NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 21, 2008

American energy demand is expected to keep growing.  This growth is necessary if the economy is to prosper.  With greenhouse gas regulation on the horizon, and Americans demanding energy independence, nuclear power can help keep the lights on.  Nuclear energy has many benefits: It is reliable, recyclable, clean, sustainable and domestically produced.  As such, it uniquely satisfies the otherwise conflicting demands burdening the American power industry, say Ross Wingo, a research assistant, and H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Compared to other significant sources of electricity, nuclear power has many environmental benefits. For instance, nuclear plants produce virtually no air pollution.  By contrast:

  • Coal-fired power plants produce 13 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 6 pounds of nitrogen oxide per million watt-hours (MWh) of electricity produced.
  • Oil-fired power plants produce 12 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 4 pounds of nitrogen oxide per MWh.
  • Nuclear power is a CO2-free energy option whereas, for every MWh of electricity produced, coal-fired power plants produce 2,249 pounds of CO2, oil-fired plants produce 1,672 pounds, and gas-fired generators produce 1,135 pounds.

Traditionally, nuclear power critics have focused on two potential threats to human health: 1) the risk that dangerous levels of radiation will escape from a plant due to equipment failure or human error, and 2) the risk posed to human health from nuclear waste.  However:

  • In more than 50 years of experience with nuclear power in the United States, no deaths or negative health effects have been conclusively linked to radiation leaks from nuclear plants or from spent fuel.
  • In addition, the U.S. Navy has operated nuclear-powered vessels for 50 years; despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of navy personnel have served in close quarters with nuclear power plants and radioactive material, there have been no radiation-caused deaths.

Source: Ross Wingo and H. Sterling Burnett, "Nuclear Renaissance: Atoms to Power the Future," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 635, October 21, 2008.

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