Do we really need nuclear power facilities in Germany?

In the Context of Climate Change and Cost Aspects

Seminar Paper, 2011

25 Pages, Grade: 1,7



List of Tables

1. Introduction

2. Can Nuclear Power helps to reduce CO2 Emissions?
2.1 Lifecycle of Nuclear Energy
2.2 Nuclear Power as an Alternative for Reducing CO2 Emissions
2.2.1 Nuclear Power versus Increasing Energy Efficiency
2.2.2 Nuclear Power versus Fossil Fuels Intensive Energy Forms

3. Costs of Nuclear Power
3.1 The Average Costs of Producing Energy
3.2 Historic and Actual Hints for Higher Costs of Nuclear Power
3.3 External Costs and Risk
3.3.1 External Costs of Nuclear Power in Germany
3.3.2 Hints for Higher Risks of Nuclear Power

4. Conclusion


List of Tables

Table 1: Comparison of studies estimating the equivalent CO2 emissions for several forms of energy production (unit: g CO2e/kWh)

Table 2: Average Generating Costs of Electricity

Table 3: External Costs of Nuclear Power

1. Introduction

Since the late reactor accident in Chernobyl in 1986, there has been an extensive distrust towards nuclear power in Germany. The last reactor accident in Fukushima (2011) has reinforced this trend and led the Federal Government to phase out nuclear power. On the 30th of June in 2011 the Bundestag (German Parliament) voted for phasing out nuclear power until 2022 (Deutscher Bundestag, 2011). If we can trust our Federal Government the question "Do we really need nuclear power facilities in Germany?" has to be answered with “NO”.

On the other hand, one of the intensively discussed arguments is that nuclear power has no emission of greenhouse gases which could help to reduce the CO2 emissions for reaching the Kyoto aim and stopping the climate change (e.g., Keepin and Kats, 1988; Kessides, 2010). For the decision if nuclear power is an appropriate mean for reducing the greenhouse gases the costs of nuclear power should be discussed as well. If nuclear power is - presented often as an advantage of nuclear power - a cheap alternative to other energy sources, nuclear power is competitive and could be helpful against the global warming problem.

There are a lot of information, researches, opinions, news paper articles etc. exacerbating any ambition to identify impartial and axiomatic facts. However, results also vary from country to country and must be valuated in each context. On this account this paper aspires to find an answer whether or not Germany needs nuclear power facilities in the context of climate change and low costs for the production of electricity. Therefore, the discussion focuses on two pro-nuclear power points: First, there are no emissions of greenhouse gases and second, energy prices are low. As a conclusion from that the second section of this paper is devoted to the question if nuclear power can help against the climate change. The third section explains the total costs of nuclear power and the possibility of calculating them. The paper will close with a conclusion and some policy recommendations.

2. Can Nuclear Power helps to reduce CO2 Emissions?

One of the most important reasons for the greenhouse gas effect1 is the increase of the carbon footprint.2 Over the period 1970 to 2004, the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities are increased around 70 %. Especially in developed countries the long-run greenhouse gases3 are raised. As a result, the emission of CO2 equivalent4 was higher in the period 1995 to 2004 with 0.92 GtCO2 equivalent per year compared to the former period 1970 to 1994 with 0.43 GtCO2 (International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2008, pp. 24-36). More than 25 % of the global greenhouse gases are caused by the energy supply especially of fossil fuels5 (International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2008, p. 48). In contrast, nuclear power is often presented as CO2-free energy source and as a long-run alternative for fossil fuels. In fact, nuclear power stations have no direct emissions of CO2 and greenhouse gases (e.g., Keepin and Kats, 1988; Viëter, 2011). In contrast to nuclear power, there are also other energy sources (e.g., natural gas, hydro power) producing less carbon dioxide. However, natural gas is a limited resource and hydro power requires building of dams because of this hydro power will be political difficult to enforceable and has adverse impacts on the local environment and the last energy source, renewable energy is difficult to use as base-load power (Chakravorty et al., 2006, p. 2). As all low-carbon emitting energy sources have disadvantages, nuclear power is often presented as energy source helping to reduce the CO2 emissions.

In this section it will be discussed if nuclear power produces also greenhouse gases and second, if nuclear power could solve the global warming problem compared to increasing energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels intensive energy resources.

2.1 Lifecycle of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power stations generate no direct greenhouse gases but by consideration of the overall nuclear power lifecycle greenhouse gases are produced as well. Including the phases of mining, milling, conversion and enrichment of uranium, transportation, construction and plant maintenance, greenhouse gases are produced (e.g., Sovacool, 2008; Viëter, 2011). In each of these phases, energy is used which is partly generated by fossil energy sources and thus greenhouses gases are emitted.6

By consideration of the overall nuclear power lifecycle, the following three studies estimate the equivalent CO2 emissions for nuclear power and other forms of energy production:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 1: Comparison of studies estimating the equivalent CO2 emissions for several forms of energy production (unit: g CO2e/kWh)

In terms of nuclear power, the German-based study by BMWi (2008) based on calculated emission value of IER7 (2007) estimates a lower equivalent CO2 emission compared to the other two studies. In contrast, the German-based study by Fritsche (2007) estimates higher equivalent CO2 emissions produced by nuclear power. In both studies, is a range for equivalent CO2 emissions emitted by nuclear power. The range is caused by different assumptions about the composition of uranium consumption. Around 20 countries worldwide have uranium resources (Erdmann and Zweifel, 2008, p. 276). In these countries, different energy sources for exploiting are used. For example, in Russia is more fossil fuel used for the mining than in the average imported uranium-mix of Germany (IER, 2007). In the last column, there is the study by Sovacool (2008) which compares 19 different studies worldwide and calculates a mean of 66 g CO2e/kWh produced by nuclear power.8

By comparison the greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear power to other forms of energy production, nuclear power is in the medium range. Especially lignite and coal emit high values of greenhouse gases (729 to 1153 g CO2e/kWh) which is more than the 20-fold of the emission of nuclear power stations. All studies calculated a higher value for the emission of greenhouse gases for natural gas and a lower value for wind power. The emissions of Hydro Power and Solar Energy varie in these studies. Additionally to the presented results in Table 1, the Fritsche shows that the greenhouse gas emission of nuclear power stations is higher than biogas and imports of solar from Spain (Fritsche, 2007).9

The emissions of greenhouse gases by nuclear power are not zero but compared to fossil fuel intensive power considerably lower. If nuclear power could be used to reduce the greenhouse gas is discussed in the next section.

2.2 Nuclear Power as an Alternative for Reducing CO2 Emissions

In this sections will be discussed if nuclear power could solve the global warming problem. First, nuclear power is compared to measures of improving energy efficiencies and second, will be discussed if nuclear power could replace energy forms emitting greenhouse gases.

2.2.1 Nuclear Power versus Increasing Energy Efficiency

Solving the problem of climate change caused by increasing greenhouse gases is discussed in several paper (e.g., Keepin and Kasts, 1988; Kinderman and Schumacher, 1990; Konrad, 1990). Therefore, nuclear power is assessed as a potential instrument. The U.S.-based study by Keepin and Kats (1988) analyse two alternatives to reduce greenhouse emissions, by using nuclear power or by increasing efficiency by electronic consumption. The authors use a sample period from 1988 to 2025 and therefore analyse two different scenarios (middle versus high energy growth). In the scenarios they displace coal by 50 % nuclear power in four decades (years: 1988 to 2025). Additionally they do not include the costs of nuclear waste treatment, storage, the safeties, environmental or health conditions, expansion of nuclear weapons in their calculations. Because of this assumption, nuclear power is cheaper in this calculation than in reality. In the end, they compare nuclear power and the investment in energy efficiency for reducing CO2. The result for the high scenario is that a dollar invested in efficiency displaced nearly seven times more carbon than a dollar invested in nuclear power (2 US-cent/kWh vs. 13.5 US-cent/kWh) in the United States. Another point is that for the capacity of the high scenario every 1.61 day (middle scenario: 2.5 days) in 37 years a new plant has to built.10 To contracture so many reactors will increase the CO2 emissions around 60 % for 8,3 Gt/year (middle scenario: 1 % for 5.3 Gt/year) in the same time period.

In conclusion, Keepin and Kats (1988) detect firstly that the increase of energy efficiency is more effective than the increase of nuclear power capacities, secondly, nuclear power does not can replace the overall coal and third, the greenhouse gas problem will be not reduces due to nuclear power stations. For a middle energy growth the result are less dramatically but the CO2 emissions are increasing as well. For opportunist of nuclear power this was this welcome result.

Some critics of the study can be find in Kinderman and Schumacher (1990) or Konrad (1990). In the calculation of Keepin and Kats (1988), costs for time lags of the construction of nuclear power stations are included but the authors do not include the time lags of implementation of conservation. Sometimes, efficiency conservations needs a long time for implementation. For example, in 1978 effective ballast prototypes were introduced in the American market but the sale was until 1990 low. Furthermore, Kinderman and Schumacher (1990) argue that at this time some efficiency advises of Keepin and Kats (1988) have been introduced in the United States. Another point is that the conservation for instance in the case of windows or houses will be effective but also expensive. Often subsidiaries to give incentives are need and subsides increase taxes. Kinderman and Schumacher (1990) advise the use of nuclear power stations in combination with increasing efficiency of electricity consumption. Konrad (1990) calculates the advice of Keepin and Kats (1988) case for Germany and detect that the level of efficiency was higher (in 1990) compared to the United States. Therefore, spending money in an increasing energy efficiency compared to using nuclear power is more expensive in Germany. Konrad (1990) advices in the context of CO2 reduction and compared to increasing energy efficiencies the use of nuclear power stations for Germany.

This three studies above show that no common opinion exist. Therefore, it cannot be said that nuclear power compared to increasing efficiency programmes can reduce CO2 emissions in a more effective way. Today, the enhancement of energy efficiency is still actual. For example, in the field of heat pumps in combination with renewable electricity and in the field of electro mobility is an increasing efficiency expected (FVEE, 2010).

2.2.2 Nuclear Power versus Fossil Fuels Intensive Energy Forms

This section discusses studies which examine if nuclear power could replace other forms of energy production in order to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Such forms use fossil fuels (e.g., lignite, coal) to produce energy. In order to calculate the quantity of nuclear power which could replace fossil fuels, researchers often use the general equilibrium model (e.g., Nordhaus, 1979; Welsch, 1998). However, this model has two disadvantages. First, it is complicated to calculate. Second, the model does not consider the shortage of fossil fuels which also influences the price of fossil fuels. Especially the second point should be included in a model for calculating the quantity of nuclear power replacing forms of energy production (using exhaustible fossil fuels) in order to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

As another method for calculating the quantity of nuclear power, Chakravorty et al. (2006) use the Hotelling Model.11 Hotelling's rule states that the price of an exhaustible resource (fossil fuel) has to grow over time with the interest rate (Hotelling, 1931). Additionally to the basic model, Chakravorty et al. (2006) introduce carbon dioxide emission caps in the model in order to consider the aims of the Kyoto Protocol. The authors assume that a reduction of CO2 emissions (as an aim of the Kyoto Protocol) is reached by replacing energy production by coal through nuclear power. Another assumption in order to apply this model is that energy is produced by a polluting, exhaustible resource (e.g., coal) and by a non-polluting, renewable resource.12 Nuclear power is either a renewable or a non-renewable resource. The author‟s assumption is that uranium is a re-using resource (due to reprocessing). Furthermore, both resources have to be substitutes.


1 Greenhouse Gases have different impacts for instance to the ecosystem, food supply, health, water, changing of settlements, society and industry which means changing of the ecosystem structure, changing species cultures, crop productivity is in lower latitude negatively influenced by increasing temperature which could increase the world hunger or extreme differences of temperature.

2 Carbon footprint is the balance of the emitted greenhouse gases by a product or individual.

3 Long-run greenhouse gases are for example carbon dioxide CO2, methane CH4, nitrous oxides N2O and halocarbons (includes bromine, chlorine and fluorine).

4 To compare the footprints of the different gases it is useful to convert the values into CO2 equivalent units.

5 Oil, coal and natural gas amount 85 % of the global energy consumption (Chakravorty, Magné, & Moreaux, 2006, p. 2).

6 In addition to CO2 emissions, nuclear power stations produce mainly indirectly the greenhouse gases methane CH4 and nitrous oxides N2O.

7 Institute of Energy Economics and the Rational Use of Energy.

8 The calculated minimum in this study is 1.36 versus the maximum of 288.25 g CO2e/kWh.

9 Biogas and Solar imports are not extra listed in Table 1. Biogas has a negative value of emissions which comes from the charging of cogeneration. The produced heat is higher than the total emission. This means that the replacement of heating by oil reduces the emission more than the new generated emissions

10 For the need of 8180 GW. In this calculation one plant has 1000 MW which is a little less than today‟s value in Germany.

11 In 1931, this model was developed by Harold Hotelling.

12 The Hotelling Model is here extended with an additional resource. The „textbook‟ model is an one-resource and one demand model.

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Do we really need nuclear power facilities in Germany?
In the Context of Climate Change and Cost Aspects
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institute for Public Economics)
Environmental and Resource Economics
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
638 KB
Atomkraftwerke, Atomenergie, CO2, Nuclear Power, Costs of Nuclear Power, Risks of Nuclear Power, Keepin Kats, Sovacool, Sweet, Insurance for Nuclear Power, External Costs of Nuclear Power, External Risks of Nuclear Power, Externe Kosten und Riskiken von Atomenergie
Quote paper
Maria Metzing (Author), 2011, Do we really need nuclear power facilities in Germany?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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