These bottlenecks will be a particular problem for the construction of plants between now and 2020, though they should resolve themselves over time. Some expansion is already occurring to meet this demand: Japan Steel Works is working to double its capacity, and enrollment in universities’ nuclear engineering departments is increasing. Economic incentives will eventually yield the resources in personnel and material to enable new construction to proceed, but there may be short-term dislocations as the worldwide economy adjusts.

IMPACTS

Given the small number of new nuclear plants likely to be built before 2020, their near-term impacts (compared to the currently operating fleet) are likely to be small.

Environmental85

Compared to other baseload electrical generation options, operating nuclear power plants have relatively few adverse environmental impacts, such as those derived from SOx, NOx, mercury, or CO2 emissions. The magnitude of any environmental benefits of new nuclear plants will depend on the number of plants ultimately built, of course, as well as on the environmental profiles of the energy sources displaced.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. power sector overall is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, totaling roughly 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2007 (see Figure 1.11 in Chapter 1). One of the environmental advantages of nuclear power is its small greenhouse gas footprint. In 2007, U.S. nuclear power plants were responsible for approximately 70 percent of the greenhouse-gas-free electricity production in the United States.86 However, before 2020, new nuclear plants will contribute relatively little to reducing the total greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. power sector because of the

85

For a more thorough discussion of the topics briefly reviewed in this section, see Annex 8.D (“Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Technologies”).

86

This estimate was calculated by adding the nuclear and renewable contributions to U.S. electricity, and calculating the nuclear fraction of this total.



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