Nuclear Costs

With all the attention on nuclear energy recently, I decided to do a some research and I ran across this great paper on the costs associated with nuclear power. I warn you it's rather long, so I'll give you a short run down on the facts.

Lets start with the basic capital costs, they estimate that a new nuclear facility will cost somewhere between $8 and $12 billion. Considering two thirds of the world's nuclear plants still being constructed are delayed, we can predict that the total cost will be closer to $12 billion. So nuclear power will most likely cost about 17 to 22 cents/kWh, compare that to wind power which costs around 4 to 9 cents/kWh.

Many renewable energies like wind and biofuels have a downward sloping cost curve. Nuclear though is the opposite, there are a number of costs that have to be factored in after the initial investment. High level waste disposal is probably the most obvious cost, at present the waste is stored outside of each reactor, it's estimated to cost around $300/kWh. The costs will likely increase if the Yucca Mountain Repository is used for waste storage. If you also count the risk factor of transporting the waste, the price again will increase. Basically the Dept. of Energy predicts that 1 shipment of deadly high-level radioactive waste will be required every 4 hours, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year for 38 years. Since these plants have a defined life time we also have to consider the decommissioning costs which would be around $700/kWh. So when you factor in both of these costs its an additional $2.2 billion in expenditures.

I'm far from an economist, but as a nation do we really want to fund an investment that is this costly? Can we afford to give government loans to build hundreds of new nuclear power plants? I might sound like a broken record, but we should be spending this money on the development of clean, safe, renewable energies. An $8 billion investment would buy almost 4,000 offshore wind turbines, or help transition our energy grid to support cleaner energies. There is a reason that a generation has passed since any nuclear reactors have been built, the Wall St. investors decided that the investment was too expensive and would not be worth the risk, it seems that over the last twenty years not much has changed.

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