Journal Article - The Journal of Energy and Development

Are Light Water Reactor Energy Systems Sustainable?

| Autumn 2003

This paper discusses the concept "intermediate sustainability," in which there is some substitution between natural and technical capital over the foreseeable future. We suggest criteria by which to judge the intermediate sustainability of nuclear energy, in particular the LWR energy system. We conclude that LWR technology does not violate intermediate sustainability criteria for environmental emissions (including LWR plant health and safety) or accidental radioactive release. However, one could argue that LWR energy systems do not satisfy all of the intermediate sustainability criteria because of (1) their use of a depletable resource, uranium, and (2) the existence of externalities associated with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Also, we conclude that the LWR industry is not economically sustainable unless the cost of new LWR capacity is greatly reduced. Therefore, we suggest new nuclear power research to focus on proliferation-resistant technologies with (1) lower costs of construction and (2) increased fuel efficiency in the longer run.

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For Academic Citation: Rothwell, Geoffrey and Bob van der Zwaan. Are Light Water Reactor Energy Systems Sustainable?.” The Journal of Energy and Development, vol. 29. no. 1. (Autumn 2003):
65-79
.

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