New research: getting rid of nuclear power costs lives

Let’s consider the vital role of nuclear power in providing clean, efficient, and least-cost electricity in North Carolina. In doing so, let’s consider what would happen without it.

1. Existing nuclear power plants are the cleanest, most efficient, and least expensive source of electricity we have.

The levelized cost of energy from existing nuclear power plants is nearly one-third the levelized cost of energy from new wind and solar plants plus their required backup generation. It’s also two-thirds the cost of a new natural gas plant. It is, as Brookings has found, “the most cost-effective zero-emission technology.”

So losing this source would mean our electricity would be more polluting, less efficient, and more expensive. How would that impact North Carolina?

2. Nuclear is the top source of electricity in North Carolina.

At the start of the 21st century, coal was the top source by far, producing nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of the state’s electricity. Now nuclear is the state’s top source of electricity (33 percent) following by natural gas (30 percent).

So losing this source would mean electricity in North Carolina would especially be more expensive. What would that mean for North Carolinians?

3. Making electricity cost more than it should costs lives.

Research shows this to be a stark choice: higher energy prices costs lives, and lower energy prices saves lives. Playing politics with energy prices plays with people’s lives.

Furthermore, a new National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper shows that the loss of nuclear power in particular costs lives.

The paper, by economists Matthew J. Neidell, Shinsuke Uchida, and Marcella Veronesi, examined the effects of replacing all nuclear power in Japan with fossil fuels, in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

Here is the abstract:

This paper provides a large scale, empirical evaluation of unintended effects from invoking the precautionary principle after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. After the accident, all nuclear power stations ceased operation and nuclear power was replaced by fossil fuels, causing an exogenous increase in electricity prices.

This increase led to a reduction in energy consumption, which caused an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures. We estimate that the increase in mortality from higher electricity prices outnumbers the mortality from the accident itself, suggesting the decision to cease nuclear production has contributed to more deaths than the accident itself.

In other words, higher electricity prices from getting rid of all nuclear power caused more deaths than even the nuclear accident that prompted the decision.

So losing this resource would result in unnecessarily high prices hitting North Carolinians with drastic choices that, for some, would prove deadly.

Poor & energy costs

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...