Minnesotans For Sustainability©


Sustainable:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.




Net Energy from Nuclear Power

Gene Tyner, Sr.1*
October 2002


    Table 1
Net Energy for U.S. Economy
    Figure 1 ‑ Btu's to produce 1$ GDP
A Critique of Standard Economic Reasoning
Historical Energy Consumption Information
    Figure 2 ‑ U.S. Energy Disposition
    Figure 3 - Energy Flow Diagram
The Cost x (E/GDP) Model
Net Energy from Nuclear Power
One Plant Per Month Construction Program
        Table 2 ‑ Static Net‑Energy Analysis
        Table 3 ‑ Dynamic Net‑Energy Analysis
        Figure 4 ‑ Annual Net Energy from 1200 Plants
        Figure 5 ‑ Cumulative Net Energy 1200 Plants
        Table 4 ‑ Summary of Cost x E/GDP Analyses 100 yr. Scenarios
        Table 5 ‑ Variables Changed for Results in Table 4
The Mississippi River Parable
    Table 6 ‑ Zero Net Energy Prices ‑ Selected Energy Types ‑ Delivered to End User
Closing Arguments
    The Environment
    Catastrophic Risk
    Weapons Proliferation
    Philosophical Conjecture



This paper is a continuation of prior efforts to estimate net-energy yield of nuclear power in the United States.2 Additional details and explanations are included in the appendix below.

The Bush-Cheney Administration, perhaps recognizing that there is not enough oil and gas to continue economic growth, is considering a massive nuclear-power construction program along with other initiatives, in hopes of alleviating future energy shortages. It is important that we clearly understand whether this will result in added energy supply or merely divert massive quantities of fossil fuels to an effort with small or negative long-term results and, perhaps, exacerbate the short-term energy problem.

In this paper the relationship between Energy Consumption and Gross Domestic Product is used as a surrogate to estimate the amount of Energy Required to Get Energy (Net Energy) – or as some others have termed Energy Return On Investment (EROI.) It is a relatively simple procedure: (1) Estimate Lifecycle System Cost (LSC) of an energy-transformation system, (2) Multiply LSC times a selected ratio of annual energy consumption (E) to annual consumption of Gross Domestic Product (GDP,) and (3) Compare the result to the expected energy output from the energy system under consideration.

In the current study a complete nuclear-power system is analyzed, including construction of all plant, including transmission and distribution plant, lifecycle operation and maintenance, fuel, and finally disposition of residual wastes after the plant has been retired.

Table 1 is exemplary of how this methodology works out for Total U.S. Energy Consumption for selected years from 1980 to 1995. Total energy consumed is known. Total consumption in Btu’s is multiplied times the average cost per Btu. (Mil Btu. Avg.) in order to estimate the amount of energy required to mine, transform and deliver the energy to final users of the energy.

It was striking to find that the “% Available” energy is uniformly 89-90% for the selected years with an average Output/Input ratio of approximately 9 to 1.

Table 1 - Net Energy for U.S. Economy

  1980  1985 1990  1995 1997
1  Energy Consumed Btu (data) 7.84E+016 7.68E+016 8.42E+016 9.09E+016 9.43E+016
2 $ per Mil Btu ( $ (data) 7.16 7.88 8.67 9.15 8.79
3 Energy $Cost Line2*(L1/1e6) 5.6E+011 6.0E+011 7.3E+011 8.3E+011 8.3E+011
Btu/$ Data 16004  13430 12554  12054 11560
5 Est. Input Ener. Line3 x Line4 8.99E+015 8.12E+015 9.17E+015 1.00E+016 9.58E+015
6 Avail Net Energy Line1-Line5 6.9E+016 6.9E+016 7.5E+016 8.1E+016 8.5E+016
7 Net Quads   69.44 68.66 75.04 80.90 84.74
8 % Avail Line6/Line1 89% 89% 89% 89% 90%
9 Output/Input Ratio Line 1/Line5 8.7 9.5 9.2 9.1 9.8
10   Energy Prices are Adj. (from Line 2) are in 1996 Dollars
11   E/GDP ratios are based on chained 1996 dollars

Most net‑energy studies only count as Input Energy, the "direct" fuels closely associated with the latent processes of construction and operation of an energy‑transformation systems and ignore the energy embodied in all of the in all the processes leading up to the construction, operation and delivery of energy to final users. Those procedures are sort of analogous to marginal cost analyses in economics. Consequently, many studies of nuclear power show high output/input ratios. 3 A reason for exclusion may be the lack of data to know what all was involved in the historic processes. Attempts to do this have been classified as Net­Energy Process Analyses.

It is argued that a complete net energy analysis should estimate the capability of the energy‑transformation entity to continuously sustain and reproduce itself from it's own output and leave a sufficient residual for the rest of society to enjoy a comparable level of economic welfare as the energy producers.

The model proposed in this paper assumes that all money payments made by the energy‑transformation systems are essential to the system's existence. It is argued that there is a direct, although approximate, relationship between monies paid and energy consumed. This relationship offers a more comprehensive departure point for estimating the Net Energy to be expected from energy‑transformation systems than can be obtained in energy analysis (except for Odum's eMergy Analysis.)4 The ratio of Annual Energy Consumption (E) and Annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), i.e. the E/GDP Ratio, is an approximation of how much energy, on average, is depleted to produce one dollar of GDP.

Figure 1 indicates that less is required in recent years than before. Increased efficiency accounts for part of this drift but Cleveland and Kaufman attribute most of it to energy‑quality changes.5

Figure 1 ‑ Btu's to Produce 1$ GDP ($1996)

(Click image to enlarge.)

A Critique of Standard Economic Reasoning

The reasoning of standard economists has dominated the world perspective on future energy supply, and hence energy policy, or lack thereof. On the demand side, it may be correct to reason that rising energy prices may alter human behavior to behave differently, such as conservation or change in lifestyle. On the supply side, however, standard economic theory holds that if any good is in short supply (and many standard economists regard energy as another ordinary good,) rising prices will trigger entrepreneurial ingenuity to provide an additional supply of the same good or an acceptable substitute. While this is acceptable reasoning for ordinary goods (as long as energy and resources are available,) energy is not an ordinary good. Various energy forms (petroleum, natural gas, wood, electricity etc.) are somewhat substitutable for each other, but nothing can substitute for energy, per se. Finally, ordinary goods can only be made available by depleting some form of energy. It takes energy to get energy. Standard economists appear to not worry about energy or resource depletion because of their faith in markets to solve all shortage problems. This seems more like religion than science.

The First Law of Economics should be:  Goods and services cannot be made available unless energy is depleted. The existing tools, factories, infrastructure and housing stock of the current civilization, including energy transformation and distribution systems, was initially put in place with relatively cheap and abundant energy (energy with a high net‑energy yield.) As rich fossil‑fuel stocks are depleted, more energy is needed to get energy, consequently, relatively less will be available for production of other goods and services. Cleveland and Kaufman have estimated the "Net‑Energy From the Extraction of Oil and Gas in the United States, 1954‑1957.6

Energy‑acquisitions systems also enjoy the benefits of the in‑place infrastructure of society. The existing U.S. infrastructure set (waterways, railways, roadways, ad infinitum, capital‑in‑place, and housing stock, highway, airway, waterway systems, ad infinitum) gradually deteriorates and requires replacement. Replacements require further energy depletion and as time passes, sources with less net energy will be available to do this. Since infrastructure serves energy‑acquisition systems, it seems reasonable to assume that net‑energy yield will decline accordingly (and more gross energy will be required to produce a dollar of GDP.) Of course, as society accumulates information, we may learn to use energy and materials more efficiently, but all efforts to increase efficiency are not without an energy cost of achieving that efficiency. Recycling, although a reasonable practice is only achieved by an input of energy and materials.

Further, the current set of energy types (coal, natural gas, petroleum, etc.) has a corresponding set of end­using technologies (automobiles, ships, trains, automobiles, aircraft, manufacturing and communications systems, space‑heating systems, ad infinitum.) Adapting to a new form of energy —say an all‑electric system— requires a different set of end‑user equipments. Much energy would be required to make such transition (s).

Despite relatively low prices of current energy supply, it is clear that world fossil‑fuel supplies will ultimately be depleted to a point where it is no longer practical to mine them. More energy will be required for recovery and transformation than can be realized from them. M. King Hubbert estimated that about 80% of world petroleum supply would be consumed between 1960 and 2030; 80% of natural gas between 1934 and 1999; and 80% of coal between 2000 and 2300. In 1976, Fowler revised and extended this analysis with similar conclusions. Duncan has placed the peak of per‑capita energy production as 1979 that has precipitously declined from 1979 to 1999.7  Colin Campbell provides an updated Hubbert‑Type of discussion.8

Some standard economists explicitly held that capital could be substituted for energy. While this is true for individual activities,9  capital is only made available in the overall system by a corresponding depletion of some form of energy and materials and therefore, substitution of an alternate good for energy does not really occur in a broad sense. Energy is an extra‑ordinary, essential substance having unique properties for which there is no substitute.10

Historical Energy Consumption Information

Figure 2 depicts Total‑Energy Consumption, Energy‑System Losses, and End‑Use Consumption froml973 to 2000. It should be noted that End Use is approximately 75% of total consumption.

Figure  2 ‑ U.S. Energy Disposition

Figure 3 is a duplicate of the Department of Energy Energy Information Agency Diagram on the production and consumption of Electricity for Year 1999. Figures are Quadrillion Btu's of Energy (Q). It should be noted that it takes about 3 Btu's of Fossil Fuel to provide 1 Btu in the form of electricity.11

Figure 3 -Energy Flow Diagram

Fig. 3, above, shows that 33.32 Quads of heat energy is consumed to provide 11.14 Quads (in Btu's) of Electricity to end users. It is recognized that electricity is a "high‑quality" energy form, with unique qualities for lighting, operating motors, communications systems, computers, i.e., for electricity‑specific applications. However, it should be recognized that when a kilowatt‑hour of electricity is needed for heat (for example, space heating) only 3413 Btu's of heat is available from each kilowatt hour of electricity, i.e., quality may be less material. Petroleum, for example, is superior in quality to electricity for powering our current transportation systems (aircraft, automobiles, locomotives, shipping, etc.) It will take some doing to have an all‑electric transportation system.

The Cost x (E/GDP) Model

The "Cost times E/GDP" approach is as follows:

(1) Estimate the total lifecycle monetary cost of a single system;

(2) Multiply that cost times a selected ratio of Annual Energy Consumption Annual Gross Domestic Product (E/GDP Ratio) to estimate the input energy needed to get energy;

(3) Compare Estimated Output to Estimated Input; and

(4) Calculate the Expected Net Energy from constructing a large number of individual systems over time (Dynamic Net Energy Analysis.)

Among other things, the accuracy of the model is limited by the inability of market price and associated GDP accounting procedures to account for "externality problems" such as impact on and services from environmental resources, distribution of income and wealth, social justice (who benefits and who pays), monopoly effects, joint production, etc. The model also involves substantial averaging of data, necessarily, and is thereby a broad (but inclusive) method. It is argued that most other net‑energy methodologies (except Howard Odum's eMergy procedure) exclude energy costs that are essential to understanding the viability of any proposed substitute for fossil fuels.

Net Energy from Nuclear Power

Probably, the most counted‑on substitute for fossil fuels has been the generation of electricity from nuclear power (fission, breeder reactors, and fusion;) but there is uncertainty about ultimate costs, safety, the efficacy of the undertaking, the risk of serious environmental consequences, the cost of decommissioning of the systems, safe disposal of long‑term radioactive waste, the associated impact on global ecosystems. The likelihood of a catastrophic accident increases as large numbers of plants are operated. The availability of Uranium for fuel, alone, may be a limiting factor on the long‑term viability of nuclear power.12  The analyses in this paper do not attempt to account for any of these potential negative consequences.

Others are suggesting other alternative forms of energy such as wind, photovoltaic, hydrogen, biomass, ad infinitum, to help solve the dilemma of fossil‑fuel depletion. All candidates for substitution must be subjected to careful and comprehensive net‑energy scrutiny to insure that we do not pour energy "down a rat hole" and promise more than can be delivered.

Most net‑energy analyses of nuclear power only estimate the net‑energy available at the "bus‑bar" and do not include the energy cost of transmission and distribution and some did not include the energy cost of plant decommissioning and disposition of radioactive waste; and as previously stated, many only include the direct and latent consumption of energy in the construction and operation of the plants. Importantly, they did not consider the embodied‑energy consumption associated with labor, interest, dividends and tax costs. Further, it is important to understand that there is a massive up‑front energy investment in the plant construction and fuel acquisition, and the associated transmission and distribution systems. Several years pass after construction begins before a net‑energy profit is realized (if any.)

One Plant Per Month Construction Program


Using the Cost time E/GDP approach, an "optimistic" one‑plant analysis shows that one plant may yield about 3.8 times as much energy as is input to the system over a 40‑year period. However, under a continuous construction and decommissioning program the annual dynamic net‑energy yield is smaller.

Table 2 is an extracted image of the spreadsheet model. It shows an "optimistic" estimate of the "static" net‑energy yield from one 1000‑megawatt power plant over a 40‑year period. It includes total costs of construction of generating plant and transmission and distribution plant, acquisition of fuel and disposal of all residual wastes (fuel and plant) 40 years from start‑date of construction.

It is a snapshot of the 40‑year cycle.

Table 2 ‑ Static Net‑Energy Analysis ‑ 1000‑Megawatt Plant (Optimistic)

Line* B C D E F G
3 Operating Life Years 30 Equation Calculation Energy
4 Plant Size KW 1,000,000    


5 Construction Time Years 10    


6 Construction Rate Plants/Yr 12     Multiply
7 Hrs. In Year Btu 8760     D8 x
8 Btu/$GDP Btu 12000     Column G
9 Btu in 1 KwHr Btu 3413      
10 KwHr Generated Cap. Factor 80% D3*D4*D7*D10= 2.10E+011 7.18E+014
11 Plant Cost/KW $ $2,500 D4*D11= $2,500,000,000  
12 Trans Dist: %Plant $ 50% F11*D12= $1,250,000,000  
13 Total Plant $   F11+F12= $3,750,000,000 4.50E+013
14 Fixed Chg. Rate "Real" 10.28% D3*F13*D14= $11,565,000,000  
15 Distributed Financial     F14‑F13= $7,815,000,000 9.38E+013
16 Gen. Plant O&M $/KwHr 0.0070 F10*D16= $1,471,680,000 1.77E+013
17 Other Plant O&M $/KwHr 0.0010 F10*D17= $210,240,000 2.52E+012
18 Fuel Cost $/KwHr 0.0080 F10*D18= $1,681,920,000 2.02E+013
19 Decom. Cost & Waste 25% F11*D19= $625,000,000 7.50E+012
20 Lifecycle Cost   F14+F16+F17+F18+F19 = $15,553,840,000 1.87E+014
21 Net       0 5.31E+014
22 Output/Input Ratio       G10/G20= 3.84
23 Per Cent Available Energy     (G10‑G20)/G10= 74%
24 Average End‑User Price Per Kilowatt Hour   F21/F10= $0.07
* See explanatory notes in the Appendix.

Table 2 shows a static output/input ratio of 3.84 to 1 and an average price of electricity to end users is of 7 cents per kilowatt hour and the per cent of energy available to end users is 74%. This compares to 86% available shown in Table 1 (the current economy is based on mostly fossil fuels.).

Table 3 is extracted from the Dynamic Net‑Energy Spreadsheet Model and shows selected Years 1, 20, and year 100 results. It is assumed that one new plant is started each month for 100‑years. Table 3 uses Table 2 static net‑energy results (Column G) and distributes them over the lifecycle of the plant, as indicated in Column H , I and J of Table 3. A one‑plant‑per month program allows construction of 1200 new plants in 100 years Under "optimistic assumptions."

Cumulative Net‑Energy Output is negative for 20 years.

Table 3 ‑ Dynamic Net‑Energy Analysis ‑ 1 Plant/Mo. (Optimistic)

1* Static Anal. Dynamic Analysis
2 G H I J Year






3 Energy      


    Years =>


    Constr. Rate/Yr 12 12 12
6 Multiply     # Under Cx. 12 120 120
7 D8 x     # Oper. Plants 0 120 360
8 Column G     # Plant Starts 12 240 1200
9     Plants Decommissioned 0 0 480
10 7.18E+014 G10/30= 2.39E+013

Energy Output

0 2.87E+015 8.61E+015
13 4.50E+013 G13/10= 4.50E+012 Front-End Energy 5.40E+013 5.40E+014 5.40E+014
15 9.38E+013 G15/40= 2.34E+012 Distributed Energy 2.81E+013 5.63E+014 1.13E+015
16 1.77E+013 G16/30= 5.89E+011 Gen Plant O & M IN 0.00E+000 7.06E+013 2.12E+014
17 2.52E+012 G17/30= 8.41E+010 Other Plant O & M IN 0.00E+000 1.30E+015 2.24E+015
18 2.02E+013 G18/40= 5.05E+011 Fuel Energy 6.05E+012 1.21E+014 2.42E+014
19 7.50E+012 G19/40= 1.88E+011 Decomm & Waste 0.00E+000 0.00E+000 9.00E+013
20 1.87E+014     Total Input 8.82E+013 1.30E+015 2.24E+015
21 5.31E+014     Net Energy -8.8E+013 1.6E+015 6.4E+015
22 3.84  

Cumulative Net Energy

-8.8E+013 -2.1E+014 4.665E+017
23 74%  

Per Cent Available     (Line 21/Line10)

54.5% 74.0%
24 $0.07  
* 3 Blank rows were deleted to conserve space.

At the 50th year cumulative net energy is ‑.21 Quads. Line 10 shows that 2.87 Quads per year of Gross Energy is being provided in the 50th year and 8.61 in the 100th year. At the end of 100 years only 467 quads of cumulative net energy has been provided. It should also be noted that this analysis shows a 74% availability of annual energy and is offered for comparison with the 68% availability of Table 2 results, i.e., it seems consistent.

Figure 4 shows estimated Annual Net Energy using the Optimistic assumptions of Table 2 and comes from the Dynamic Net Energy Model (extract in Table 3, above.)

Figure 4 ‑ Annual Net Energy from 1200 Plants (Optimistic)

Figure 5, shows the estimated Cumulative Net Energy of a 100‑year program. After the construction and operation of 1200 plants over a 100‑year period, only 466 Quads of Net Energy are realized
Less than 5 years of annual consumption at the present rate of annual consumption. Further, there is a 20‑year lag from the beginning of construction of the first plant before cumulative net energy is positive.

Figure 5 ‑ Cumulative Net Energy 1200 Plants (Optimistic)

Table 4 is a Summary Table showing the results of analyses with Optimistic and Less Optimistic Assumptions and also showing the results of two 100‑year construction programs: (1) One New Plant Each Month, (2) One New Plant Each Week.

Table 4 ‑ Summary of Cost x E/GDP Analyses 100 yr. Scenarios


Static Analysis

Dynamic Net Energy Analyses
to Positive
Net Energy
Net Energy
Net Energy
One Plant per Month Construction Program:      
Optimistic 3.84 $0.07 21 147Q 467Q 74%
Less Optimistic 1.86 $0.12 33 59Q 236Q 46%
One Plant per Week Construction Program:      
Optimistic 3.84 $0.07 21 637Q 2022Q 74%
Less Optimistic 1.86 $0.12 33 257Q 1022Q 46%
Annual U.S. Consumption in Y2000 was approximately 96 Quads (Q)

As a reminder, the variables changed in the Optimistic and Less Optimistic scenarios are shown in Table 5. The implications of each of these is discussed, below.

Table 5 ‑ Variables Changed for Results in Table 4

  Optimistic Less Optimistic
Btu's to produce One Dollar of GDP 12000 15000
Capacity Factor 80% 70%
Capital Cost of Plant, per KW $2,500  $4,000

E/GDP Ratio:
  The amount of energy need to produce a dollar of GDP is related to the technical efficiency of society to acquire and transform energy and produce goods and services. As previously noted it is also related to the "state of the world" with respect to existing infrastructure, physical capital, housing and equipment stock, ad infinitum, of the society. All are constantly wearing out and constantly being maintained and replaced. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether technical efficiency can constantly increase to maintain or lower the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of GDP. We do know that fossil fuels show a very high net‑energy yield (and significantly the imported oil from oil‑rich sources) and fossil fuels have been used to construct the existing set of infrastructure, physical capital, housing set, tools and equipment. All must be replaced at some point and it is argued that it is likely to be from energy that yields less net energy.

Capacity Factor:  Currently, Nuclear Plants currently report high capacity factors (actual compared to potential.) The reason for the high rates is that they are now being used for "base load" capacity ‑ in other words they are selectively being kept on line in preference to other plant types (coal, natural gas, etc.) If nuclear power systems were to become the primary source of energy (or occupy a much larger share) then they would suffer the vicissitudes of demand for electricity and the system would be susceptible to the time­of‑day, seasonal demand changes, cycling of the economy, etc. and the capacity factor would, necessarily, be much smaller. It was found in the original study' (when Total Net Generation is divided by Total Capability Nameplate times 8760 hours/yr.) the "Efficiency Factor" was in the neighborhood of 50%. As nuclear plants were added to generating capacity from 1957 to 1983, the Efficiency Factor of the total system steadily dropped to a low of 40% in 1983. (This will be updated.)

Plant Cost: The base plant cost is for generating plant. Transmission and distribution plant cost is estimated to be 50% of generating‑plant cost. In the original study (Tyner dissertation) it was concluded that it was decided that it would be conservative to estimate Transmission & Distribution Lifecycle Cost at 45% of Generating‑Plant Cost. 50% is used at this time but this section needs additional scrutiny.

The Mississippi River Parable

Let us assume that there is no other energy source but nuclear power. Also, assume that we could agglomerate all of the elements of a total nuclear‑power system in one region of the United States, say along the banks of the Mississippi River (a zone of national sacrifice with lot of water and it lies in between the East and West.) All of the plants would be located in this separate state and everyone associated with the construction of plants, generation and distribution of nuclear electricity would live within a territory of land adjacent to the Mississippi River.

We can call this new state: Nukas (like Texas.) Nukas would be populated by only those needed to finance, construct, operate, distribute, decommission and dispose of all waste associated with nuclear‑power‑systems and transmission and distribution systems: engineers, managers, accountants, investors, workers (miners, millers, steelworkers, construction workers, ad infinitum) and would enjoy a standard of living of a modern society and have exclusive rights (and obligation) to produce electricity for themselves and construct and operate the transmission and distributions systems and provide energy for the rest of society within the United States, outside Nukas. Nukas would also be responsible for the decommissioning of systems, disposition of waste, and for the operation and maintenance of all systems associated with the production and distribution of electricity.

To assure an accurate accounting of internal energy requirements (internal consumption) Nukas would pay their taxes and anything they cannot not produce themselves with electricity. Perhaps, the residents of Nukas would be forever confined to never leave Nukas, akin to Weinberg's "Nuclear Priesthood."

Nukas uses energy internally to construct, maintain, and operate the generation and transmission systems and exports the surplus electricity in exchange for goods and services they are unable to produce internally. Exported Energy is the same as Net Energy –that which is available to support the remainder of society outside the energy production, distribution and nuclear‑waste‑disposal system (and government).

It should be noted that, by definition, residents of Nukas would live well –others, not so well. One could argue that Nukas residents could be required to lower their standard of living (consume less internally) and leave more for the rest, i.e. increase net energy. That is also our current problem! It is acknowledged that one could invoke slavery and net energy would increase, theoretically at least in the current model –although I don't think we would want slaves operating these dangerous systems.

Table 6 shows Zero Net Energy Prices (delivered to end user.) It is recognized that heat content is a crude measure of usefulness of any type of energy. When electricity is used for high‑quality tasks such as lighting, running motors, operating computers, etc., it is not the heat content that is the most significant aspect of it. However, if electricity generated by nuclear power is the only form of heat, then the electricity calculation on line 4 becomes quite significant. There is a substantial range of tasks in our current economy that require raw heat. In this situation when the real price reaches 28 cents per kilowatt hour ($1996) the nuclear system is requiring more energy internally than is being delivered to the customer –i.e., no net energy is being delivered, exogenously, outside the nuclear production and delivery system.

Table 6 ‑ Zero Net Energy Prices ‑ Selected Energy Types ‑ Delivered to End User
(12000 Btu/$)

  A B C D E F
Btu/Unit Unit Zero
Net Energy
1 Aviation Gasoline, bbl 5.05E+006 120190 Gal $10.02 120190
2 Jet Fuel, bbl 5.67E+006 135000 Gal $11.25 135000
3 Motor Gasoline, bbl 5.25E+006 125071 Gal $10.42 1250711
4 Electricity 3413 3413 KwHr $0.28 3413
5 Coal (short ton) 2.048E+007 2.05E+007 Ton $1708 2.048E+007
6 Natural Gas: Btu/Cu Ft 1111 1111000 MCF 92.58 1111000


It is concluded that any expectation that Nuclear Power will be a viable substitute for fossil fuels is, at best, questionable. Such an undertaking appears to be nothing more than a roundabout way of consuming fossil fuels at best, an investment in the storage of a small amount of fossil fuel in a relatively dangerous form. More plants increase the likelihood of a major catastrophic accident at some point in time. Even under the "optimistic" assumptions used in the models, the low and latent net‑energy yields appears to accelerate the depletion of the remaining fossil‑fuels stocks.

Unfortunately, a similar study of wind power showed similar results.13

It is suggested that the curious obtain a copy of the analytical model, available both in Lotus 1‑2‑3 and Excel Format, and plug in their own assumptions for any type of energy‑transformation system. It can be obtained at gtyner@mmcable.com for a $10 handling fee.

Closing Arguments

The Environment

One can hardly overstate the importance of petroleum (domestic and imported) natural gas and coal to our current standard of living and all are contributing to the greenhouse gas problem. Nuclear proponents often claim that nuclear power has "negligible" air pollution and "zero" carbon emissions. (Electric companies also deceivingly advertise that electric vehicles are pollution free.) Even if we accept the argument that nuclear‑generated electricity use does not "directly" generate very much air pollution and carbon, large nuclear construction programs such as discussed in this paper, would "indirectly" increase air pollution and carbon emission because they would be largely constructed by burning more fossil fuels. One cannot maintain the current standard of living (let alone economic growth) and build hundreds of new nuclear plants without increasing the rate of fossil fuel use. The current set of nuclear plants must be retired soon. Any new plants that are built cannot provide new net energy, if any, for years down the line. Therefore, to argue that building nuclear plants will reduce greenhouse gases is specious.

Catastrophic Risk

There is the additional risk of catastrophic accident by having more operational plants. It will take a long time to acquire the human and institutional skills needed to operate large numbers of nuclear plants, safely. We have a lot experience with aircraft and automobile, refinery operation yet we still have major accidents it happens. It is arrogant to presume that nuclear operations would escape the chance of catastrophic accident.

Weapons Proliferation

The opportunity for nuclear‑weapons proliferation increases. If CIA agents will sell out for a few bucks so will those in control of nuclear materials.

Philosophical Conjecture

From Tainter:14

This chapter on the past clarifies potential paths to the future. One often‑discussed path is cultural and economic simplicity and lower energy costs. This could come about through the "crash" that many fear a genuine collapse over a period of one or two generations, with much violence, starvation, and loss of population. The alternative is the "soft landing" that many people hope for a voluntary change to solar energy and green fuels, energy‑conserving technologies, and less overall consumption. This is a utopian alternative that, as suggested above, will come about only if severe, prolonged hardship in industrial nations makes it attractive, and if economic growth and consumerism can be removed from the realm of ideology.

The more likely option is a future of greater investments in problem solving, increasing overall complexity, and greater use of energy. This option is driven by the material comforts it provides, by vested interests, by lack of alternatives, and by our conviction that it is good. If the trajectory of problem solving that humanity has followed for much of the last 12,000 years should continue, it is the path that we are likely to take in the near future.

Regardless of when our efforts to understand and resolve contemporary problems reach diminishing returns, one point should be clear. It is essential to know where we are in history (Tainter 1995a). If macroeconomic patterns develop over periods of generations or centuries, it is not possible to comprehend our current conditions unless we understand where we are in this process. We have the opportunity to become the first people in history to understand how a society's problem‑solving abilities change. To know that this is possible yet not to act upon it would be a great failure of the practical application of ecological economics.


There are a number of approaches to net energy analysis, all subject to some limitation or another. For an extensive discussion of net energy approaches (except the current model,) see < http://www.oilanalytics.org/neten1.html > the website of Cutler Cleveland and Robert Kaufman. [MFS note: try < http://www.oilanalytics.org/index.html >.}

Explanatory Notes for Static Net‑Energy Analysis (Table 2, above)

Static Net‑Energy explanatory comments:

Line 11 ─ Plant Cost Involves both Materials and Labor:  The monetary accounting system is the only accounting system of record that accumulates fairly comprehensive historical costs of industrial and commercial processes. To the best of my knowledge the historical record of energy/materials expenditures for a particular end‑use item is practically non‑existent. Money expenditures reflect the summation of identifiable associated historical costs and are available as a surrogate from which to estimate the amount of energy embodied in an object.

For example, it is assumed that money paid for any material used in the construction of the plant covers all "to‑date" costs (hence an inferred relationship of monetary cost and embodied energy) that have been incurred up to the point of purchase. This may involve a set of processes far into the past of our industrial society.

    Materials Example:  For example, an amount of concrete used in constructing a plant involves energy and materials depletion. It involves, not only the mining, milling, transportation of all the components of concrete, but involves all the processes (and related energy expenditures) of the tools and equipment making up the set of "stuff' needed to mine, mill, fabricate the tools needed to make concrete­manufacturing and transportation manufacturing and handling components. One can also imagine taking this process back several steps (years) in the industrial process. The accumulation of knowledge base to do all of this "stuff' also has an energy/materials/environmental‑resource cost.

    The Cost of Energy to Obtain Labor:  Labor, in this discussion is meant to include all human input to the process of providing nuclear power. It includes the payment to executives, engineers and scientists, construction workers, clerks, janitors, consultants, ad infinitum. The Table 2 example assumes that payments to Labor are at the prevailing salary/wage scales of our modern society. The money paid to labor is exchanged for energy‑embodied goods and services (housing, furniture and fixtures, utilities, food, clothing, automobiles, gasoline, ad infinitum.) None of these goods or services can be provided except by a corresponding depletion of energy, materials and environmental resources.

Line 12 ─ Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Costs:  In an earlier study data showed that Plant cost and T&D costs were approximately the same. In this study it was assumed that T&D costs were 50% of Plant Cost. I have seen references to high‑KVA lines costing $550,000/mile ($1995).

Line 14:  The term "fixed charge" involves electric‑utility finance matters and involves payments to principal, interest and dividends to bondholders and stockholders, and taxes. All of these money payments are identified as energy inputs in this analysis and are assigned to the operating electric utility, i.e., as a cost of getting the energy.

It may seem difficult for some to comprehend that "interest" or dividends have an energy cost, and per se it does not involve consumption of very much energy, directly. But the holders of those monies are entitled to exchange it for energy‑embodied goods and services. When money is borrowed at interest, a modern society promises that the principal and interest will be repaid per the contract. For example, when a loan contract is formalized, essentially, a societal Energy Accounts Payable is set up with the provision that at some future date those paid monies are acceptable for purchasing energy­embodied goods and services that can only be provided by a corresponding depletion of energy and materials. Repeating, it is my position that the possession of money conveys an institutional "right" that allows owners of money to exchange it for energy‑embodied goods and services. All outstanding wealth (that is socially honored) has a claim on future production of energy‑embodied goods and services. Dividends to stockholders are of the same nature.

Taxes also have an energy cost. When taxes are paid to governments, those governments present the money as exchange for energy‑embodied goods and services (gasoline, tanks, police cruisers, police cruisers, policemen, soldiers, pilots, ad infinitum.) I have assigned the related energy required to obtain goods and services via taxes to the energy‑transformation entity ─in this case the electric utility which constructs and operates the nuclear plant. The taxes are paid in return for services which the government entities provide to the nuclear‑power system.

Lines 16 and 17 ─ Operation and Maintenance Costs:  Both include expenditures for materials and labor. General plant O&M is assumed to be 7 mills per kilowatt hour and Other Plant at 1 mill per kilowatt hour.

Line 18, Fuel Cost:  The fuel cost used in the current table is 8 mills per kilowatt hour. Recent DOE estimates are from 5 to 8 mills per kilowatt hour.

Line 19, Decommissioning and Waste Disposal:  This is a highly unknown cost because, to the best of my knowledge, only small plants have been decommissioned and the long‑term waste problem is yet to be resolved. In this case, I have assumed that the cost of decommissioning and long‑term waste disposal costs are 25% of plant cost.


1.  Gene Tyner, Sr., Ph.D., Economics/Interdisciplinary: Economics, Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, Geography, Management and Philosophy. Author lives in Norman, Oklahoma. [MFS note: Dr. Tyner died in 2004.]
2.  Net Energy Analysis of Nuclear and Wind Power Systems, Gene T. Tyner, Sr., Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Oklahoma (1985). Net Energy Yield of Nuclear Power, Gene T. Tyner, Sr., Robert Costanza, and Richard G. Fowler, Energy (1986); Net Energy Yield of Nuclear Power, Gene T. Tyner, Sr., Richard G. Fowler, presented at International Association of Ecological Economics, Stockholm.
3.  For a summary see < http://www.uic.com.au/nip57.htm >.
4. <  http://dieoff.com/page232.pdf >.
5. < http://www.oilanalytics.org/neten1.html >.
[MFS note: try < http://www.oilanalytics.org/index.html >.]
6.  Cutler J. Cleveland, Net Energy From the Extraction of Oil and Gas in the United States, 1954‑1997, Working Paper 0101, Center for Environmental Studies and Department of Geography, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA. 02215. "... The overall decline in the EROI for petroleum extraction in the U.S. suggests that depletion has raised the energy cost of extraction."
7.  M K. Hubbert, Energy resources, in Resources and Man, p. 194. W. H. Freeman & Co., San Francisco (1969).
Fowler, Richard, G., The Longevity and Searchworthiness of Petroleum Resources, Energy (1977).
And The Road to the Olduvai Gorge, Richard C. Duncan, Pardee Keynote Symposia, ecological Society of America Summit 2000 Reno, Nevada, November 13, 2000. The theory is defined by the ratio of world energy production (use) and world population. The details are worked out. The theory is easy. It states that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization is less than or equal to 100 years: 1930‑2030.
8.  < http://hubbert.mines.edu/news/Campbell_01‑2.pdf >.
9.  For example, adding insulation and storm windows (physical capital) substitutes for direct natural gas or electricity consumption. However, acquiring and installing insulation and storm windows requires energy depletion.
10.  W. W. Hogan and A. S. Manne, Energy economy interactions: the fable of the elephant and the rabbit? The Structure of Energy Markets, (Edited by R. S. Pirdyck). Ai Jai Press Inc., San Francisco (1979).
11.  < http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/diagrams/diagram5.html >.
12.  Overall, uranium is relatively scarce in the earth's crust, at about 4 parts per million on average. Therefore, a significant expansion of nuclear power —even the five‑fold expansion widely canvassed before the incidents at Three Mile Island and (much more disturbing) at Chernobyl— would out‑run readily accessible supplies. These supplies include both deposits previously exploited but mothballed due to lack of current demand, and known high concentration pockets that could be opened up quite quickly. Therefore, the expansion of nuclear would highlight the need to bring rapidly back on course the development of fast‑breeder reactors and pursue fusion technology." [ p. 90, Energy for Tomorrow's World; World Energy Council, 1993 ].
13.  Tyner Ph.D. Dissertation, op.cit.
14.  < http://dieoff.com/page 134.htm >.

*  Used with permission of the author.
Unpublished manuscript.


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