Is nuclear power economical?

I think I might be the only leftist who isn’t morally opposed to nuclear power. I understand the science, and it is cleaner and safer than fossil fuels. To everyone who mentions Chernobyl, I would like to point out a much bigger problem caused by oil. The war in Iraq.
Anyway, the question I am really asking is, is it actually worth it financially? I have heard countless stories of nuclear power both being “too cheap to meter” and repairs on the plants being ruinously expensive. Which one is closer to the truth?

In this analysis, do coal and natural gas get a freebie on dumping their pollution into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming, give millions of people diseases and early death, and ruin land and water tables with slag and fracking?

Because in the real world, the methods that are wrecking the planet and kill people get to do so freely. Only the method that contains all of its pollution so it isn’t released into the environment and doesn’t hurt people has to actually pay for its disposal.

Of course not! Why do you think I said nuclear was cleaner and safer?

I mean that they literally get a freebie. If you add the costs they inflict upon society and the planet, their actual costs would significantly increase. We’d have to try to quantify that before evaluating their cost effectiveness vs nuclear.

I don’t know exact figures, but my understanding is that expanding capacity in an existing plant is cheaper than building a new plant, but I do not know by how much.

Building a new plant is expensive, several billion dollars. However supposedly a lot of that is red tape and safety measures. However the 4th generation nuclear plants would theoretically be cheaper to set up.

Yup, all that wonderful Iraqi oil that we’re just rolling in… :smack:

What I don’t understand is why they are not building traveling wave reactors. They get at least ten times the power as the current generation of reactors and produce essentially no long-lived radioactive waste. They produce waste with half lives in the tens of years or less and thus long term storage is not an issue. They would be very expensive to develop but only once.

My understanding is that because of all the safeguards and also from the unresolved waste problem, they turn out to much more expensive than anticipated. Defnitely not too cheap to meter, but competitive with fossil fuel generators.

Yes, that stalwart bastion of conservatism, Mother Jones magazine, has run a number of articles in the past few years in cautious support for nuclear fission power such as “Will Thorium Nuclear Energy Save Us All?”, “The Pro-Nukes Environmental Movement”, and the unambiguously titled “Why We Need Nuclear Power”.

You are all alone.

“They” (the nuclear power industry) isn’t building traveling wave reactors because they don’t exist, even a fundamental proof of concept level. They’re a cartoon concept with very limited validation by simulation. There are advanced low waste and full burnup reactor technologies with substantial proof of concept and development work, but none that are a level of maturity to be licensed, and there is an almost negligible amount of work being done in government labs or by industry to advance and mature technologies.

As far as cost, it is important to consider that the current costs are driven by the regulatory environment, cost of fuel processing, maintenance of complex reactor technologies that use largely 'Sixties era technology, and retirement and spent fuel disposal costs. A realistic cost for full burnup and more efficient technologies is impossible to extrapolate but it isn’t hard to make reasonable assumptions to get substantially lower lifecycle costs, albeit dependent upon wide scale adoption and a more realistic regulatory environment (while still protecting the public interest of safety and hazard mitigation).


All them old power plants should be gotten rid of as they are like T model fords just so backwards it unbelievable that in the worlds greats nation anyone would think of using such backward tec.
The new Nuclear power stations are running on the old wast product of the old backward stations and it’s totally safe, you can switch them off if a disaster happens, like earthquake or tsunami no problems at all.

There are plants that are in use like this, but why don’t the greenies or the media tell the world all about it all !
My thoughts on this is that the greenies are controlled by communist, so they are backward bunch of dimwits to start with and the media are payed to shut up, because there is big money in all the other things to be made, not to mention a way of controlling people with getting people used to being controlled, with all this rubbish of when you use your power, don’t use X at Y time of the day because you pay 4 times more $ and so forth type of rubbish, it’s become a madness not to mention a total rip off. but people get used to being controlled maybe another game plan as well.

If the old nuclear plants are backwards tech, then what are the old coal plants?

And the main problem nuclear faces is that it’s opposed from both sides of the aisle, albeit for different reasons. Too many lefties are afraid of the power plants themselves, and too many righties are afraid of terrorists getting into the power plants. Neither fear is rational, but then, since when are humans rational?

I’m a big proponent of nuclear power myself, and it was just one of the reasons I could never get behind Bernie. A Sanders presidency would have been a major blow to the nuclear industry.

In the current (and looks to me like immediate future) political and cultural environment in the US, I’d say no…it’s not. There has been no real attempt to push through and develop next generation (gen 4) nuclear technologies, even at the ramped up test bed production stage, and I don’t see that changing. Older (and accepted…well, approved I guess) plant designs can’t really get off the ground because the risk and extended capital ROI times are just too long…no one wants to tie up billions of dollars on a plant that might get canceled, and even if it doesn’t will take years to build (and perhaps longer as it’s dragged through the courts and NIMBY types trying to block it), and longer to recover capital, break even and start making money. And with countries like Japan and Germany basically opting out of nuclear there just isn’t much being done on pushing the state of the art, which American certainly isn’t doing. China is, IIRC, building a bunch of nuclear plants (as well as everything else, including tons of new/old coal plants), but they are gen 3 mainly, so aren’t going to push the envelop.

I am another lefty who agrees that NP is our only hope for efficient, safe, reasonably priced energy. Expanding a bit on Strangers post - I think that on the most recently built plants the cost of servicing the debt due to endless delays from lawsuit after lawsuit has become a very large part of the total cost.

My Dad was, until he retired, one of the top 3 or 4 guys on the planet when it came to nuclear safety*. His thought is that the biggest problem is anti-nuke crowd and the delays they cause. The costs can be controlled, from his point of view, but the 20 years of lawsuits cannot be and the lawsuits make building a new plant unattractive. This puts research into new tech on a slower track, why work on it if , when it comes time to build, you will be in court for 15 or so years? Plus the whole Yucca thing, which pisses him off as a bunch of folks who did that work worked for him and, while he didn’t do most of the work himself, he understood it all and signed off on it.


  • I derived this number in the following way. Pops is conservative in some areas. If he doesn’t know something for a fact, his fudge factor is 3. He will state that he was one of the top 10 to 12 on the planet in nuclear reactor safety. That is a hard number to know so I assume he is applying his fudge factor. 3 to 4 X 3 = 9 to 12. 9 to 12 doesn’t sound quite right so round up to 10 to 12.

I’m another lefty in support of NP. The problem is that there are too many people on the left who equate NP with atom bombs and too many people on the right whose fortunes are tied to the fossil fuel industry. I’ve heard that South Korea can build nuclear power plants for a third of the cost in the US. NIMBY forces along with a lack of political will to commit to reprocessing fuel rods has keep NP from moving forward. Given the political realities it may be better to focus on solar power tied with promising capture technologies such as:

Nuclear power as it exists today is a costly dud, which wouldn’t exist absent massive governmental subsidies. Solar power would exist without subsidies, though it would grow a lot slower. Ditto wind. Nukes wouldn’t exist at all.

I’m dubious about complaints of US over-regulation, because it is presupposes that all countries magically over-regulate nukes as well. All of them. In reality, the technology is costly.

From the June 18th Economist (sub req)
[INDENT][INDENT]…there are few places in the rich world where there is an appetite to build nuclear-power plants. Even in Britain, which is offering a huge subsidy to EDF, the French firm is unable to commit to going ahead with Hinkley Point.

It may be different in the developing world. This month India reaffirmed a decision, taken in 2013, to buy six nuclear-power plants from Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba, after talks between India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Barack Obama. But in reality the deal remains stuck, as long as it remains unclear whether Westinghouse (or any other supplier) would have to accept liability in case of a nuclear accident. Nowhere is nuclear a particularly cheap and easy option. [/INDENT][/INDENT]

That said, I support a small nuclear construction program in the US, so we can maintain our industrial capacity to scale it up if other alternatives peter out. That’s basically the status quo. It could double or halve for all I care. I also support research into new nuclear technologies. Maybe hard work could make the numbers line up properly. But let’s not be naive about what we have now.

What do you envision our energy mix would be if there was no nuclear? Assume all that juicy government money (well, all that that isn’t already going there) going to nuclear would go to wind and solar. What would the US’s energy mix be if we just let nuclear fade away or kept ‘a small nuclear construction program in the US, so we can maintain our industrial capacity’? Would wind and solar pick up the 20% load that nuclear is currently carrying? :dubious:

In the USA.

In France, which has the most nuclear energy (as a percentage) of any country in the world (I believe), they average cost of electricity is cheaper than it is in the rest of the EU:

While that doesn’t tell me what the cost of a plant is, it would seem to indicate that they can run cheap, if there isn’t a wide amount of nimbyism, protests, and legal suits.

Of course, China is probably also running cheaply, but they could have cut corners and they have endless cheap labor so I don’t know that it’s worth trying to compare with them.

You mean looking backwards? More fossil fuels.

You mean in 50 years? Yeah, quite possibly. A number of technologies are finally coming together with solar. But my small nuclear construction program is there so you have the option to ramp up if necessary. Honestly my first choice would be to pass a rational carbon tax or tradeable emission permit system, then let the market decide on the mix of fuel sources. In practice that would mean a lot less coal, more natural gas and fracking, rapidly growing solar and wind (from a small base), and an uncertain amount of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation nuclear power.

And let’s not forget in most all foreign countries. The US has the highest amount of nuclear capacity in the world, though of course as a share of the total it’s only about 20%. Which isn’t peanuts though.

There’s nimbyism and protests in France. Nuclear is expensive worldwide. That said, nice citation. I see from that webpage that, “Academics at Paris Dauphine University forecast that domestic electricity prices will rise by about 30% by 2020.” I had understood that France was able to make nuclear power work, because they settled on a standard design initially rather than have each small US power authority reinvent the wheel. (I understand US nukes became much more efficient once they were run by specialists like Exalon.)

The French experience is worth investigating. But I will note that it’s not on offer in the US and never has been.

Economist, Dec 17th 2011: [INDENT][INDENT]Even before Fukushima, France’s EPR plans had hit snags. Projects in France and Finland were (and remain) over-budget and behind schedule. And the EPR’s steep price was deterring customers. Abu Dhabi opted last year to buy cheaper South Korean reactors.

Some say that Fukushima proved the value of paying extra for safer reactors, such as the EPR. But others argue that the Japanese accident highlighted the need for fully passive safety systems—ie, ones that need no external power—which the EPR does not have.[/INDENT][/INDENT] Meanwhile the French socialist party wants to de-emphasize nukes, FWIW.

More on cost. I add emphasis:

[INDENT][INDENT]Nuclear power has long been controversial because of concerns about nuclear accidents, storage of spent fuel, and about how the spread of nuclear power might raise risks of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These concerns are real and important. However, emphasizing these concerns implicitly suggests that unless these issues are taken into account, nuclear power would otherwise be cost effective compared to other forms of electricity generation. This implication is unwarranted. Throughout the history of nuclear power, a key challenge has been the high cost of construction for nuclear plants. Construction costs are high enough that it becomes difficult to make an economic argument for nuclear even before incorporating these external factors. This is particularly true in countries like the United States where recent technological advances have dramatically increased the availability of natural gas. [/INDENT][/INDENT] That’s from Lucas W. Davis of the Haas School of Business, writing in the peer reviewed Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2012. pdf:

He writes about France:

[INDENT][INDENT]An interesting point of comparison is France. After the United States, France has more nuclear reactors than any other country, and 75 percent of electricity generation in France comes from nuclear power. Grubler (2010) finds that 58 reactors in France’s main nuclear program were constructed at an average cost that increased over time from $1,000 per kilowatt of capacity in the 1970s to $2,300 in the 1990s. The cost escalation is less severe than is observed in the United States, but still somewhat surprising. As I discuss later, in many ways the French nuclear program was the ideal setting for encouraging learning-by-doing, so one might have expected costs to decrease over time.
[/INDENT][/INDENT] The author calculates that US nuclear power is not cost competitive with coal or natural gas. Natural gas’s costs were 5.2 cents per kwh: nuclear’s cost was double that.