NUCLEAR POWER AND THE U.S. ENERGY FUTURE
January 4, 2010
Nuclear power is a safe and reliable source of energy. The technology exists today for nuclear power to safely provide America's energy needs. Policymakers should remove barriers that prevent nuclear energy from being fully utilized, say Sterling Burnett, a Senior Fellow, and James Franko, a Legislative Assistant, both with the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Nuclear power is reliable:
- Not counting hydropower, renewable energy represents less than 2 percent of total generating capacity.
- This includes solar and wind, which supply an unpredictable amount of power because the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, or blow within an acceptable range of speeds to provide either baseload power (required to keep electric power flowing) or peaking power (required to meet daily spikes in demand).
- Thus, solar and wind require backup from coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants for day-to-day baseload power or for on-demand peaking power.
- By contrast, the output from nuclear power plants can be adjusted based on user demand and to keep the electric grid at maximum efficiency.
Nuclear power is sustainable:
- At current rates of consumption with present technologies, uranium reserves in the United States can supply all of the world's existing reactors for 300 years.
- An additional supply of nuclear fuel is readily available, after reprocessing, in the more-than-15,000 plutonium pits removed from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons.
- There are additional supplies of plutonium from dismantled Soviet warheads that have been shipped to the United States for disposal; a reprocessing plant is being built in South Carolina to turn these warheads into a reliable power supply.
An even larger fuel supply can be found in spent fuel rods from existing reactors:
- One kilogram of natural uranium contains as much energy as 38.5 tons of coal, but conventional nuclear reactors only utilize approximately 3 percent of that energy, thus, recycling could provide an almost unlimited supply of nuclear fuel in the United States.
- Recycling spent fuel would significantly decrease the problem of nuclear waste disposal; reprocessing can also be a boon to local communities and create jobs.
- For example, two reprocessing facilities in France employ 11,000 workers and generate more than $600 million for the local economy.
Source: H. Sterling Burnett and James Franko, "Nuclear Power and the U.S. Energy Future," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 683, December 30, 2009.
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