Paris, 20 June 2007

New NEA study explores the risks and benefits of nuclear energy

With the publication of Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) provides a useful new aid for decision makers. The study brings together authoritative information and illustrative data on how the risks and benefits of nuclear energy might be assessed in the light of sustainable development goals. Drawing on ongoing research into nuclear and non-nuclear electricity generation, the authors identify qualitative and where feasible, quantitative measures of the risks and benefits associated with this technology.

Based on an extensive number of energy system assessments and sustainable development measurements, the study identifies indicators for measuring the economic, environmental and social dimensions that constitute a sustainable development approach. The indicators were chosen for their scientific robustness, functional relevance and ease with which they could be applied. Identified in the study as meeting these criteria were such economic considerations as generation costs, the technology’s sensitivity to fuel price fluctuations and its use of energy and non-energetic resources. Greenhouse gas emissions, land use and the risk of severe accidents are some of the environmental factors highlighted. Whilst social factors are often difficult to quantify, job creation, human health impacts and proliferation risks also met the study’s criteria for inclusion.

Decision-aiding tools such as external cost valuation and multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) are detailed in the study, along with illustrative examples of their application. The external costs of energy are those that are imposed on society and the environment, but which are not included in the cost to producers and consumers. The MCDA approach can be used to facilitate a more holistic representation of social criteria and improve the quality and transparency of the debate between policy makers and other stakeholders. Used in tandem or separately, these tools can help decision makers to interpret the often complex results of comparative assessment studies.

The concept of sustainable development is well-established and its relevance to policy making in the energy sector is broadly recognised. However, its practical application in implementing sustainable energy mixes has been limited to date. The challenge for policy makers is to balance the interactions between the three dimensions of sustainable development and when necessary, make trade-offs between them. Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy is a tool to help policy makers meet that challenge.


Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy
OECD, Paris, 2007
ISBN 978-92-64-03551-5. Price: €24, £17, US$29, ¥3 300. 88 pages.

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NEA membership consists of 30 OECD countries. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The NEA also provides authoritative assessments and forges common understandings on key issues, as input to government decisions on nuclear energy policy and to broader OECD policy analyses in areas such as energy and sustainable development. The information, data and analyses it provides draw on one of the best international networks of technical experts.