Climate Change, Nuclear Economics, and Conflicts of Interest
Science and engineering ethics 2011 Mar; 17(1): 75-107
Merck suppressed data on harmful effects of its drug Vioxx, and Guidant suppressed data on electrical flaws in one of its heart-defibrillator models. Both cases reveal how financial conflicts of interest can skew biomedical research. Such conflicts also occur in electric-utility-related research. Attempting to show that increased atomic energy can help address climate change, some industry advocates claim nuclear power is an inexpensive way to generate low-carbon electricity. Surveying 30 recent nuclear analyses, this paper shows that industry-funded studies appear to fall into conflicts of interest and to illegitimately trim cost data in several main ways. They exclude costs of full-liability insurance, underestimate interest rates and construction times by using "overnight" costs, and overestimate load factors and reactor lifetimes. If these trimmed costs are included, nuclear-generated electricity can be shown roughly 6 times more expensive than most studies claim. After answering four objections, the paper concludes that, although there may be reasons to use reactors to address climate change, economics does not appear to be one of them.
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