Ideal Taxes Association

Raymond Richman       -       Jesse Richman       -       Howard Richman

 Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog

Unlike other fuels, the Opportunity Cost of using Uranium for Electricity Generation is Negligible
Michael Natelson, 4/20/2011

[Michael Natelson Ph.D. is a Nuclear Engineer and a member of Ideal Tax Association's Board of Directors]

As a result of the tragic events in Japan much has been written and broadcast concerning the future of nuclear power. Scenarios have ranged from modest delays in deployment of new plants to forgoing in time the nuclear option entirely. Many of the benefits and costs/risks have been discussed, but a key grand scale motivation for pursuing nuclear energy from fission reactors is omitted. Uranium, and ultimately Thorium, fueling reactors could supply the bulk of humanity’s electrical energy needs for several thousand years. This is possible because these elements are abundant in the earth’s crust, and the reactor technology to exploit them has progressed to an industrial scale and continues to improve. 

The “motivation” I refer to above, however, is based on the fact that Uranium and Thorium have negligible substitution-value. They have no other significant economic application.

This is not true for other sources of electrical energy.  Obviously, coal, oil and natural gas are excellent chemical feed stocks. It is already clear that it makes no sense to burn oil to generate electricity. It is much more valuable as an energy source for transportation. Burning gas in combined cycle turbine generators with thermal efficiencies of~60% is attractive at today’s gas prices, but with modern home heating furnaces at better than 90% efficient this use might be a better choice if we are to burn this finite resource.

One can also think about “substitution-value” as applied to the resources needed for electrical energy generation from “renewable” sources. The land needed per Watt for solar, biomass and wind farms could have other uses. It should be remembered, that the specific energy release from fission is many orders of magnitude larger than from chemical, mechanical or photoelectric processes (for example: O2 + C  = CO2 yields 4.1 electron volts (ev) of energy, fission of a Uranium nucleus yields ~200 million electron volts), and thus it is not surprising that the resources besides Uranium, and some day Thorium,  that a nuclear power plant requires (land, water, machinery etc), which do have substitution-value, are modest compared to other electrical energy sources.

Our immediate thoughts are with those peoples, the Japanese and Haitians, dealing with massive natural catastrophes. As the four damaged Daiichi reactors are prepared for remediation, the worlds nuclear community will, I am sure, determine significant “lessons learned”, as with Three Mile Island.  In the present case the comparison with the similar plants at Daini (4 units) and Onagawa(3 units), which also experienced the direct impact of the quake and tsunami and successfully shut down, will be particularly  instructive. The safety record and operational efficiency of nuclear power is outstanding, but opportunities for improvement will continue to be sought, certainly from this event.

Your Name:

Post a Comment:

  • Richmans' Blog    RSS
  • Our New Book - Balanced Trade
  • Buy Trading Away Our Future
  • Read Trading Away Our Future
  • Richmans' Commentaries
  • ITA Working Papers
  • ITA on Facebook
  • Contact Us

    Jan 2022
    Dec 2021
    Nov 2021
    Oct 2021
    Sep 2021
    May 2021
    Apr 2021
    Feb 2021
    Jan 2021
    Dec 2020
    Nov 2020
    Oct 2020
    Jul 2020
    Jun 2020
    May 2020
    Apr 2020
    Mar 2020
    Dec 2019
    Nov 2019
    Oct 2019
    Sep 2019
    Aug 2019
    Jun 2019
    May 2019
    Apr 2019
    Mar 2019
    Feb 2019
    Jan 2019
    Dec 2018
    Nov 2018
    Aug 2018
    Jul 2018
    Jun 2018
    May 2018
    Apr 2018
    Mar 2018
    Feb 2018
    Dec 2017
    Nov 2017
    Oct 2017
    Sep 2017
    Aug 2017
    Jul 2017
    Jun 2017
    May 2017
    Apr 2017
    Mar 2017
    Feb 2017
    Jan 2017
    Dec 2016
    Nov 2016
    Oct 2016
    Sep 2016
    Aug 2016
    Jul 2016
    Jun 2016
    May 2016
    Apr 2016
    Mar 2016
    Feb 2016
    Jan 2016
    Dec 2015
    Nov 2015
    Oct 2015
    Sep 2015
    Aug 2015
    Jul 2015
    Jun 2015
    May 2015
    Apr 2015
    Mar 2015
    Feb 2015
    Jan 2015
    Dec 2014
    Nov 2014
    Oct 2014
    Sep 2014
    Aug 2014
    Jul 2014
    Jun 2014
    May 2014
    Apr 2014
    Mar 2014
    Feb 2014
    Jan 2014
    Dec 2013
    Nov 2013
    Oct 2013
    Sep 2013
    Aug 2013
    Jul 2013
    Jun 2013
    May 2013
    Apr 2013
    Mar 2013
    Feb 2013
    Jan 2013
    Dec 2012
    Nov 2012
    Oct 2012
    Sep 2012
    Aug 2012
    Jul 2012
    Jun 2012
    May 2012
    Apr 2012
    Mar 2012
    Feb 2012
    Jan 2012
    Dec 2011
    November 2011
    October 2011
    September 2011
    August 2011
    July 2011
    June 2011
    May 2011
    April 2011

    March 2011
    February 2011
    January 2011
    December 2010
    November 2010
    October 2010
    September 2010
    August 2010
    July 2010
    June 2010
    May 2010
    April 2010
    March 2010
    February 2010
    January 2010

    Book Reviews
    Capital Gains Taxation
    Corporate Income Tax
    Consumption Taxes
    Economy - Long Term
    Economy - Short Term
    Environmental Regulation

    Last 100 Years
    Real Estate Taxation

    Outside Links:

  • American Economic Alert
  • American Jobs Alliance
  • Angry Bear Blog
  • Economy in Crisis
  • Econbrowser
  • Emmanuel Goldstein's Blog
  • Levy Economics Institute
  • McKeever Institute
  • Michael Pettis Blog
  • Naked Capitalism
  • Natural Born Conservative
  • Science & Public Policy Inst.
  • Votersway Blog
  • Watt's Up With That


  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]