I just came across this article, Costs of meeting international climate targets without nuclear power, by Duscha, Vicki, Schumacher, Katja (unrelated to me or Michael Schumacher…), Schleich, Joachim and Buisson, Pierre. It is a nice short study:
This paper assesses the impact of a global phase-out of nuclear energy on the costs of meeting international climate policy targets for 2020. The analyses are based on simulations with a global energy systems model. The phase-out of nuclear power increases greenhouse gas emissions by 2% globally, and 7% for Annex I countries. The price of certificates increases by 24% and total compliance costs of Annex I countries rise by 28%. Compliance costs increase the most for Japan (+58%) and the USA (+28%). China, India and Russia benefit from a global nuclear phase-out because revenues from higher trading volumes of certificates outweigh the costs of losing nuclear power as a mitigation option.
The authors then compare two scenarios, the nuclear phase-out scenario, where no new plants are built and existing plants are progressively decommissioned. They assume that by 2050 the production of electricity fromnuclear power plants is reduced to about 1% (i.e. 500 TWh) of global power generation (compared to the 11% that is expected).
The climate policy scenario includes GHG emission targets for Annex I and non-Annex I countries for 2020 that are deemed consistent with meeting the 2°C target.
Compliance costs are the costs for meeting a country’s emission target. The authors compare the compliance costs in the climate policy scenario and and the nuclear phase-out scenario. I think the most interesting results that the authors present are that the largest increase in overall compliance costs are faced by the US, which will be 21 billion €. For Europe, the change in compliance costs is only something like 3 billion Euros. For countries like Russia or China, the estimate is even negative.
So let’s do the calculations: Is roughly 28 billion USD, something like 0.17% of US GDP or 0.025% of annual US GDP, enough money to make Americans continue to rely on nuclear energy? Given estimates for e.g. the Fukushima accident of 187 billion, and quickly calculating that the probability of another nuclear disaster of INES 7 scale is roughly 3 (Kyshtym, Chernobyl and Fukushima) out of 50 years, thus one disaster every 17 years, implying half a Fukushima until 2020, thus expected costs of roughly 94 billion Euros (187/2), would imply that if we integrate the costs of a potential nuclear disaster into the calculations, then it would already be worthwhile to phase-out nuclear energy simply on the argument of a expected costs in case of a disaster.
So there you have it. A simple calculation:
(additional compliance costs for phase-out) < (expected costs of a nuclear incident)
implies good-bye nuclear, hello sustainability.
Now obviously there are downsides to the modelling approach that the authors used: e.g. they relied on POLES, which is a partial equilibrium framework. Thus, the evolution of macro-variables like GDP are given, so this excludes second-round feedbacks from the costs of a nuclear phase-out, i.e. potentially higher energy costs to GDP, etc. Whether these energy costs then will be higher depends on place and policy, see HERE.
Plus, in these large, integrated assessment models one never knows really what is going on, the assumptions behind, the robustness to changes in parameters, etc… But then this is research, and one has to start believing in something, and one thing I do believe in is that the authors are trying to make a good job. This is just like in front of a court: Innocent until proven guilty…
NOW – if we view the authors’ work as a benchmark, then it at least gives some hints as to the potential costs of a phase-out, and they are much lower, on both the global and the regional scale, such that it is definitely worthwhile to consider phase-out as an option and to rid ourselves of the policy propaganda of the nuclear industry and tag-along politicians. Here you have it, I said it.
Btw – some of the authors work at http://www.oeko.de, check it out, they are doing interesting work over there.