NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nuclear Power is Viable

August 14, 2003

The world needs more electricity and less pollution. The goals are not incompatible, but the solution will require better management of demand, smarter use of coal as well as renewable energy sources, and increased use of nuclear power, say John Deutch and Ernest Moniz (both with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Comparing the costs of producing electricity from new nuclear, coal and natural gas plants, a new MIT study focused on economic cost, not regulated or subsidized cost. According to the study:

  • The baseline cost of new nuclear power is 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 4.2 cents for coal and natural gas (when the price of gas is $4.50 per thousand cubic feet).
  • However, if a cost is assigned to carbon emissions -- either through a tax or some other way, as in a current congressional proposal that would limit emissions but allow companies to buy and sell the right to discharge more pollutants -- nuclear power could become an attractive economic option.
  • For example, a $50 per ton carbon value, about the cost of capturing and separating the carbon dioxide product of coal and natural gas combustion, raises the cost of coal to 5.4 cents and natural gas to 4.8 cents.

Nuclear power can make an important contribution to meeting the world's growing electricity needs while helping to reduce carbon emissions. But this contribution will be realized only if the United States and other nations focus on making today's technology work and avoid expensive advanced technologies that involve reprocessing, which presents serious proliferation risks, say the authors.

Source: John Deutch and Ernest Moniz, "Nuclear Power Can Work," New York Times, August 14, 2003; based on "The Future of Nuclear Energy: An Interdisciplinary MIT Study," July 29, 2003, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For MIT study


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