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The problem of the competitiveness of nuclear energy: a biophysical explanation
Diaz Maurin, François
Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals; Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
In this study I try to explain the systemic problem of the low economic competitiveness of nuclear energy for the production of electricity by carrying out a biophysical analysis of its production process. Given the fact that neither econometric approaches nor onedimensional methods of energy analyses are effective, I introduce the concept of biophysical explanation as a quantitative analysis capable of handling the inherent ambiguity associated with the concept of energy. In particular, the quantities of energy, considered as relevant for the assessment, can only be measured and aggregated after having agreed on a pre-analytical definition of a grammar characterizing a given set of finite transformations. Using this grammar it becomes possible to provide a biophysical explanation for the low economic competitiveness of nuclear energy in the production of electricity. When comparing the various unit operations of the process of production of electricity with nuclear energy to the analogous unit operations of the process of production of fossil energy, we see that the various phases of the process are the same. The only difference is related to characteristics of the process associated with the generation of heat which are completely different in the two systems. Since the cost of production of fossil energy provides the base line of economic competitiveness of electricity, the (lack of) economic competitiveness of the production of electricity from nuclear energy can be studied, by comparing the biophysical costs associated with the different unit operations taking place in nuclear and fossil power plants when generating process heat or net electricity. In particular, the analysis focuses on fossil-fuel requirements and labor requirements for those phases that both nuclear plants and fossil energy plants have in common: (i) mining; (ii) refining/enriching; (iii) generating heat/electricity; (iv) handling the pollution/radioactive wastes. By adopting this approach, it becomes possible to explain the systemic low economic competitiveness of nuclear energy in the production of electricity, because of: (i) its dependence on oil, limiting its possible role as a carbon-free alternative; (ii) the choices made in relation to its fuel cycle, especially whether it includes reprocessing operations or not; (iii) the unavoidable uncertainty in the definition of the characteristics of its process; (iv) its large inertia (lack of flexibility) due to issues of time scale; and (v) its low power level.
620 - Assaig de materials. Materials comercials. Economia de l'energia
Energia nuclear
Electricitat -- Producció
Energia -- Aspectes econòmics
Consum d'energia
Crisis energètiques
Biologia econòmica
Fonts d'energia -- Aspectes econòmics
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Working Papers on Environmental Sciences

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