Nuclear Power and Energy Security

Rosemond Ho
February 9, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Uranium mine in Namibia. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The current nuclear power debate is rooted in various aspects pertaining to international and national issues ranging from economics to energy security. In particular, controversy surrounding energy security has become an international focus due to the risks associated with uranium and nuclear plant accidents. In this paper, we will discuss the risks involved in engaging with nuclear power as a viable source of energy.

Domestic Factors

On a domestic level, energy security lies in the importance of production, transport, and conversion of nuclear energy. Environmental policy governs the possibilities and limitations of these conditions that affect energy security; in these cases, economic stability, market factors, fiscal feasibility, and future policy trajectories affect the framework which govern what physically happens with the nuclear energy. Much of the domestic dilemma depends on the economic market, which in turn, affect efficacy of nuclear plant regulation and design. In addition, these factors must be considered in both short- and long-term capacities; for instance, while generation capacity may suffice within the next few years, the future is uncertain for long-term sustainability in the scope of transport, production, and conversion. [1]

International Factors

Internationally, a wide variety of tangible and intangible forces come into play. On one hand, the international arena suffers from geopolitical risks, which refers to the uncontrollable volatilities that energy carriers face, whether in climate or geology. Production and consumption occur across country borders and are subject to additional circumstances: clashing values, country diplomacy, and differing cultures. In fact, while the origination of geopolitical risk lies in the scientific realm, it is most largely affected by the unpredictable presence of country relations (in particular, between the producer and consumer countries). [1] On the surface, bridging the gap between the physical separation between energy production and consumption may seem to be solved by uniting both centers within one country; however, this endeavor relies on the country's energy budget, physical infrastructures in storage and transportation, supply diversity, as well as its physical geographical location. [1]

Uranium Deposits

Among the most salient issues, the presence of uranium deposits (an example of which can be seen in Fig. 1) around the world provide both a diplomatic and scientific dilemma for advocating nuclear power as a feasible source of energy. Due to the global depletion of uranium deposits, the CO2 cost of extraction has vastly increased. [2] While this not only goes against claims by nuclear energy lobbying organizations that nuclear energy is a low-carbon cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels, a larger predicament presents itself: due to the rapid depletion of uranium, these shortfalls will threaten the future prices of uranium acquisition. Reduce the ore quality does not benefit the overall performance of the nuclear plant; in fact, on the nuclear power's ability as a low-carbon form of generation, it is important to comprehend that reductions in the quality end in the destruction of nuclear power's efficacy as a source of energy. [2] Furthermore, a disproportionate amount of uranium producers are located in politically unstable regions, including Uzbekistan, Niger, Kazakhstan, and Namibia, who are share 40% of global uranium production amongst themselves. Supply disruption that occur in the future due to these states' unstable conditions can result in detrimental price fluctuations, as commodity prices are set at the margins. [2]

Fig. 2: Nuclear power plant in Germany. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nuclear Plant Outages

While plants or other sources of electricity generation may face unscheduled outages, these random occurrences are exacerbated with regards to nuclear plants. For instance, out of 132 UC nuclear plants (an example of a power plant can be seen in Fig. 2), 21% had to be closed due to problems in cost and reliability in efficacy. Since nuclear energy power plants are built to act as significant sources of power, any erroneous outages can make them potentially more disruptive due to their large economies of scale. Thus, nuclear power remains a source of worry in the international search for reliable energy. [3]


The most optimal way to bolster energy security is to enhance the resiliency and diversity of the available energy supply within the countries. [4] While countries without nuclear energy would greatly benefit from the expansion of energy supply at home, the large fixed costs (as well as fluctuating costs associated with uranium availability) can exacerbate energy budgets at home and prices abroad. Within the high fixed costs, other factors to consider involve the potentially irreparable damage to amount of energy production in the face of a nuclear plant failure. [4] Ultimately, both scientific and unscientific factors can have negative impacts on the efficacy of nuclear energy as a reliable energy carrier.

© Rosemond Ho. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "The Security of Energy Supply and the Contribution of Nuclear Energy," Nuclear Nuclear Energy Agency, NEA No. 6358, 2010.

[2] A. N. Stulberg and M. Fuhrmann, eds., The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security (Stanford Security Studies, 2013), pp. 97-123.

[3] M. Diesendorf, "Can Energy Security and Effective Climate Change Policies Be Compatible?" in Energy Security in the Era of Climate Change, ed. by L. Anceschi et al. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[4] J. Mamasakhlisi, "Nuclear Energy and Energy Security," in NATO Science for Peace and Security, ed. by S. A. Apilyan and D. J. Diamond (Springer, 2010).