Last updated on: 2/24/2009 7:43:00 AM PST
Is Nuclear Power Cost-Effective?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) wrote in its Mar. 9, 2007 report "Nuclear Power: Outlook for New U.S. Reactors," available at its website:
"Nearly three decades after the most recent order was placed for a new nuclear power plant in the United States , several utilities are now expressing interest in building a total of up to 30 new reactors. The renewed interest in nuclear power has resulted primarily from higher prices for natural gas, improved operation of existing reactors, and uncertainty about future restrictions on coal emissions. A substantial tax credit and other incentives for nuclear generation provided by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) are also likely to improve the economic viability of qualifying new reactors...
Average operations and maintenance costs (including fuel but excluding capital costs) dropped steadily from a high of about 3.5 cents/kilowatt-hour (kwh) in 1987 to below 2 cents/kwh in 2001 (in 2001 dollars). By 2005, the average operating cost was 1.7 cents/kwh...
CRS estimates that the break-even point for nuclear power capital costs [the cost of building the facilities] versus coal-fired facilities initiated in 2015 is about $1,370 per kilowatt (kw) of capacity."
Mar. 9, 2007 - Congressional Research Service (CRS)
"Nuclear Power: Outlook for New U.S. Reactors" (204KB)
The United States Congressional Budget Office (CBO) wrote in its May 2008 study "Nuclear Power's Role in Generating Electricity," published at www.cbo.gov:
"[T]he longer-term competitiveness of nuclear technology as a source of electricity is likely to depend on policymakers' decisions regarding carbon dioxide constraints. If such constraints are implemented, nuclear power will probably enjoy a cost advantage over conventional fossil-fuel alternatives as a source of electricity-generating capacity. Today, even the anticipation that carbon dioxide emissions will be priced is a factor being weighed in investors' decisions about new base-load capacity. Those conclusions are tentative, though, because the electricity industry faces numerous uncertainties. If expectations related to future market conditions—especially those pertaining to construction costs or fuel prices—shift before investors commit to the construction of new base-load capacity, the prospects for new nuclear capacity could change dramatically...
[I]n the absence of carbon dioxide constraints and without the incentives of EPAct, utilities would probably continue to build power plants relying on conventional fossil-fuel technologies to meet increases in base-load electricity demand."
May 2008 - Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
"Nuclear Power's Role in Generating Electricity" (918KB)
James Inhofe, US Senator (R-OK), stated in his Sep. 27, 2007 article, "Nuclear Power Use Must Be Expanded," published in The Hill:
"Nuclear energy is clean, reliable, cost-effective, and most important, increases our domestic energy supply...
In order for utilities to develop new nuclear plants, they must have access to adequate financing at a reasonable cost. Before Wall Street will provide that financing, there must be confidence that the project will be successful...the loan guarantees provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is necessary to manage the business uncertainties associated with the first several plants. Once a handful of plants have been successfully built, Wall Street will have the confidence necessary to be more forthcoming with financing.
The good news is that we are already well on our way to ensuring nuclear energy has a beneficial and growing role to play in meeting our nation's energy needs...I am confident that this industry, once it has revitalized, will financially sustain itself. And, finally, I am confident our country is committed to working to provide future generations with a legacy of clean, safe, reliable, and cost-effective energy."
Sep. 27, 2007 - James M. Inhofe
Nolan E. Hertel, PhD, Professor of Nuclear and Radiological Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, wrote the following in a July 27, 2008 article titled "Has the Time Come for Nuclear Power? Yes: It's Safe, Clean, Cost-Effective," published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"[T]he cost of producing nuclear-generated electricity in 2007 was 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 2.4 cents for coal, 6.7 cents for natural gas and 10.2 cents for oil. In other words, the cost of nuclear-generated electricity was nearly one-third less than power produced at a natural gas plant. And given the sharp rise in oil and gas prices so far this year, nuclear power's advantage has widened.
Instead of wasting high-priced natural gas for electricity production, it would make a lot more sense to replace the gas with additional nuclear power and clean-coal plants, while using solar, wind and other renewables to meet peak demand. Electricity customers would benefit if natural gas were to be reserved mainly for residential and industrial uses.
A straightforward and serious effort by Congress to move nuclear power forward as quickly as possible would win public support. Nuclear power is too important to be allowed to stall. The fate of our nation's economic health depends on it."
July 27, 2008 - Nolan E. Hertel, PhD
The World Nuclear Association wrote in its Nov. 25, 2008 report "World Energy Needs and Nuclear Power," published on its website:
"The renewable energy sources for electricity constitute a diverse group, from wind, solar, tidal and wave energy to hydro, geothermal and biomass-based power generation. Apart from hydro power in the few places where it is very plentiful, none of these is suitable, intrinsically or economically, for large-scale power generation where continuous, reliable supply is needed...
Without nuclear power the world would have to rely almost entirely on fossil fuels, especially coal, to meet electricity demands for base-load electricity production...
Increasing fossil fuel prices have greatly improved the economics of nuclear power for electricity now. Several studies show that nuclear energy is the most cost-effective of the available base-load technologies. In addition, as carbon emission reductions are encouraged through various forms of government incentives and trading schemes, the economic benefits of nuclear power will increase further."
Nov. 25, 2008 - World Nuclear Association
J. Barnie Beasley Jr., Former President of the Southern Nuclear Operating Company, made the following statement during his Aug. 3, 2006 testimony for the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act:
"In the 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush affirmed the nation's commitment to 'safe, clean nuclear energy' as part of a diverse portfolio that will meet America's future electricity needs. A long-term commitment to nuclear energy will make the United States more energy independent and energy efficient...
Based on many years of experience in operating nuclear power plants, I am convinced that nuclear power offers a clean and cost-effective answer to many of our nation's current and future energy needs."
Aug. 3, 2006 - J. Barnie Beasley Jr.
John J. Grossenbacher, MA, Vice Admiral (Ret.) and Director of the Idaho National Laboratory, made the following statement during the Apr. 23, 2008 US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology hearing "Opportunities and Challenges for Nuclear Power," published on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology website:
"All of the programs I've cited today—Nuclear Power-2010, the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, GNEP, Generation IV, Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative—ultimately seek to make nuclear power better and safer. Realistically, we as a nation have no silver bullets that in the near- or mid-term can replace nuclear power as a reliable, 24/7 producer of massive amounts of cost-effective and carbon-emission-free baseload electric power and process heat for industrial processes to displace burning of natural gas and oil.
The challenges frequently associated with nuclear power—high costs, waste disposal and proliferation risks—can all, from a technological perspective, be managed. The high cost concerns actually have little to do with the fuel used in a nuclear reactor—they're more related to the rising costs of concrete, steel, copper, and project capital on large, lengthy projects like a nuclear power plant. Many of these same cost concerns apply to virtually every means of generating electricity we have. Nuclear Power 2010 and the other incentives available to first movers of new nuclear plants can effectively address these financial and regulatory challenges."
Apr. 23, 2008 - John J. Grossenbacher
Michael McCally, MD, PhD, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote in an Oct. 5, 2007 article titled "Clean, Reliable, Cost-Effective: Nuclear Power None of These," published in The Hill:
"I read Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) promotion of nuclear power (op-ed, 'Nuclear power use must be expanded,' Sept. 27) with interest and bemusement. He insists on calling the sector 'clean, reliable, [and] cost-effective' — twice, as if trying to convince himself.
Nuclear power is none of those things...Dozens of facilities were never completed or have sat idled because of cost overruns or insufficient safety provisions.
Wall Street (Inhofe's term) will not finance these facilities because future plants are likely to cost more than $5 billion...a recent Congressional Budget Office report predicts that more than 50 percent of proposed plants would default on loan guarantees...
Congress should pass comprehensive energy reform that leads the U.S. to focus on efficiency, conservation and renewable energy sources — all of which truly will be clean, reliable and cost-effective."
Oct. 5, 2007 - Michael McCally, PhD, MD
Mary Olson, Director of the Southeast Office of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, stated the following in a May 3, 2006 article titled "Confronting a False Myth of Nuclear Power: Nuclear Power Expansion Is Not a Remedy for Climate Change," available at www.nirc.org:
"[T]he economics of nuclear power are not sound – in open markets nuclear cannot compete. Since splitting atoms is not a cost-effective source of electric power, it is even less cost-effective in preventing greenhouse gas emissions. Life cycle costs for nuclear power generation (in the USA) have been estimated at 12 cents a kilowatt hour, whereas life cycle costs for wind power in the same analysis is estimated at 4 cents a kilowatt hour. Others find that expanding nuclear generating capacity is about twice as expensive as expanding generating capacity through investment in wind power...
Wind energy is the fastest growing form of electric power generation in the world. This technology leads the portfolio of renewable energy options, and solar power is also making enormous strides with significant annual drops in cost of photovoltaic hardware.
In the USA, the ongoing waste of electric power makes investment in energy efficiency protocols and hardware an even more cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions."
May 3, 2006 - Mary Olson
The Sierra Club stated the following in a Jan. 26 2006 press-release titled "Bush Administration's Nuclear Power Plan Ignores True Costs, Missed Opportunities," available at its website:
"Nuclear power is the most expensive way ever devised to generate electricity. The method is not anywhere near cost effective; nuclear plants in the states of Oregon, New York, Maine, Illinois, and Connecticut have been shut down before the end of their planned lives because the owners found it was too expensive to keep them going. Even the Bush administration's own U.S. Energy Information Administration stated that 'new [nuclear] plants are not expected to be economical.'"
Jan. 26, 2006 - Sierra Club
Amory Lovins, MA, Chairman and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, stated the following in a July 16, 2008 interview, "Amory Lovins: Expanding Nuclear Power Makes Climate Change Worse," with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, available at the Democracy Now website:
"Nuclear is incredibly expensive. The costs have just stood up on end lately. Wall Street Journal recently reported that they're about two to four times the cost that the industry was talking about just a year ago...
2006, the last full year of data we have, nuclear worldwide added a little bit of capacity, more than all of it from upgrading old plants, because the new ones they built were smaller than the retirements of old plants. So they added 1.4 billion watts. Sounds like a lot. Well, it's about one big plant's worth worldwide. That was less than photovoltaics, solar cells added in capacity. It was a tenth what wind power added. It was a thirtieth to a fortieth of what micropower added...
[R]enewables, other than big hydro, got last year $71 billion of private capital; nuclear, as usual, got zero.
[Y]ou will find major environmental groups saying something like 'explore' or 'consider' [expanded nuclear power], but they will also say very carefully it has to be competitive, it has to be cost-effective. And clearly, that doesn't even pass the giggle test."
July 16, 2008 - Amory Lovins, MA
Joseph Rohm, PhD, Fellow of the Center for American Progress, stated the following in his June 2, 2008 article "Nuclear Bomb," published in Salon magazine:
"Nuclear power, a mature industry providing 20 percent of U.S. power, has received some $100 billion in U.S. subsidies - more than three times the subsidies of wind and solar...
[W]ind power and solar power are pretty much free - nobody charges for the breeze and the sun. Operation is also cheap, compared with nukes, which run on expensive uranium and must be monitored minute by minute so they don't melt down...the price of new nuclear power has risen faster than any other form of power, as a detailed study of coal, gas, wind and nuclear power capital costs by Cambridge Energy Research Associates concluded.
In fact, from 2000 through October 2007, nuclear power plant construction costs - mainly materials, labor and engineering - have gone up 185 percent! That means a nuclear power plant that would have cost $4 billion to build in 2000 would have cost more than $11 billion to build last October...
So much for being a near-term, cost-effective solution."
June 2, 2008 - Joseph Romm, PhD