Oil’s Use in Electrical Power In the US Largely Replaced by Nuclear
One of the frequently repeated canons in the anti-nuclear catechism is that nuclear fission is irrelevant to any discussion about oil supplies or oil prices. The offered reasons for that dismissal is that nuclear fission is generally thought to be limited to large scale electrical power production, and oil is generally used as vehicle fuel. The problem with that notion is that it misses a huge, historical trend, and it also ignores the market reality in several remaining locations.
The US Energy Information Agency does a fine job of keeping statistical records of energy sources – though its predictive arm has had some real miscues over the years. The graph associated with this article provides a picture illustrates that the use of oil for electricity in the US may be small now, but that is because it was replaced by nuclear fission during the growth years in the 1970s and 1980s.
Graphs with similar shapes could be produced for France, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. It is important to remember that once those countries had replaced a significant quantity of oil being burned in power plants with nuclear fission, the world entered into a long stretch of readily available oil at low prices. It took almost fifteen years for the demand to catch up with the available capacity. In the US, almost 2 million barrels of oil per day were being burned in power plants at the peak of consumption.
Today, there are still a number of markets where vast quantities of oil are burned in power plants instead of being available for conversion into products like diesel fuel, gasoline, and jet fuel.
In countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Bermuda and Jamaica, states like Alaska and Hawaii, and other areas like Guam, Saipan, Puerto Rico the continued use of oil in power plants is unnecessarily straining the world economy because it contributes to the overall imbalance between the available production capacity and the existing demand for oil.
It should be obvious, but it is worth remembering that no producer likes losing market share and readily accepts the entry of a new competitor. I expect that the idea of replacing oil combustion in power plants will be met with significant, well supported opposition.
As T. Boone Pickens has reminded the United States, there is also a large quantity of natural gas that could be used for vehicle fuel that is being consumed for electrical power. He tells us to move that gas from electricity to vehicles by replacing it with wind, but technically speaking, reliable nuclear power is a better one-for-one replacement for natural gas as an electrical power fuel than unreliable wind power.
Once again, I expect that there will be a market share battle where the contestants pretend to be more concerned with environmental or national security concerns.