Wednesday, February 11, 2015
What is the EROI of nuclear power?
Today I noticed this article about EROI, or Energy Return on Investment, by James Conca in Forbes. The numbers are from this study by Weissbach et al. (2013). Here's the relevant graph:
Whoa, nuclear looks great! 75:1?? That's amazing!!
Excited by this, I looked to corroborate the numbers. Looking on Wikipedia, I found these numbers from a study by Murphy and Hall (2010):
Hmm, that's not so good. Nuclear is listed at "5 to 15" in the data, meaning from 5:1 to 15:1.
Digging a bit further, I found that the literature is very divided on the EROI of nuclear, listing it at anywhere from 1:1 (i.e., uneconomical at any price) to 90:1 (i.e., the most bountiful energy source in history).
So what is the real EROI of nuclear? What is the reason for the huge variance of numbers in the literature? Are some studies forgetting to account for the (huge) fixed costs of constructing nuclear plants? Are there big assumptions involved about how the technology will change?
Sam Wilson, on Twitter, suggests that the high numbers might be counting nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers in addition to power plants.
Colin, on Twitter, suggests that decommissioning costs may play a role as well.