Framing a New Nuclear Renaissance Through Environmental Competitiveness, Community Characteristics, and Cost Mitigation Through Passive Safety
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The nuclear power sector has a history of challenges with its relative competitiveness against other forms of electricity generation. The availability of low cost low natural gas, the Fukushima accident, and the cancellation of the AP1000 V.C. Summer project has caused a considerable role in ending the short lived “Nuclear Renaissance.” Historically, the nuclear industry has focused on direct cost reduction through construction, increasing installed capacity, and improving efficiencies to capacity factors in the 1990s and 2000s as ways to maintain competitiveness against other forms of energy generation. With renewables serving as an emerging low-carbon competitor, an added focus needs to be placed on indirect methods to increase the competitiveness of nuclear power. This thesis focuses on establishing pathways where nuclear power can be competitive with other forms of electricity generation given its advantages environmentally with Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), socioeconomically with legacy nuclear power plants, and through passive safety with SMRs. In Chapter 2, I estimate the life cycle GHG emissions and examine the cost of carbon abatement when nuclear is used to replace fossil fuels for the Westinghouse SMR (W-SMR) and AP1000. I created LCA models using past literature and Monte Carlo simulation to estimate the mean (and 90% confidence interval) life cycle GHG emissions of the W-SMR to be 7.4 g of CO2-eq/kwh (4.5 to 11.3 g of CO2-eq/kwh) and the AP1000 to be 7.6 g of CO2-eq/kwh (5.0 to 11.3 g of CO2-eq/kwh). Within the analysis I find that the estimated cost of carbon abatement with an AP1000 against coal and natural gas is $2/tonne of CO2-eq (-$13 to $26/tonne of CO2-eq) and $35/tonne of CO2-eq ($3 to $86/tonne of CO2-eq), respectively. In comparison, a W-SMR the cost of carbon abatement against coal and natural gas is $3/tonne of CO2- eq (-$15 to $28/tonne of CO2-eq) and $37/tonne of CO2-eq (-$1 to $90/tonne of CO2-eq), respectively. I conclude, with the exception of hydropower, the Westinghouse SMR design and the AP1000 have a smaller footprint than all other generation technologies including renewables. Assigning a cost to carbon for natural gas plant or implementing zero-emission incentives can improve the economic competitiveness of nuclear power through environmental competitiveness. The retirement of small and medium-scale coal power plants due the availability of natural gas can provide an opportunity for SMRs to replace that missing capacity. This trade-off between higher costs but lower GHG emissions demonstrates that depending on the value placed on carbon, SMR technology could be economically competitive with fossil fuel technologies Following my environmental competitiveness analysis, I shift towards investigating socioeconomic competitiveness of legacy large scale nuclear power plants compared to baseload coal and natural gas plants. In Chapter 3, I utilize ANOVA models, Tukey’s, and t-tests to explore the socioeconomic characteristics and disparities that exist within counties and communities that contain baseload power plants. My results indicate, relative to the home counties of nuclear plants, communities closer to nuclear plants have higher home values and incomes than those further away. Conversely, communities near coal and natural gas have incomes and home values that increase with distance from the plant. Communities near coal plants are typically either in less wealthy parts of the county or have a similar socioeconomic makeup as county. It can be suggested that equity issues regarding the community characteristics could be included in the discussion of converting existing power plants to use other fuel sources. Communities near power plants are not created equally and have different needs. While communities near nuclear power plants may benefit from the added tax base and absence of emissions, this is not the case for communities near coal and natural gas. With the impending retirement of large scale coal plants, the conversion of these plants to natural gas or small modular reactors presents an opportunity where negative environmental externalities can be reduced while also retaining some of the economic benefits. In Chapter 4, I present a model for estimating environmental dose exposure in a post-accident scenario to support scalable emergency planning zones (EPZs). The model includes calculating radionuclide inventory; estimating the impact decontamination factors from the AP1000, NUREG-6189, and EPRI’s Experimental Verification of Post-Accident iPWR Aerosol Behavior test will have on radioactivity within containment; and estimate dose exposure using atmospheric dispersion models. This work aims to compare historical decontamination factors with updated decontamination factors to outline the impact on containment radioactivity and dose exposure relative to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Protective Action Guide (PAG) limits. On average, I have found the AP1000, Surry, and iPWR produces 139, 153, and 104 curies/ft3 75 minutes after a LOCA. The iPWR produces less radioactivity per volume in containment than the AP1000 and Surry 84% and 96% of the time, respectively. The AP1000 produces less radioactivity per volume than Surry 68% of the time. On average, the AP1000, Surry, and iPWR produces 84,000, 106,000, and 7,000 curies/MWth 75 minutes after a LOCA. The lower bound 5 rem PAG limit is never exceeded for and does not exceeds the 1 rem lower PAG limit for whole body exposure at the 5-mile EPZ using the mean value. Considering this analysis uses a simple worst case Gaussian Plume model for atmospheric dispersion, the findings can be used to in conjunction with the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses (SOARCA) to provide accurate and realistic estimates for exposure. I believe this analysis can help to develop a regulatory basis for technology-neutral, risk-based approach to EPZs for iPWRs. Finally, in Chapter 5 I discuss historical challenges facing the nuclear industry, policy implications, and recommendations. These policy implications and recommendations serve as pathways to frame an new nuclear renaissance. I also recommend future work where I details opportunities for improvements to nuclear competitiveness. Ultimately, this thesis can help policy and decision makers that can improve competitiveness and minimize risk as it relates to the expansion of nuclear power sector.