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Wed Feb 27, 2013, 11:44 AM

Climate Change, Nuclear Economics, and Conflicts of Interest

Climate Change, Nuclear Economics, and Conflicts of Interest
Kristin Shrader-Frechette
Received: 10 August 2009 / Accepted: 19 October 2009 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

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.

For many years bioethicists have recognized that conflicts of interest can skew biomedical research. An Annals of Internal Medicine study recently showed that 98% of papers based on industry-sponsored studies reflected favorably on the industry’s products (Rochon et al. 1994). A Journal of the American Medical Association article likewise concluded that industry-funded studies were 8 times less likely to reach conclusions unfavorable to their drugs than were nonprofit- funded studies (Campbell et al. 1998). Does something similar happen in electric- utility-related science?

Jonathan Porritt, chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and advisor to Gordon Brown, says it does. ‘‘Cost estimates from the [nuclear] industry have been subject to massive underestimates—inaccuracy of an astonishing kind consistently over a 40-, 50-year period’’ (Porritt, Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission 2006). A UK-government commission agrees, claiming virtually all nuclear-cost data can be ‘‘traced back to industry sources’’ (UK Sustainable Development Commission (UK SDC) 2006). University of Greenwich business professor, Stephen Thomas, says nuclear-industry sources ‘‘are notoriously secretive about the costs they are incurring’’ (Thomas 2005). Such charges suggest the need to scrutinize industry claims that, to address climate change, nuclear power is ‘‘the most cost-effective power source’’ (European Atomic Forum 2006).

Nuclear-Cost Studies
Apart from who is right about addressing climate change, how good is the science (therefore the ethics) behind studies claiming atomic energy is economical?


Paper can be downloaded with this link:

About the author: http://www3.nd.edu/~kshrader/

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