September 10, 2003


The nation's 103 nuclear power plants produced the most cost-efficient electricity of any source of expandable, baseload electricity in the country last year, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) announced last week.

In fact, production costs for nuclear power averaged 1.71 cents per kWh in 2002, compared to coal-fired power plants (1.85 cents), natural gas plants (4.06 cents) and oil-fired plants (4.41 cents). Lest anyone suggest that the 2002 figures were an aberration, NEI explained that last year was the fourth in a row that nuclear generation has proven itself to be the most cost- efficient of the four primary methods of producing electricity.

The cost-efficiency associated with nuclear energy in 2002 can be attributed in large part to the "stable and competitive supplies" of low cost nuclear fuel, which averaged only 45 cents per kWh. In contrast, fuel costs averaged 1.36 cents per kWh for coal-generated electricity, and 3.44 cents per kWh for natural-gas-generated power.

All of these factors added up to a record-high 91.5 percent average capacity factor -- a measure of efficiency that is the percentage of maximum power a plant can supply to the power system -- for the nation's nuclear plants last year, NEI reported. The nuclear industry generated a record 780 billion kWh in 2002, thanks largely to an increase in plant efficiency that has resulted in the addition of approximately 26,000 MW of capacity to the electricity grid since 1990.

Nuclear power is not only cost-efficient -- it is also environmentally friendly, according to NEI. In 2002, relatively pollution-free power generated by nuclear plants replaced enough fossil-fuel-generated power to allow the nation to avoid producing more than two million tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), four million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and more than 179 million tons of carbon that would otherwise have been released into the air.

"Nuclear plants continue to demonstrate they have tremendous value in our country's diverse electricity system," concluded Marvin Fertel, NEI's chief nuclear officer. "The combination of low production costs, high reliability, safe operation and clean air benefits positions nuclear energy favorably to meet our baseload electricity needs today and for future expansion."

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Also touting the benefits of nuclear power in the face of recent world events was William Timber, president and chief executive officer of USEC, Inc. -- the world's leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel for nuclear power plants -- as he addressed the World Nuclear Association's Annual Symposium in London on 9/4/03.

"It doesn't take a visionary to see that we are rapidly approaching the nuclear revival that so many of us have been predicting," Timber declared.

Timber pointed to this summer's European heatwave, which killed more than 12,000 people, and recent blackouts in London and North America as proof that the world needs to increase its capacity to generate electricity. A massive push to install air conditioning throughout Europe before next summer is all but certain, according to Timber, and the region will need to have the electricity available to run those climate-control units. And while the jury is still out as to what specifically caused the massive blackout that hit the U.S. and Canada in August, Timber expressed assurance that insufficient and unreliable power generation will ultimately be found to have contributed to the failure of the North American electricity grid.

The answer to these problems, Timber asserted, lies in increasing global capacity to generate power from cost-efficient, clean, and safe nuclear fuel.

Increased nuclear power production can also play an often-overlooked role in improving global security by reducing the number of nuclear warheads worldwide, according to Timber. In fact, a privately funded joint Russian/American program -- dubbed Megatons to Megawatts -- has converted to nuclear fuel the highly enriched uranium to power approximately 7,500 nuclear warheads over the past 10 years. Timber said that the program is expected to have recycled the fuel from approximately 20,000 nuclear warheads by the time it is phased out in 2013.

"The benefit is clear," Timber stated. "We can eliminate more and more nuclear warhead material by substantially increasing the number of commercial nuclear power facilities."

Copyright 2003 Foster Associates, Inc.
Foster Electric Report