that we may lack the will and the clarity to save ourselves from the changes that are still preventable. Responses appearing in subsequent FJ issues assure me that my grief is shared, as is my dedication to doing all that can be done to slow or stop our movement toward ever more disastrous effects of climate change. I appreciate Carolyn Treadway's eloquent call for greater efforts at conservation ("The dangers of nuclear power," FJ Feb. 2009)—an essential part of any solution. In my workshops, participants learn how to measure and reduce their carbon footprints and inspire others to do the same. (One Friend blames me for the shipboard showers she takes even on cold mornings, another for the decision to cut her air travel in half. Both find joy in these choices, as do those who now monitor their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually, sharing with one another how to achieve even greater reductions.)

 Treadway and others would like to believe that a combination of individual conservation, improved energy efficiency, and the expanded use of renewable resources—three major parts of any solution, all agree—will allow us to replace fossil fuels without any help from nuclear power. Yet I hear an insidious slackening of will in those who express premature optimism based on technical solutions and a few easily achieved behavioral changes. I hear it in letters and articles that say we have so many solutions, we can afford to throw some away.

Meanwhile, reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and elsewhere do not support optimism. In recent months, scientists have reported a speedup in changes caused by global warming: trees dying faster, ocean dead zones expanding, and coral and other ocean animals stressed due to increasing ocean acidity. Antarctic penguins have just been added to the list of expected extinctions this century.[1] While most climatologists would like atmospheric levels of CO2 to stay below 450 parts per million (ppm), we are on a path to 550 ppm by 2035. Holding carbon emissions this side of 600 ppm becomes increasingly difficult. Between 450 and 600 ppm, dust bowls are expected over much of the Earth, including southwestern North America, this century.[2] Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warns that both cities and agriculture in California (more than one-sixth of the nation's) may be gone by century's end.[3]

These projections are based on assumptions many prefer not to make: that population will increase not decrease; that energy consumption will increase in less developed countries faster than it can decrease in the U.S. (if it can decrease here at all); and that technology for wind, hydro, and biomass can affordably deliver, at best, 30-35 percent of electricity by 2030, with solar not expected to come into significant play, according to the IPCC, until 2030 and after.[4]

Assuming—as done by scientists for purposes of prediction—is not the same as accepting. The unavoidable conclusion policymakers draw from the research cited in IPCC reports is that roughly two-thirds of electricity needs projected for 2030 (needs that are expected to be much greater than current levels) must be met by some combination of fossil fuels and nuclear power. So far, predictions by scientists, based on the most sophisticated calculations they can make, have tended to underestimate the rate and extent of damage from climate change. Their aim is not to alarm but to realistically assess what will be needed to slow the coming changes. Acknowledging our current realities does not mean we slacken our efforts or our prayers. It does mean that we are in a better position to see where our efforts should be directed. In this context, I stand in solidarity with Friends who support conservation, efficiency, and subsidies for renewals. But I wonder at those who continue to oppose nuclear energy for its real and imagined risks, in spite of the far greater risks of failing to harness this strong horse to our wagon.


What are we thinking when we ignore the findings of the scientific community? How are we choosing which "scientists" to believe? It is important to examine the sources we choose and why we place faith in them, as fundamental differences in what we read and whom we trust affect where we plant the banner of our activism. For respondents who cite references, I ask: What encourages them to place their confidence in their sources? For instance, Ace Hoffman and Janette Sherman, in "Another View on Nuclear Power" (FJ Jan. 2009) trust "scientists who witnessed the (Chernobyl) catastrophe firsthand," as if impressions of individuals on-site are a better path to knowledge than data and tests carefully gleaned over time. Robert Anderson, in "Nuclear Power is not the answer" (FJ Jan. 2009), accuses a UN organization, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of making suspect claims, while finding Greenpeace and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom to be reliable sources of scientific data. John Wright Daschke, in "The Ôadvantages' of nuclear power are illusory" (FJ Jan. 2009), relies on Amory Lovins, who studied physics, worked for Friends of the Earth, and is now a cultural icon. Carolyn Treadway trusts Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Helen Caldicott, Joseph Mangano and others for their understanding of science, and Arjun Makhijani and Lester Brown for policy, though none of these is cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created by the UN and World Meteorological Organization to "provide . . . an objective source of information about climate change."[5]

Treadway also describes the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as "in the pocket" of industry, and Hoffman and Sherman say NRC is lying to us because it is "responsible for promoting" nuclear power. Actually, NRC was given the regulatory responsibilities of the Atomic Energy Commission, while the Department of Energy was given the promotion responsibility; these were separated when NRC was created. Perhaps Hoffman and Sherman's quote comes from an old AEC description.[6] Internationally, NRC is highly respected by scientists and governments who rely on the integrity of their research.[7]

I am further dismayed when Friends align themselves with those who make it a habit to distrust the UN as a source of information. Hoffman and Sherman call IAEA "biased," and Robert Anderson accuses IAEA of blatant misinformation, even of denying that "any of the catastrophic health" effects from Chernobyl were due to radiation because its primary objective is to "promote nuclear power." Yet under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), IAEA's responsibility is to implement international safeguards through invasive inspections in order to assure that treaty states do not acquire or develop nuclear weapons. IAEA also has the explicit obligation to assist non-weapons states that sign the NPT in acquiring peaceful nuclear technology, mostly for medical and agricultural uses.[8] IAEA has no conceivable conflict of interest that would incline them to deny documented health effects of a nuclear accident.

I believe that among the most reliable sources available are the IAEA, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the U.S. National Academy of Science (NAS). The information they publish is rigorously peer-reviewed, widely respected by scientists and policy experts, and relied upon by governments and industry. When a report arouses disagreement in the science and policy communities, which does happen, it is covered in magazines like Science. Those specializing in alternative analyses that conflict with IAEA, IPCC, or NAS, often present arguments that do not make sense to people trained in science. (For example, Lovins celebrates that more micropower than nuclear power was built in 2006, ignoring that micropower is usually fossil fuel power.)[9]

For those wanting more information on nuclear power, I highly recommend David Bodanasky's Nuclear Energy, 2nd edition. This book is written for physicists and engineers and is trusted to characterize accurately what is known and not known in the field. Large parts are accessible to people without any training in the field.


Lying Radiation Researchers?

I am sometimes baffled at the degree of distrust of the mainstream scientific community among Friends. Some of this comes from media stories of "bought" scientists and industry-controlled research in which unfavorable results are suppressed, mostly regarding drug testing, and the rare "tobacco is OK" article in peer-reviewed journals. Hoffman and Sherman appear to imply that most research on radioactivity is paid for by industry, and that funding is stopped if the data appear to show a problem, as they claim occurred with tobacco. I believe the opposite is true: essentially all articles published in the scientific peer review journals contained damaging results pertaining to tobacco, and certainly the general discernment of the science community, based on the articles published, is that tobacco is dangerous, which is why the government was able to act to control tobacco use. Similarly, the strongest interest of the scientific community is to discover as much as possible about actual radiation effects on human health. Too many scientists are working on this problem for their work to be easily suppressed by industry or politics. (In spite of attempts by the George W. Bush administration to suppress scientific reports on a variety of topics, the research got out.)

Scientific research on radiation effects is the only reliable way to establish safe limits of exposure; the problem becomes enforcement of these limits. Public concern might usefully focus on oversight of known dangers rather than on distrust of the validated research, which sometimes tells us the dangers we fear most are not real. In addition, it is important to focus on reducing the large risks. These include the dangers of alternatives to nuclear power and the potential consequences of not enough energy in poor countries. By all measures, the risks from current practices with nuclear power are very small in comparison.


Incompetence at Every Level?

Anderson says that we are close to running out of uranium, and Treadway says that if the entire fuel cycle is considered, nuclear power contributes to global warming. In addition to accusations of massive conspiracy with no clear motivation, these are accusations of sheer incompetence—that tens of governments, hundreds of site managers, tens of thousands of scientists and policy analysts made plans to expand nuclear power, and no one bothered to check life-cycle emissions and the supply of uranium?[10]

Claims about low quantities of uranium probably refer to the relatively small category, "reasonably assured" uranium reserves. A temporary increase in uranium prices with actual and proposed expansion of nuclear power led to small-scale exploration, which increased the amount of known uranium reserves 15 percent between 2005 and 2007[11], but there still is little motivation for a thorough search. This is because there is more than enough uranium for today's actual and planned nuclear power in mines already located and easily found. Uranium prices have only a tiny effect on the price of nuclear power because, unlike fossil fuel and biopower plants, the price of the fuel is small compared to the cost of the plant. There is certainly enough terrestrial uranium (not counting uranium in seawater) to increase the number of today's reactors by 2-4 times for expected plant lifetimes of 50-75+ years.[12] Designs for later reactors will be Generation IV: they will operate at higher temperatures (so provide more electricity per input), or/and use other fuels such as U-238 (more than 100 times as common as U-235), plutonium, and thorium (more than 3 times as common as uranium).

Claims about high GHG costs of nuclear power, such as provided by the oft-cited work of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, are based on dubious numbers. In Part F of Nuclear Power - the energy balance, the authors ignore data, and instead assume energy cost of construction is (cost of construction) times (energy/unit gross domestic product), at a time of huge costs due to long delays and high interest rates, with no justification for this formula. The energy cost of mining was also obtained without resort to data: the prediction for a Namibian mine was 60 times actual energy use, and greater than the energy use of the entire country.[13]

IAEA's A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies provides a range of GHG emissions (g/kWh) for the complete life cycle of major electricity sources based on the results of a number of studies from a variety of countries. In summary, nuclear (2.8-24 g/kWh, with larger values for the older method of enriching uranium) is comparable to wind (8-30 g/kWh, ignoring fossil fuel backup), somewhat cleaner than biopower (35-99 g/kWh) and photovoltaics (solar panels, 43-73 g/kWh), and significantly cleaner than natural gas (440-780 g/kWh), coal (950-1250 g/kWh), and lignite (1100-1700 g/kWh).[14]

Assumptions of university and other policy analysts are backed up by the data: nuclear power can expand significantly this century, though technology change is needed at some point, and the greenhouse gas costs of nuclear and wind are so small compared to natural gas, they can generally be ignored. Indeed, Steve Fetter, assistant director at large, part of the science advisor to the President position (energy, environment, science, security), co-wrote A Nuclear Solution to Climate Change? in Science, May 19, 2000, examining a scenario of expanding nuclear power by a factor of 10 by 2050 as part of addressing climate change.[15]


Continuing Concerns

There remain a few key concerns that I believe feed the most urgent efforts to stop the expansion of nuclear energy. Of the welter of perceived risks, several are cited in more than one letter:

        accidents at nuclear plants

        health effects of radioactivity, for those living near nuclear plants

        terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation



I will address each of these risks. In doing so, I do not suggest that nuclear energy is totally without risk. We should expect and require continuing efforts to further reduce the risks that nuclear energy does pose, just as we do for the seismic safety of buildings and bridges, the crash safety of automobiles, and standards to protect our air and water from pollution.


Nuclear Plant Accidents

Chernobyl exercises a tenacious hold on the imagination. We still shudder at the word. Given the distrust the Soviet government earned before Chernobyl and its actions during the accident, there remains a "legacy of mistrust" in succeeding decades, according to IAEA's Chernobyl Report.[16] These are the conditions that lead to fantastic reports. The IAEA assertion in my previous article (about 50-60 dead so far from Chernobyl) refers only to the effects of radioactivity, but even so seems unbelievably low to many who hear it. Hoffman and Sherman describe up to a million already dead (without specifying causes), and Anderson claims the number of dead is downplayed by IAEA.

Chernobyl was a horrible accident waiting to happen. The accident occurred in a poorly designed military plant poorly redesigned as a commercial plant (e.g., with no containment system) in an era of secrecy and incompetence. The Three Mile Island accident showed the benefit of a containment system: significant core damage with molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor vessel, yet negligible release of radioactivity. All commercial plants now in operation, internationally, are built with containment systems and modern, progressively safer designs.[17]

Some who helped put out the fire at Chernobyl died heroic, ghastly deaths, and, as cited above, 50-60 people died during or since the accident, with up to 4,000 more deaths possible. This tragedy should never be sugarcoated, but it should not be the basis on which we make decisions in developed countries any more than we give up ferries because a ferry accident a few months after Chernobyl killed more than 4,000 people.[18] Nor do we give up coal because over 4,000 Chinese coal miners die yearly from accidents alone.[19] An anti-nuclear power f/Friend asked why nuclear alone is not allowed to have accidents, and I pass this question on to readers, recalling the current safety record of nuclear power plants outside the former Soviet Union: two workers died from radiation exposure in a Japanese reprocessing accident[20], in 50 years that began with early designs and an early regulatory system.[21]

The near miss that terrified us at Three Mile Island yielded no injuries or fatalities, but it did spur needed, though expensive, retrofits of existing Generation II plants and development of new designs. Current Gen II plants in Europe and the U.S. are now safer than coal or natural gas production[22], with safety improved even further in Gen III plants in Asia. Gen III+, planned for the U.S. and Europe, and Gen IV designs on the drawing board continue to increase safety.[23]


Military versus Commercial Operation

In the past, while weighing the ongoing risks of both nuclear waste and nuclear accidents, it was easy to connect commercial power plant safety records with practices at nuclear facilities serving the military. Military safety standards were at one time significantly less rigorous than commercial plants, with a resulting small increase in fatalities and a large increase in public fears of nuclear processes of any kind. A 1957 accident at Windscale, a military reactor, is estimated to have killed 13-20 people over 40 years from the initial exposure. In 1961, three technicians were killed in a military reactor, the National Reactor Testing Laboratory in Idaho. Naval reactors, on the other hand, have operated safely for decades.[24]

Hanford was built to produce plutonium during and after World War II. At the time, the treatment of wastes was "excessively casual," in part because of the single-minded focus on producing plutonium, as well as the typically poor attention paid in commercial chemical plants of that era to safe disposal of toxic chemicals. Although, according to Bodansky, "[t]o date the wastes have caused no known harm to human health, and it is not clear that there is a realistic prospect of future harm," this legacy must be addressed, at a multi-billion dollar cost. There are also military wastes from reactors on submarines, though the volume and radioactivity is less and the waste is solid rather than liquid, and much easier to deal with. [25]

Even though regulation of the military is sometimes a problem, like using sonar in whale breeding grounds, this does not, in my view, constitute a reason to do without commercial nuclear energy.


Health Effects

Daschke's claims that Native Americans living on the Colorado plateau have significantly increased rates of bone cancer from uranium mine waste, that depleted uranium is highly toxic, and so on, do not overlap well with studies I have read. See for example National Academy of Sciences, Gulf War and Health, Volume 1: Depleted Uranium, Sarin, Pyridostigmine Bromide, and Vaccines.[26] While high levels of exposure to radiation can cause problems including cancers, "cardiovascular, digestive, respiratory and non-malignant thyroid diseases [and arteriosclerosis]," according to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation study of survivors of the bombing in Hiroshima/Nagasaki,[27] no evidence of increased risk exists for low doses.[28] (IAEA's Chernobyl Legacy: Summary Report adds cataracts as a concern for those who put out the fire.)

I'm not sure why researchers would be paid to ignore problems of radioactivity beyond cancer, as Hoffman and Sherman suggest. Their list of radiation-induced ailments includes some I've not seen in the rather extensive literature on health effects of ionizing radiation: mental decline from radiation-induced brain damage, diabetes, and chronic illness. Residents downwind from Chernobyl suffer from problems rampant all over the former Soviet Union—cardiovascular disease, injuries, and poisonings—to the same extent as other communities.

However, one measurable impact on health has been attributed to the effects of widespread dislocation in the aftermath of Chernobyl: increased anxiety and fatalism, and the behaviors that accompany them, along with "exaggerated and misplaced health fears," turn out to be greater among those who were relocated than those who stayed behind or returned home despite restrictions, according to IAEA's Chernobyl Legacy: Summary Report.[29]


It's All Around Us

People are exposed to radioactivity from natural sources every second, wherever they are. The highest exposure in the U.S. comes from radon gas in areas with granite or shale, such as in the Limerick nuclear power plant where the importance of radon was discovered, when a worker triggered the alarm system every time he went to work. An investigation revealed very high background radon levels in his house and the surrounding area.[30] Hoffman and Sherman cite a purportedly higher thyroid cancer rate in the proximity of Limerick and other nuclear power plants. I was unable to find evidence of this, and no correlation has been found between thyroid cancer and either naturally occurring radon or the tritium emitted by nuclear power production.

The next highest sources of exposure are terrestrial radiation (soil and building materials), with large variations worldwide, followed by the radioactive sources in our own body (especially potassium-40), and cosmic rays (more important at higher altitudes, so a person in Denver gets twice the exposure of the average person in the United States, and people who fly get 100 times the exposure of someone at sea level). Terrestrial radiation in some parts of the U.S. is three times the U.S. average. [31] Areas of Brazil and India are more than 100 times the U.S. average, and Ramsar, Iran, is 800 times the U.S. average. "To date, no radiation-related health effects have been found" from these natural sources, even at these levels (UNSCEAR 1993; NCRP Report #94).

There are ways to increase our exposure to radioactivity. Tobacco collects lead-210 from the air during its growth cycle, and a 1.5 pack-a-day smoker will be exposed to 25 times as much radioactivity from smoking as from all natural sources combined. Even with such a high dose, other carcinogens in cigarettes are more important.

It should be noted that radiation exposure for someone living near a nuclear power plant is many times less than from other natural sources, measuring only 0.04 percent of the average yearly background level of radioactivity in the United States. According to Lawrence Berkeley, National Laboratory, the average exposure to radioactivity for someone who smokes one cigarette per year is 100 times the exposure received by a person living close to a nuclear power plant.[32]

Janette Sherman, who, with Joseph Mangano and others, is part of the Radiation and Public Health project (including what they call the "tooth fairy" project, an attempt to find evidence that strontium-90 from nuclear power plants is dangerous to us, an idea refuted by departments of health in several states) claims women near operating nuclear power plants have higher rates of breast cancer.[33] It is known that radioactivity in high doses increases risk of breast cancer, based on studies of young women and girls exposed in Hiroshima/Nagasaki and those receiving radiation treatment or X-rays for a variety of diseases and conditions. In these cases the level of exposure is many times exposure from natural sources.[34] The high background rate of cancer and the number of more serious carcinogens, such as in tobacco, makes it impossible to isolate the effects of radiation from nuclear power or natural sources, especially since some populations, as in Denver, show lower cancer rates in an area with higher than average background radiation.

Interestingly, coal power plants release 100 times as much radioactivity per kWh as nuclear plants[35], and there is 2.5 times as much U.S. coal power as nuclear power. If nuclear power plants are producing detectable rates of breast cancer increase, then coal power plants, producing 250 times as much radioactivity, should produce at least some visible increase in nearby breast cancer rates. (Is anyone looking?)

The failure of statistical correlations to make a link does not always deter us from believing a connection exists, especially when we've been taught to fear something invisible that we don't well understand, like the effects of radiation. Some will never be persuaded, especially those seeking to explain the causes of cancer in those they love. Yet the very low exposure for those living near nuclear plants is a poor candidate for blame, and may distract us from identifying true sources of the illness.


Nuclear Weapons and Terrorism

Hoffman and Sherman say that our bombs use nuclear waste from our power plants, which are "the most dangerous, the most vulnerable, and the most destructive terrorist targets on the planet." Treadway believes the fuel rods near her house pose "significant danger in the event of an accident or terrorist attack." Many share these and other concerns about the bomb, and about plants being bombed.

Decreasing the threat from nuclear weapons is important. John Holdren, the President's science advisor, in his 2007 plenary talk to AAAS, lists this as one of the four major policy areas scientists can help with (the other three are improving human welfare, the environment, and climate change). We need a strengthened and better-funded IAEA, and we need to zero out nuclear weapons in the countries that have them, according to Holdren. The threat of weapons proliferation from commercial nuclear power plants, on the other hand, is far more limited than often imagined.

Most reactors for making electric power use uranium enriched up to about 4 percent. Enrichment for bombs is more than 90 percent, and requires more technical knowledge. It is true that a country that produces enriched uranium for nuclear power has lowered the technology barrier to a uranium bomb. This was not an important barrier to the official nuclear weapons states in the non-proliferation treaty (U.S., Russia, China, France, and UK) or for North Korea, India, Israel, or Pakistan. There is general agreement that a strong industrial base, plus knowledge that a bomb can be made, has already lowered most of the technical knowledge barriers to bomb production, and so other methods of dissuasion must be used.[36] These other methods include the disarming of the nuclear weapons states and invasive inspections, allowed under the IAEA Additional Protocol, and implementing all of the other measures that can increase international security and reduce the fear of conflict, which can drive decisions to proliferate.

Countries with plutonium bombs have found it cheaper and easier to use a special military reactor to produce plutonium that is more than 94 percent Pu-239 (military grade) or more than 98 percent Pu-239 (super grade), rather than attempt to use the plutonium that power reactors produce, which contains large fractions of plutonium isotopes that greatly complicate bomb design. Reprocessing of spent fuel can separate plutonium, making it more accessible and requiring careful safeguards by the IAEA to assure that it is used only for peaceful purposes, as well as providing effective physical protection to prevent its theft.

For subnational groups (think al-Qaida) that worry less about success and more about symbolism, reactor grade plutonium will suffice. First, however, it must be reprocessed at a specialized site to use again as fuel by separating the plutonium and uranium atoms from the fission products. This also makes it easier to steal. (For this and other reasons, the U.S. does not reprocess, even though developed countries' waste is generally too well-secured to be stolen, nor does the U.S. sell technology to countries that reprocess, such as India.) If a subnational group steals reprocessed waste and has a bomb design, it must still separate the plutonium from other elements, machine and assemble the plutonium (a microfizzle would likely be fatal to the workers), and deliver it. Though difficult, these are not impossible.

Radiological dispersion devices, or "dirty bombs," require a conventional explosive and radioactive material, perhaps from medicine or industry. The National Research Council's Making the Nation Safer summarizes that "few deaths [are] likely, but potential for economic disruption and panic is high," the likely aim.[37]

It may surprise some to know that nuclear power is considered part of the solution to the threat of nuclear proliferation. Currently, 187 countries are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in part because of the "carrot"—help with nuclear power and medicine—for which they agree to invasive inspections.[38] Additionally, a Nuclear Suppliers Group that exists to support commercial technology is the primary tool to detect clandestine weapons programs.[39]

Internationally, more needs to be done to deter proliferation, even though nuclear weapons states typically obtained weapons with no help from a nuclear power program. (India did some development under cover of its medical research reactor.) Motivation to build a bomb appears strongly correlated not with the existence of nuclear energy programs, but with the prevalence of nuclear weapons. Where there are weapons, there will be more weapons. The answer is to disarm all countries with nuclear weapons, and fund IAEA better, giving it more powers, such as restricting the spread of fuel enrichment. Our experiences with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea show both the strengths and weaknesses of current safeguards.[40]

Meanwhile, at home, Gen IV designs, which may be built as early as 2020, are expected to be not only cheaper and safer, but also more proliferation-resistant.[41]

Attacks on nuclear power plants (NPPs) can be serious, of course, though how serious is classified. Because the public is focused on this concern, they are guarded "unusually carefully" according to Bodansky in Nuclear Energy, who also notes that "the chances of failure are substantial and that softer rich targets exist elsewhere." Making the Nation Safer points out that "other types of large industrial facilities that are potentially vulnerable to attack, for example, petroleum refineries, chemical plants, and oil and liquefied natural gas supertankers . . . do not have the robust construction and security features characteristic of NPPs, and many are located near highly populated urban areas."[42] They conclude, "It is not clear whether the vulnerabilities of NPPs constitute a higher risk to society than the vulnerabilities of other industrial facilities."

In short, to promote expansion of highly regulated late-design nuclear power plants is not to abandon but to attend to security concerns. Nor should perceived security concerns prevent us from building power plants that have such great potential to mitigate the causes of war while extending international oversight of nuclear weapons. [43]



Anderson describes the cost of building and then decommissioning plants as astronomical, Treadway describes them as extraordinary, but utilities consider nuclear power competitive with fossil fuels, which require 20,000+ times as much fuel, and cheaper than solar and wind power, which have much higher capital costs and receive substantial subsidies (2.1 cent/kWh for wind[45], much more for solar[46]). Claims that nuclear receives comparable subsidies are hard to substantiate and appear based on calculations that include all things nuclear, not just power. In fact, according to Management Information Service's Analysis of Federal Expenditures for Energy Development[47], between 1950 and 2006, nuclear power received 11 percent of all federal spending (R&D, tax policy, etc) for energy (one-third of nuclear money went to the breeder reactor, canceled in 1983), while solar, wind, and geothermal received 7 percent; per kWh, renewables expenditures are much larger as nuclear produces more than ten times as much electricity as these three together. Today's Gen II light water reactor received less federal financial help since 1950 than solar.[48]

Daschke suggests that nuclear power companies have redefined capacity factor to exaggerate performance. This charge is new to me. I understand capacity factor as the percentage of electricity produced compared to the amount that would be produced if the plant were operating at maximum power 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. The 90-percent-plus capacity factor now reported for nuclear plants, up from 56 percent in 1980 and 66 percent in 1990, reflects a strategy of less frequent and faster refueling, but even more reflects how rarely there is a need for planned and unplanned maintenance after NRC-required safety upgrades.[49] NRC required safety, and the industry found profit.

Costs of early nuclear plants were high for a variety of reasons, including high interest rates, protests delaying construction, and a lack of standardization of designs. After Three Mile Island, construction was put on hold, and then expensive retrofits were mandated. It wasn't until the mid- to late 1990s that new nuclear power began to look cheaper than natural gas. Now it appears that a small GHG tax will make nuclear power cheaper than coal.

Even in 1995, I felt that the fraction of a cent more for nuclear power was worth it, given the lives nuclear power would save. Utilities did not. But nuclear power now looks economically attractive, even more so once carbon controls are finally put in place. Old plants are finally being finished (one in 2007, another in 2013)[50], and as early as 2016, new Gen III+ nuclear power plants may be operating in the U.S.[51] Even in the absence of climate change leadership, utilities have recently begun to bank on nuclear power over fossil fuels.



The question that persists, however, is whether nuclear waste, as now regulated and stored, increases levels of exposure sufficiently to cause health effects. At Yucca Mountain, or any likely site, for the first 10,000 years, including transport, radioactive exposure is trivial. Exposure is expected to peak 300,000 years from now, with a maximum exposure to a small number of people of 260 millirem/year, somewhat less than U.S. average background radiation. This long time frame is a result of multiple engineered barriers and physical barriers, with some confirmation from the slow migration of fission products from the natural reactor millions of years ago at Oklo. [52] According to National Research Council's Disposition of High-Level Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel: The Continuing Societal and Technical Challenges, even with "residual uncertainty" of several orders of magnitude, the bottom line is unlikely to change. Those most exposed would have an exposure comparable to the background rate in Washington state, and considerably less than background in parts of Brazil, Norway, India, and Iran. The extra exposure is equivalent to that from a one-cigarette-per-day habit over a year. The radioactive pollution near Yucca Mountain at that time will be trivial compared to the pollution of all groundwater everywhere due to 20th-century chemicals.

Nevertheless, some politicians and environmentalists continue to oppose nuclear power until we "solve the waste problem," by which they appear to mean complete sequestration for eternity. A few are willing to imagine the near-term collapse of civilization—hundreds of millions dead, massive species extinction, worldwide conflict over land, food, and clean water—due to global warming, just in order to avoid the risk of someone being contaminated by nuclear waste leaks in the far distant future.

Some assume that a long-term repository isn't likely to be found in the near future. The U.S. is now a few years behind Sweden and other countries that learned to let communities bid rather than choosing a site. Sweden is likely to pick a site this year or next and to start using it in 2020 or so. The UK has started a similar procedure and Finland has already selected its repository site, which is expected to open in 2020.[53] None of these countries consider nuclear waste disposal an obstacle.


What Is Mine to Do?

Unfortunately (though some may cheer at this evidence of the power of small groups to affect policy), public perception has an effect on retarding nuclear plant construction. In California, for example, new nuclear plants are not allowed "until the waste problem is solved," so we continue to import coal power and to build natural gas plants: expensive, polluting, carbon producing.

Perhaps it is time to redirect the formidable persuasive power of Friends to make us a stronger part of the solution. Instead of fighting nuclear energy out of fear of nuclear weapons, fight to reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles and strengthen the international controls and monitoring on all nuclear materials. Instead of working to limit nuclear power, work to limit GHGs by redesigning cities to make cars unattractive. Instead of denying low-interest loans to nuclear construction, raise the costs of air travel, a particular weakness of Friends, to reflect its actual cost to the environment. Rather than fighting the expansion of nuclear energy, one of our surest, most immediate ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels, encourage legislation to pay for R&D and the transition costs of a green economy.

Meanwhile, together we can continue to help move Friends and others to look to our own lives for ways to "live more simply so that others may simply live." That Friendly admonition has never been more apt.


[1] Tree mortality in the western US has doubled in recent years, along with increased temperature and decreased water. Elizabeth Pennisi, Western U.S. Forests Suffer Death by Degrees (subscription needed) Science 23 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5913, p. 447

Ocean dead zones, now less than 2% of the oceans, transient and reversible, could increase to 20% by 2100, and last for many thousands of years. Ker Than Global Warming to Create "Permanent" Ocean Dead Zones? (National Geographic News, January 28, 2009)

Coral Reefs Unlikely to Survive in Acid Oceans (Carnegie Institution for Science, December 13, 2007)

Stephanie Jenouvrier, et al Demographic models and IPCC climate projections predict the decline of an emperor penguin population (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 26, 2009)

[2] Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. February 10, 2009)

[3] Steven Chu in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2009, California farms, vineyards in peril from warming, U.S. energy secretary warns. The interview is posted here.

[4] "Given costs relative to other supply options, renewable electricity, which accounted for 18% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have a 30-35% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq." Working Group 3 Summary for Policymakers (IPCC, May 2007) See chapter 4 (pdf) for more details. At costs below $50/tCO2-eq (metric tonne greenhouse gas in carbon dioxide equivalent), hydro could supply 17% of 2030 electricity, up from 16% today of a smaller demand. Wind could supply 7%, bioenergy used to make electricity could supply 7%, geothermal could supply 2%, and solar 1 - 2%, though the price would be above $50/tCO2-eq. Table 4.19 shows what percentage of the mitigation due to nuclear, wind, etc could be supplied and at what cost. Some transitions would have negative costs; half the mitigation from nuclear power, one third from wind or geothermal.

[5] About IPCC (IPCC). IPCC does cite Amory Lovins. Chapter 6, in the report by Working Group 3, on residential and commercial buildings, cites Lovins 1992 paper, Energy-efficient buildings: Institutional barriers and opportunities. Lovins' work showing that nuclear power need not be part of the ways we address climate change has not been peer-reviewed, so far as I know, the first step in a process toward acceptance by IPCC. None of the other authors cited by anti-nuclear Friends (Greenpeace, etc) has produced analysis accepted by IPCC.

[6] Our Governing Legislation U.S. NRC (February 15, 2007)

[7] Dale Klein, Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, said on October 2008, "I just returned from Vienna, where I participated in the Senior Regulator's Meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. During the numerous bilateral meetings I had with my counterparts from other countries, I was again struck by how widely the NRC is viewed as the global leader in nuclear regulation. I have only been at the agency for a little over two years, so this is not something I created. The NRC's reputation has been built up over many years, by thousands of hard-working men and women. Thanks to their efforts, the NRC's certifications and licenses are considered the gold standard around the world." (Emphasis added)

NRC employees apparently like their work. According to the Federal Human Capital Survey 2008 (US Office of Personnel Management), NRC ranks 2nd, behind National Science Foundation (NSF), of federal departments in the category, Results-Oriented Performance Culture Index. In the other 3 categories, Leadership and Knowledge Management Index, Talent Management Index, and Job Satisfaction Index, NRC ranks first.

Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group, does its own analysis Freedom to Speak?A Report Card on Federal Agency Media Policies (UCS, 2008). They rate the policy of NRC below only Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the practice of NRC only below NSF.

[8] The "Atoms for Peace" Agency (IAEA) See IAEA for more on their various programs.

[9] Lovins extols "micropower" in his debate with Dr. Burton Richter, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in physics. "Lovins said that micropower (i.e. distributed energy generation) now accounts for one-sixth of world power, surpassing nuclear as a source of electricity for the first time in 2006. He noted that in 2005 micropower added four times as much output and eleven times as much capacity as nuclear added." Rhett Butler Nobel prize winner debates future of nuclear power (, June 7, 2007)

Yet Energy Information Administration in analyzing sources of electricity in 2005 does not list any source beyond fossil fuels, nuclear, and hydroelectric. Essentially all world electricity in 2005 came from these 3 sources. World Net Generation of Electricity by Type, 1980, 1990, and 2005 (Energy Information Administration, International Energy Database, April 24, 2008. Table 8.2a)

Since most distributed energy is fossil fuel, it presents pollution problems. "A relatively novel power source, [distributed generators] are making their way into our lives. While they can be designed to run on diesel fuel, natural gas, even solar and wind power, it's those that run on natural gas that are proliferating most quickly. While natural gas is cleaner than most other fuels, some researchers are concerned that even natural gas DGs may harm our health more than large power plants because they pollute air right where we are — at home or at work." Brendan Doherty Pollutants on the fly: Connecting the dots between pollutant sources and us (Forefront Magazine, UC, Berkeley) Spring 2003

[10] The baseline scenario for IPCC Working Group 3 (2007) assumes expanded use of nuclear power and all mitigation scenarios assume faster expansion of nuclear power.

[11] New nuclear energy data released (Nuclear Energy Agency, Paris, 16 July 2008)

[12] Update of the MIT Future of Nuclear Power (pdf, MIT, 2009) includes a discussion of uranium resource availability at an affordable price, probably "several hundred dollars per kilogram". The most recent update of the "Red Book", Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand, (OECD NEA No. 6345, 2008) continues to show resources increasing faster than consumption, though little effort has been allocated to resource evaluation. The US identified sufficient resources at under $130/kg to provide 1,700 GW-years and estimates undiscovered resources to provide 10,700 GW-years. The world has identified resources of 27,000 GW-years and estimated undiscovered resources of 37,800 GW-years. Doubling the price will increase available uranium by an order of magnitude. "We believe that the world-wide supply of uranium ore is sufficient to fuel the deployment of 1000 reactors over the next half century."

[13] Energy Analysis of Power Systems (World Nuclear Association, March 2006)

[14] Daniel Weisser A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies (Energy 32 (2007), 1543 - 1559)  pre-print (pdf)

[15] A Nuclear Solution to Climate Change? (subscription needed) Science 19 May 2000: 1177-1178.

[17] "Chernobyl did not have a containment system (unlike the water-cooled reactors used in the West or in post-1980 Soviet designs.)" International Energy Agency Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 p 294

[18] World Almanac gives a surprisingly precise estimate of 4,341 deaths in the December 1987 collision between the Philippine ferry, MV Dona Paz, and the oil tanker MT Vector, According to Wikipedia, the official death toll is generally considered above 4,000 (this number comes from the Philippine Supreme Court), although fewer than 2,000 were on the official manifesto. The 8,800 barrels on board the tanker caused both the ferry and the sea to burn, and all survivors suffered burns when they jumped into the sea.

[19] "China's total death toll from coal mining to 2007 averaged well over 4000 per year - official figures give 5300 in 2000, 5670 in 2001 and 7200 in 2003, 6027 in 2004, about 6000 in 2005, 4746 in 2006 and 3786 in 2007.  These data omit the small illegal collieries.  However, the picture is improving: in the 1950s the annual death toll in coal mines was 70,000, in the 1980s it was 40,000 and 1990s it was 10,000. Ukraine's coal mine death toll is over two hundred per year (eg. 1999: 274, 1998: 360, 1995: 339, 1992: 459)." However, Ukraine's death rate is higher than China's: "Coal mining deaths range from 0.009 per million tonnes of coal mined in Australia through 0.034 in USA to 4 in China and 7 /Mt in Ukraine. China's death rate in the first half of 2008 fell to 1.05 per million tonnes of coal mined, compared with 1.485 in 2007, and 3.08 in 2005." These are accidents only, they do not include black lung disease. From Appendix 1. The Hazards of Using Energy: Some energy-related accidents since 1977, from World Nuclear Association, April 2009.

[20] "In 1999 three workers received high doses of radiation in a small Japanese plant preparing fuel for an experimental reactor. The accident was caused by bringing together too much uranium enriched to a relatively high level, causing a "criticality" (a limited uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction), which continued intermittently for 20 hours. A total of 119 people received a radiation dose over 1 mSv from the accident, but only the three operators' doses were above permissible limits. Two of the doses proved fatal. The cause of the accident was "human error and serious breaches of safety principles", according to IAEA." Tokaimura Criticality Accident, World Nuclear Association, July 2007

[21] In 13,000 reactor years in 32 countries, there have been two significant accidents, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Since then, OECD plants have improved safety features. These include "defense-in-depth" (multiple solutions, either redundant parts or redundant methods in case one system failed). The Chernobyl reactor did not include these. Much was learned after Three Mile Island about safety, as that plant design turned out to be much less safe than expected, hence the expensive retrofitting of US plants. However, "the Chernobyl accident has not brought to light any new, previously unknown phenomena or safety issues that are not resolved or otherwise covered by current reactor safety programs for commercial power reactors in OECD Member countries." NEA, "Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy"

In addition to accidents included in the text, and excluding possible accidents in the former Soviet Union, there have been accidents at Chalk River, Canada (1952) experimental reactor, some radioactivity release; National Reactor Testing Laboratory, Idaho (1955), trivial radioactivity release; Fermi Reactor, Detroit (1966), very little radioactivity; Lucens, Switzerland (1969), no radiation release; Browns Ferry, Alabama (1975), no radioactivity release. David Bodansky, Nuclear Energy 2nd Edition. (New York: AIP Press, 2004) 411-413

[22] IEA's Energy Technology Perspective points to the Paul Scherrer Institute's Energy Related Severe Accident Database, with information on 18,000 accidents since 1969, 35% from energy. More than 3,000 of these are rated severe, with 5 or more "prompt fatalities". Hydro, natural gas, coal, oil, and especially liquefied natural gas have produced fatalities in the OECD during this time, while nuclear power has not. The Energy Related Severe Accident Database includes 18,000 accidents since 1969, one-third energy related. See here or here. While it is true that most deaths expected from Chernobyl are not "prompt", this is even more true of fossil fuel pollution, excluding climate change.

[23] "The historical record of nuclear reactor performance can be interpreted as showing that they are very safe or that they are very dangerous. The former conclusion follows if one limits consideration to plants outside the former Soviet Union. The latter follows if one focuses on the Chernobyl accident and takes it as a broadly applicable indicator." Safety has improved since Three Mile Island by adding redundancy: identical units of the same type (more than one pump or motor), or different types of core-cooling systems which act independently, for example. A major improvement in the most recent reactors has been a shift to passive rather than active safety systems. Relying on thermal expansion in a reactor core that supplies negative feedback is a passive safety feature. Active systems such as valves and pumps require components to operate properly. Hot reactor cores always expand, but valves don't always open. Bodansky, Nuclear Energy 2nd Edition. (New York: AIP Press, 2004) p 371-7 Other improvements include standardized, more rugged designs and higher burn-up to reduce fuel use and waste produced. Advanced Nuclear Power Reactors (World Nuclear Association, March 2009)

[24] David Bodansky, Nuclear Energy 2nd Edition. (New York: AIP Press, 2004) 411

[25] Ibid 232

[28] BEIR cites a number of studies, including the work of Radiation Effects Research Foundation, see especially chapter 6, Atomic Bomb Survivor Studies in Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2 (Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 2006)

[30] Robert L. Lewis, A History of Radon, Presented at the 2006 National Radon Meeting

[31] Relative amounts of exposure from Bodansky Table 3.5 p 74. See Radioactivity in Nature for the origin of natural sources. (Idaho State University). American Nuclear Society provides a calculator to give some idea of your own exposure to radioactivity, depending on altitude, hours on airplanes, etc. EPA Map of Radon Zones shows radon distribution across the US, or in your individual state.

[32] According to INL Oversight Program: Guide to Radiation Doses and Limits, the average person living near a nuclear power plant is exposed to 0.009 mrem/year, while the food we eat gives us a yearly dose of 40 mrem. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Natural Sources of Radioactivity, the exposure to someone smoking 1.5 packs of cigarettes/day is 8,000 mrem/year, or 0.7 mrem/cigarette, 80 times more exposure than living near a nuclear power plant. According to the LBNL site, exposure to radioactivity from a coal power plant is 1 - 4 mrem, worse than a cigarette, and much worse than from a nuclear power plant. Depending on the length of your stay on the space shuttle, your exposure will be as low as 430 mrem to above 7,800 mrem.

Radioactivity in cigarette smoke may contribute to the cancer rate, but currently it's difficult to separate the effects of radioactivity and various poisons: "Tobacco smoke contains approximately 4000 specific chemicals, including nicotine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, N-nitroso compounds, aromatic amines, benzene, and heavy metals. Lung cancer is not thought to be attributable to any one chemical component, but rather to the effect of a complex mixture of chemicals in tobacco smoke, which may act at different stages of the carcinogenic process. Based on the mechanistic arguments above, this suggests that neither a pure absolute nor a pure relative risk transport model is appropriate." Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2 (Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 2006) p 242

Medical exposure is not discussed in the text. New results from National Council for Radiation Protection, show that today medical exposure for Americans is 5 times that in the 1980s, and almost half of our total current exposure. Background exposure averages 311 mrem, but medical exposure has grown from 53 mrem to 300 mrem, in part because of the 67 million CT scans done in the US in 2007. Medicine pushes up radiation exposures. (World Nuclear News, March 9, 2009)

[33] The Radiation and Public Health Project has a number of articles and letter to the editor on their website, including one that purports that fossil fuels are a safer alternative than nuclear power.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, among others, evaluates their work on the strontium-90 in baby teeth project. This is their conclusion:

"The Commission is of the opinion that "Radioactive Strontium-90 in Baby Teeth of New Jersey Children and the Link with Cancer: A Special Report" is a flawed report, with substantial errors in methodology and invalid statistics. As a result, any information gathered through this project would not stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. There is also no evidence to support the allegation that the State of New Jersey has a problem with release of Sr-90 into the environment from nuclear generating plants: more than 30 years of environmental monitoring data refute this. Other state governments have been approached to support the Tooth Fairy Project. The Departments of Health of Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Michigan have refuted the Project's allegations of public radiation burden due to Sr-90 release from nuclear power plants."

Also see Peer-Reviewed Science on Radiation Health Effects Dispels ÔTooth Fairy Project' (Nuclear Energy Institute, July 2006) and Radiation Safety at Nuclear Power Plants: Studies Look at Public, Workers (Nuclear Energy Institute, February 2009) The second source said this about the Sternglass/Greenpeace study:

• It provides no evidence that women in the 81 Great Lakes counties live closer to nuclear power plants, or that women were exposed to significantly higher levels of radiation, than women in nearby counties that Greenpeace did not choose to study.

• The study offers no detail on important characteristics of the women in those 81 counties, such as urbanization, ethnicity or socioeconomic profile, which would help evaluate whether "selection bias" is present. (The risk of dying from breast cancer is higher in urban areas and among certain ethnic groups.)

• Results can depend on the method that researchers use to compare data. Greenpeace chose to combine the data for all women in all 81 counties and compare the total with the U.S. average. The result was 3.2 excess cancer deaths per 100,000 women—an extremely small increase. But if Greenpeace had looked at data from each of the 81 Great Lakes counties individually, it would have found something different: In slightly more than half of the counties, the breast cancer death rates are somewhat lower than the U.S. average, and in slightly less than half of them, the death rates are somewhat higher than the U.S. average. With this method, there is no consistent increase in the breast cancer death rates in all of the 81 counties.

The reason the [National Cancer Institute] did not extend its study to a 100-mile radius around each plant—as Greenpeace claims was necessary—is that radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants are virtually nonexistent at that radius. The nearest plant neighbor gets less than one millirem of radiation exposure from the plant annually. This is less than the average person gets annually from watching television.

[34] Ionizing Radiation and Breast Cancer Risk Fact Sheet #52, January 2005, Cornell University Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research

[35] Alex Gabbard Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger (Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review Vol. 26, No. 3&4, 1993, last revised Feb 2008)

[36] "There are many routes to nuclear weapons for determined countries that posses even a modest industrial and scientific base. However. the threshold is raised if there is no easy access to separated plutonium." Bodansky p 548

[37] Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism (Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism, National Research Council of the National Academies, 2002) 46

The Dirty Bomb Distraction, Richard A. Muller explains in MIT's Technology Review why Al Qaeda abandoned plans for dirty bombs in order to do something that would do actual damage.

[39] Two mechanisms were set up under the NPT, which became effective in 1970, for controlling nuclear exports. The Zangger Committee (1971) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (1975). Also see S.V.Ruchkin and V.Y. Loginov, Securing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (IAEA, 2003).

[40] See, for example, Safeguards to Prevent Nuclear Proliferation, (World Nuclear Association, March 2009)

[41] Generation IV Nuclear Reactors (World Nuclear Association, May 2009)

[42] ibid p 43

[43] Some presidents do more than others along these lines. US ambassador to China Gregory Schulte, in Beijing, read a speech by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu expressing strong support of nuclear power along with a strong emphasis on integrating safeguards, security and safety. Both President Obama and science advisor John Holdren support reducing and then eliminating nuclear weapons. DOE 'restructuring' fuel-cycle approach, ambassador says (Nuclear Engineering International, April 27, 2009).

[44] Different groups make different assumptions about the cost of capital, for example, and whether to include the cost of transmission lines. NRG in Texas cited construction costs in 2007 for nuclear power plants between $2,200 and $2,600/kW. Florida Power & Light a few months later cited costs between $5,500 and $8.200/kW. The Texas figure only includes the cost NRG would pay Toshiba, while the FPL figure included financing costs, owner's costs, and transmission upgrades. When calculated the same way, costs are comparable. Yangbo Du and John E. Parsons, Update on the Cost of Nuclear Power (pdf) (MIT, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, May 2009, p 4) Comparing construction costs between technologies can also add confusion: photovoltaics (solar panels) have a capacity factor about 1/5 that of nuclear power, and the panels are expected to be in service less than half as long. Operating and maintenance costs are high (inverter replacement every 5 - 10 years currently costs $800/kW, though costs are decreasing). Severin Borenstein, The Market Value and Cost of Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Production, pdf, Center for the Study of Energy Markets or University of California Energy Institute, January 2008, p 20

Estimates have changed dramatically in recent years. The price of commodities increased much faster than inflation between 2002 and 2007, increasing the cost of non-nuclear plants 60% in 5 years, and nuclear plants even more.

The MIT group finds dramatic differences in nuclear cost estimates depending on assumptions used. "The track record for the construction costs of nuclear plants completed in the U.S. during the 1980s and early 1990s was poor. Actual costs were far higher than had been projected. Construction schedules experienced long delays, which, together with increases in interest rates at the time, resulted in high financing charges. New regulatory requirements also contributed to the cost increases, and in some instances, the public controversy over nuclear power contributed to some of the construction delays and cost overruns. However, while the plants in Korea and Japan continue to be built on schedule, some of the recent construction cost and schedule experience, such as with the plant under construction in Finland, has not been encouraging. Whether the lessons learned from the past have been factored into the construction of future plants has yet to be seen. These factors have a significant impact on the risk facing investors financing a new build.

"For this reason, the 2003 report applied a higher weighted cost of capital to the construction of a new nuclear plant (10%) than to the construction of a new coal or new natural gas plant (7.8%).

"Lowering or eliminating this risk-premium makes a significant contribution to making nuclear competitive. With the risk premium and without a carbon emission charge, nuclear is more expensive than either coal (without sequestration) or natural gas (at 7$/MBTU). If this risk premium can be eliminated, nuclear life cycle cost decreases from 8.4¢ /kWe-h to 6.6 ¢/kWe-h and becomes competitive with coal and natural gas, even in the absence of carbon emission charge.

"The 2003 report found that capital cost reductions and construction time reductions were plausible, but not yet proven - this judgment is unchanged today. The challenge facing the U.S. nuclear industry lies in turning plausible reductions in capital costs and construction schedules into reality. Will designs truly be standardized, or will site-specific changes defeat the effort to drive down the cost of producing multiple plants? Will the licensing process function without costly delays, or will the time to first power be extended, adding significant financing costs? Will construction proceed on schedule and without large cost overruns? The first few U.S. plants will be a critical test for all parties involved. The risk premium will be eliminated only by demonstrated performance." (Underlining in MIT report.)

The cost of coal is 6.2 cent/kWh (huge error bars). A carbon price of $25/ton CO2 will add 2.1 cent/kWh. The cost of natural gas is 6.7 cent/kWh (huge error bars, even larger error bars for high natural gas prices). A carbon price of $25/ton CO2 will add 0.9 cent/kWh.

 Update of the MIT Future of Nuclear Power (pdf, MIT, 2009)

Re industry: Areva is building the Finnish plant, which is behind schedule, perhaps more than would be expected of the first. Construction has begun for Westinghouse's first AP-1000 in Sanmen. The success of these and other early builds give industry a chance to demonstrate performance.

International Energy Agency Energy Technology Perspectives: Scenarios & Strategies to 2050 (OECD/IEA, Paris, p 89) projects a variety of paths to reduce GHG emissions. The Blue map, which aims to reduce GHG emissions by half by 2050, will increase the price of electricity by 90% between 2030 and 2050. A higher nuclear version of this would reduce this increase somewhat. IEA estimates new nuclear costs at 3 - 5 cent/kWh (p 290). Assuming wind construction costs between $1,400 and $1,750/kW (and noting that few wind turbines last their expected 20 years), the costs of wind power in areas with low wind speeds range from 8.9 - 13.5 cent/kWh, from 6.5 to 9.4 cent/kWh in very windy areas. IEA finds "At a medium wind site, such as inland sites in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, average costs are estimated to be [8.5 cent/kWh]." (pp 350-1) The average cost of new wind in 2007 was $1,710/kW and rising rapidly. Ryan Wiser and Mark Bolinger Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends: 2007 (pdf) (US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, May 2008)

[45] "Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (passed in February 2009), Congress acted to provide a three-year extension of the [Production Tax Credit] through December 31, 2012. Additionally, wind project developers can choose to receive a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) in place of the PTC for facilities placed in service in 2009 and 2010, and also for facilities placed in service before 2013 if construction begins before the end of 2010." Legislative Affairs (American Wind Energy Association, February 2009). Other types of support, such as proposed increased funding of transmission lines, are also discussed.)

[46] Severin Borenstein, head of University of California Energy Institute, analyzes this generation solar photovoltaic panel, and finds that the subsidy for solar to be incredibly high. His conclusion is that it doesn't make sense for society to subsidize today's technology, at a cost greater than $100/ton CO2 under the best assumptions. To compare, $10/ton CO2 adds about 1 cent/kWh to the price of coal power. Severin Borenstein, The Market Value and Cost of Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Production talk and paper (Center for the Study of Energy Markets, January 2008)

[47] Analysis of Federal Expenditures for Energy Development (pdf) (Management and Information Services, September 2008) was an extension of a report from a publication of the National Academies, Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling, The U.S. Energy Subsidy Scorecard (Issues Online, Spring 2006)

[48] Which government incentives for nuclear power make sense? Update of the MIT Future of Nuclear Power (pdf, MIT, 2009) suggests that all low-GHG forms of energy should get the same assistance, eg, guaranteed loans (these only cost the government if there is a default). Additionally, there should be "first mover" funds for those building the first new plants, as there are extra costs associated with these (for example, NRC is likely to require construction be stretched out while they dot i's and cross t's). However, these funds should not become permanent.

[50] Browns Ferry 1 restarted in 2007. Because of rising fossil fuel prices, payback period dropped from an estimated 7 - 8 years to 2.5 years. A decision to complete Watts Bar 2 was made that same year. (Tennessee Valley Authority)

[51] NRC has received applications for 26 reactors, and expects 7 more by 2011. Luminant expects to bring Comanche Peak units online around 2015. Two reactors at Vogtle (GA) are expected online in 2016 and 2017. Two units at VC Summer in South Carolina are expected in 2016 and 2019. Etc Nuclear Power in the USA (World Nuclear Association, April 25, 2009) Limited construction has begun on the Vogtle plants, with full construction expected to begin in mid-2011. Southern breaks ground at Vogtle (Idaho Samizdat, April 11, 2009)

[52] Fact Sheet: Nature and engineering working together for a safe repository (U.S. Department of Energy Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Yucca Mountain Project, November 2003) In Oklo, Gabon when the percentage of U-235 in natural uranium was higher, nature created nuclear reactors. "Plutonium has moved less than 10 feet from where it was formed almost two billion years ago." Oklo: Natural Nuclear Reactors (OCRWM 2009)

[53] Sweden chose a permanent site June 2009 at Forsmark. Full construction is expected to begin 2015 and operation 2023. Nuclear Power in Sweden (World Nuclear Association, June 2009) Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom (World Nuclear Association, May 2009) Nuclear Power in Finland (World Nuclear Association, February 2009) Also see Waste Management in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle - Appendix 3 National Policies (World Nuclear Association)