The domestic nuclear power fleet contributes $60bn annually to gross domestic product (GDP) and provides other economic and societal benefits, according to a new study done by economists at The Brattle Group for the advocacy organization, Nuclear Matters.
The report, released July 7, estimates the value of the entire nuclear industry to the U.S. economy and its contribution to limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The research concludes that the nuclear industry accounts for about 475,000 full-time jobs (direct and secondary).
In the face of weak growth in electric demand, and the rise of cheap natural gas and government-subsidized renewable energy, the nuclear energy is trying to publicize the benefits of the existing nuclear fleet.
Brattle reports that 62 nuclear stations comprising 99 reactors operate in the United States, representing over 100,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity and almost 800 million megawatt hours (MWh) of annual generation. These plants operate in 30 states, with many plants clustered in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast.
According to the report, the VACAR generation reliability region (serving Virginia and the Carolinas) relies upon nuclear power for 50% of its electric generation and the PJM Interconnection is the second highest at 30%.
Several other reliability use nuclear power for upwards of 20% of their electric generation. Nuclear energy’s share of national electric output is currently 19%, Brattle notes.
Without nuclear power, electricity demand would be met mostly by increased reliance on natural gas-fired generation, and to a lesser extent, greater utilization of existing coal plants, according to the report.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear electric power generation sector employs directly between 50,000 and 60,000 workers. Nuclear vendors and manufacturers add another 60,000 positions.
But several nuclear units have prematurely retired in the past couple of years; some of them were still operating effectively.
In addition, energy generated from nuclear plants prevents 573 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This is worth an additional $25bn annually if valued at the U.S. government’s estimate for the social cost of carbon, the study said.
“The economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy are often under-valued in national and state energy policy discussions,” said Mark Berkman, Ph.D., co-author of the report and a principal at The Brattle Group. “It is even more critical to consider the significant value of U.S. nuclear plants in a landscape where several factors threaten some nuclear facilities and could diminish the industry’s contribution to our electricity supply, the economy, and the environment.”
The other co-author was Dean Murphy, Ph.D., of The Brattle Group.
The report estimates the nuclear industry’s value using Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), a widely-used dynamic input-output model of the U.S. economy, which for this study was linked with a simplified Brattle model of the U.S. electricity sector in order to better capture the dynamics of power markets and prices.