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MIT reports on the future of nuclear engery


Parphrased by
Steve Waldrop
July 30, 2003

Expanding the production of nuclear power in the United States and around the globe would help reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, according to a study released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Institute Professor John Deutch of MIT, co-chair of the study, called it “the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary study ever conducted on the future of nuclear energy.”

The report maintains that “the nuclear option should be retained precisely because it is an important carbon-free source of power.”

But the prospects for nuclear energy are limited, the report finds, by four unresolved problems: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental and health effects; potential security risks stemming from nuclear proliferation; and unresolved challenges in long-term management of nuclear wastes

There is no question that the up-front costs associated with making nuclear power competitive are higher than those associated with fossil fuels,” said Physics Professor Ernest Moniz, director of energy studies at MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment and co-chair of the study. “But as our study shows, there are many ways to mitigate these costs, and over time, the societal and environmental price of carbon emissions could dramatically improve the competitiveness of nuclear power.”

"The generation of electricity from fossil fuels, notably natural gas and coal, is a major and growing contributor to the emission of carbon dioxide- a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming," the report says.

The study examines a growth scenario where the present-day 360 GWe (gigawatts) of nuclear capacity worldwide is expanded to 1,000 GWe in mid-century, keeping its share of the electricity market roughly constant. Deployment in the United States would expand from about 100 GWe today to 300 GWe in mid-century. This scenario is not a prediction, but rather a study case in which nuclear power would make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions.

The study includes a number of recommendations for making the nuclear energy option more viable such as advocating tax credits for production of power once plants are on line, as well as a tax on carbon-producing systems to equalize the economics of nuclear power and advancing a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) balanced long-term waste management research and development program.