By - Michael Drost

Nuclear industry contributes $60 billion to U.S. economy: report

Energize Weekly, July 8, 2015

Nuclear power plants contribute about $60 billion annually to America’s gross domestic product (GDP), in addition to other economic and societal benefits, according to a new report by economists at The Brattle Group.

The report, commissioned by Nuclear Matters, comes as utilities and governments weigh whether to invest more in advanced nuclear tech given a challenging economic and social climate. Construction delays, low power prices, and public hostility generated by the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan have given nuclear a bad reputation as of late, whether it’s in the minds of utilities, investors, or ratepayers, so industry supporters could use all the information they can get.

The report notes that, aside from the $60 billion contribution to national GDP, the nation’s 62 nuclear power plants and 99 operating reactors also help support 475,000 full-time jobs and provides nearly $10 billion in federal tax revenue, and $2.2 billion in state tax revenues. The industry also helps keep retail electricity prices about 6 percent lower compared to markets without nuclear, according to the report. That’s not counting the obvious environmental benefits of producing the baseload, carbon-free power generation of nuclear, which the report says helps avoid 573 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Report co-author Dr. Mark Berkman said that benefits of nuclear are often overlooked in the current economic climate, which has focused heavily on cost overruns and construction delays. Low power prices and state subsidies for renewable energy have also diminished the competitiveness of nuclear power, with five nuclear power plants shutting down prematurely in 2013 alone.

“The economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy are often undervalued in national and state energy policy discussions,” said Dr. Berkman, a principal at The Brattle Group. “It is even more critical to consider the significant value of U.S. nuclear plants in a landscape where several factors threaten some nuclear facilities and could diminish the industry’s contribution to our electricity supply, the economy, and the environment.”

The report also comes as proposed federal rules on carbon emissions are poised to make nuclear a much more attractive alternative to coal and oil-fired power generation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed reducing electricity sector emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, with emission reduction targets for each state. The EPA Clean Power Plan (CPP) also outlines a variety of options, called building blocks, which states can use to cut carbon emissions, including nuclear power.

The option to use nuclear to reduce carbon emissions has weighed heavily on industry officials in states where the rules are more stringent. In Virginia, where the CPP would require a carbon emission reduction of 38 percent, the potential implementation of the rules has influenced the debate over whether the state’s largest utility, Dominion Virginia Power, should build a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna Power Station in Louisa County.

“If the rule comes out as is, that might in itself make the business case for North Anna 3,” said Jerry Bischof, Dominion’s North Anna plant site vice president to The Daily Progress.

The EPA is slated to release a final rule this summer.

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