Prepared for the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
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Wind Energy Is Far More Economical Than Plutonium, New Research Finds

Further Investment In Plutonium Technology Is Unjustified

Case Study On Japan Shows Offshore Wind Power Could Easily Replace Plutonium At Lower Cost

Washington, DC, January 13: The dream of plutonium providing a “magical” source of energy far into the future has failed and should be left behind in the twentieth century, according to a new report issued today by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). The report, Wind Power Versus Plutonium: An Examination of Wind Energy Potential and a Comparison of Offshore Wind Energy to Plutonium Use in Japan, comes at a time when the future of plutonium programs is already in grave doubt. Mounting troubles include technical problems and accidents in Japan, the shutdown of the world’s largest breeder reactor in France, and the imminent cancellation by the new German government of commercial plutonium separation contracts with British and French reprocessing companies.

“The worldwide potential of wind energy and recent advances in technology, such as larger, more reliable turbines and offshore wind power platforms, have made electricity from wind far more economical in the near-term and much more promising in the long-term than plutonium,” said Marc Fioravanti, author of the report and a consulting engineer with IEER.

The report examines Japan as a case in point.

“The situation for plutonium in Japan relative to wind power is about as favorable as it can be since Japan has a limited land area on which wind power development is possible. But today, offshore wind energy is much more economical than the use of plutonium as a fuel in Japan’s nuclear reactors,” Mr. Fioravanti said.

“It is time to leave plutonium behind in the century in which it was created and stop throwing good money after the enormous amount of public resources that have already been wasted on it. IEER’s analysis shows that wind energy is a significant part of the answer to a better energy future,” said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of IEER. “Japan has spent huge sums of money on developing plutonium as an energy source – $11 billion on the Rokassho reprocessing plant alone – in the name of energy self-sufficiency. But development of wind power is far better economically, environmentally, and for promoting non-proliferation.”

The report’s analysis shows that costs of electricity from plutonium-based fuel (known as MOX) in present-day commercial nuclear reactors are about 40% greater than offshore wind electricity. In the long-term, costs of electricity from a breeder reactor system are at least twice as expensive as offshore wind electricity, based on the present state of development of the two technologies. Wind energy costs are expected to decline, but no such trend is evident in breeder reactor costs.

According to the report, the development of economical wind power has been held back by poor public policy decisions, such as a focus on tax incentives for capital investment that have encouraged high initial construction costs along with inadequate attention to long-term performance.

The report recommends a U.S. government commitment to purchasing 1,000 megawatts of wind power annually, generated by auctioning off access to suitable sites, including offshore locations. Successful bidders would have to guarantee performance for a 15 to 20 year period. “The competitive bidding process would encourage private investment in research and development and produce better performance at lower costs,” said Dr. Makhijani. “Increasing wind power production will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions which aggravate climate change risks.”

The report notes that the potential of wind energy to contribute significantly to electricity supply is already being realized. Specifically, Denmark is implementing an ambitious plan of offshore and land-based wind power development that will supply 25 percent of its total energy supply by the year 2030 as a key part of its goal of reducing its CO2 emissions by 50% percent relative to 1988. “Denmark has become a leader in wind technology as a result of its farsighted plans, but other countries are taking significant action as well,” Mr. Fioravanti stated, pointing to 2,100 MW of new wind capacity worldwide installed in 1998, increasing total capacity by more than 25%.

The report notes that wind energy is not free of environmental impacts, such as possible adverse impacts on birds. Offshore wind energy development could affect marine life. “The environmental impacts of wind power should be carefully addressed during planning stages, and monitoring of environmental systems should take place as a matter of course,” Mr. Fioravanti stated. “Environmental impacts of wind power, however, are clearly far lower than those of plutonium fuel use. Not only have radioactive discharges from plutonium processing facilities in the United Kingdom and France contaminated marine life and endangered human health, but the residual high-level waste will be a burden for generations to come.”

IEER is a non-profit organization in Takoma Park, Maryland that provides the public and policy-makers with clear, thoughtful studies on a variety of energy and environmental issues.