Recent nuclear power cost estimates – separating fact from myth

I’m about to head to Madrid for two weeks, to do some research with a colleague at the National Museum of Natural Sciences — but do not fear, I’ll still be on the ‘net in the evenings to run the blog!

I see, happily, that I leave behind an ongoing debate on the need for nuclear power in South Australia. In the news today it was reported that the SA Liberal Party has supported a motion to debate the use of nuclear power technology to reduce carbon emissions. Good on ‘em — I trust (more like vainly hope) that the Labor party, Federal and State, will soon also be willing to open the floor. They’re certainly now getting serious prompting from their traditional supporter base.

However, something in that news story on the SA Libs particularly irked me (no, it was not the potshot from Kevin Foley; that was unsurprising political wedging). It was this:

Greens MP Mark Parnell says he does not think Ms Redmond’s stance will damage her credibility and the debate is futile.

“We are not about to have nuclear power here any time soon,” he said.

“South Australians don’t want it; it’s too expensive; it’s too dangerous; it’s not the solution to climate change; and we don’t know how to dispose of nuclear waste yet.”

Now Mark knows about Integral Fast Reactors — he’s been in the audience when I’ve talked about them. So why would he continue to claim that we don’t know how to dispose of nuclear waste? I find it hard to fathom. But anyway, this blog post is not about that statement. It’s about this one: it’s too expensive.

To address this critique, I use the example of the recent claims of Joe Romm on Climate Progress and Tyler Hamilton on Clean Break. They claim that the cost of new (Gen III+) nuclear power in Ontario, Canada, based on the competitive bids of companies AREVA (for the European Pressurised Reactor) and AECL (for the ACR-1000), would be “anywhere from $7,400 to $10,800 per kilowatt, depending on your appetite for risk“. Wow. That’s pretty gobsmacking. So what’s the deal? I decided to ask a few of my email contacts on nuclear matters, some of whom also write blogs.

Dan Yurman from Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes directed me to his superb post on this topic. You need to read this. Some excepts from Dan’s analysis:

Observers of the political turmoil now underway in Ontario over the media reports that AECL bid $26 billion to build two new ACR1000 reactors (2,220 MW) are in good company trying to make sense of these figures.

The news media, notably the Toronto Star, had a field day with the numbers sticking provincial politicians like they were morsels on a shish-ka-bob skewer. The problem with all the fire, smoke, and spit from the grill is that the numbers are undoubtedly wrong and wrongly reported in the news media.

First, $26 billion is an aggregate number that includes two reactors, turbines, transmission and distribution infrastructure (power lines or T&D), plant infrastructure, and nuclear fuel for 60 years as well as decommissioning costs. The most important number in the whole controversy has gone largely without notice and that is the delivered cost of electricity from the plants is in the range of five cents per kilowatt hour.

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