Monday, May 07, 2007

Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits And Risks

May 7: The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has recently released a Special Report entitled, Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks (April 2007). The report addresses the benefits and risks of nuclear power for the United States and other countries in light of increased concern over energy security and global climate change. As indicated in the report, the debate surrounding nuclear energy also intersects with critical U.S. foreign policy issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The Council Special Report was produced in partnership with Washington and Lee University and written by the Council’s Fellow for Science and Technology Charles D. Ferguson. CFR says the report provides the factual and analytical background to inform this debate.

According to the foreword to the report, written by CFR President Richard Haass, the report is a "sobering and authoritative lookat nuclear power. Dr. Ferguson argues that nuclear energy, despite its attributes, is unlikely to play a major role in the coming decades in strengthening energy security or in countering the harmful effects of climate change. In particular, the rapid rate of nuclear reactor expansion required to make even a modest reduction in global warming would drive up construction costs and create shortages in building materials, trained personnel, and safety controls. There are also lingering questions over nuclear waste, as well as continued political opposition to siting new plants. Nonetheless, the report points out steps the United States could take -- such as imposing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions -- to level the economic playing field for all energy sectors, which over the long run would encourage the construction of new nuclear reactors (if only to replace existing ones that will need to be retired) and help reduce global warming.

Dr. Ferguson has written a fair and balanced report that brings the nuclear energy debate down from one of preferences and ideologies to one of reality. Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks is useful to anyone who wants to understand both thepotential and the limits of nuclear power to enhance energy security and slow climate change."

Among the report's recommendations are: "Nuclear energy produces one-fifth of U.S. electricity and one-sixth of global electricity; thus, the United States and its partners have a vested interest in ensuring safe and secure operation of the world’s nuclear industry. But the future of domestic and international commercial nuclear energy use faces large uncertainties in financial competitiveness and in external costs such as proliferation risks of the nuclear fuel cycle, safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants, and long-term disposal of highly radioactive waste. Generating electricity from any energy source comes with external costs. Traditionally, the U.S. government and many other governments have relied on subsidies to pick winners and losers among energy sectors. But providing subsidies to mature industries such as nuclear power have hidden the external costs. Governments should strive to identify and factor in as many of the external costs as possible into the price of energy sources." The report makes major recommendations for factoring in external costs and managing the risks.

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that individual and corporate members, as well as policymakers, journalists, students, and interested citizens in the United States and other countries, can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments. The Council takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. Government.

Access the complete 51-page report (
click here). Access the CFR website for additional information (click here). [*Energy, *Haz/Nuclear]