The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, "hmm.... that's funny...." Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nuclear and Fossil Fuel Costs

My previous post shows U.S. energy use by type and notes that nuclear fuel costs are so low that they don’t show up in the chart in my earlier post that depicts fuel costs as percent of GDP. Above is a chart that shows the wholesale cost per million Btu of fossil fuels and nuclear fuel. The dramatically lower cost of nuclear fuel explains why electric utilities that have nuclear plants try to run them at maximum capacity. Nuclear power also produces very little carbon dioxide compared to other sources, even when all emissions from the entire operation such as mining and processing uranium ore, decommissioning a plant, and waste disposal are included.

One can wonder why the U.S. doesn’t utilize nuclear power to a greater extent, like France, which gets 76% of its electricity from nuclear, or Belgium, which gets 54% from nuclear, or Sweden, which gets 42%, and why expansion of nuclear capacity has not, so far, been the main tactic in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On this subject, James Lovelock, in his book The Vanishing Face of Gaia, says “I think we fail to welcome nuclear energy as the one good and reliable power source because we have been grievously misled by a concatenation of lies. Falsehood has built on falsehood and is mindlessly repeated by the media until belief in the essential evil of all things nuclear is part of an instinctive reaction.” In this book, Lovelock goes on to refute what he considers the major untruths surrounding nuclear power. I hope to expand on this subject in future posts.

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