5-20-16 – Nuclear power costs

by John McClaughry

Critics of nuclear energy – of which Vermont abounds – like to point out that in the U.S. nuclear is hugely capital intensive and thus makes expensive electricity.

A recent article in the journal Energy Policy compared the cost of nuclear electricity over the past fifty years in the US, Japan, Germany, France, India and South Korea. All of these countries feature large capital intensive plants, but the others hold costs down far better that we Americans.

They use standardized designs for reactors, and they group reactors in twins or quadruplets to save money on common facilities like control, fuel handing and security. The Chinese and Koreans are building six and eight reactors per site. In addition, the workforce at a site deals with reactors that are essentially all the same, rather than having to learn the peculiar workings of each one.

The article didn’t mention another key factor: our constipated Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which spends up to ten years approving a new reactor design, by which time it’s likely obsolete.

Twenty years from now our children will see modular Generation Four reactors completely different from the light water reactors now in use. They’ll come in standardized factory-built 200 Megawatt modules, maybe six to a site, with onsite processing of fuel. Whether they’ll be integrated fast reactors, like the Russian BR600, or pebble bed reactors like the Chinese model, or liquid fluoride thorium reactors under development here and in India, is the interesting question.

Even though the great global warming guru James Hansen, whose testimony fired up Al Gore back in 1988, has become an ardent advocate for nuclear energy, the anti-nukies in Vermont remain passionately opposed to the n-word. Speaking for humanity, I can’t find any reason to forgive them.

– John McClaughry is the founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jim Bulmer May 21, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Not to worry, with the huge subsidies for solar and wind all the tree huggers will be happy. Will not need any nukes. Can’t think of a better way to screw up Vermont’s bucolic landscape than to see bird slaughtering wind mills on out ridge lines and the esthetically tasteless solar farms dotting our landscape. Let’s put and end to this folly in November and replace our departing leaders with thoughtful, common sense minded and fiscally responsible outsiders. We seldom find ourselves with such a golden opportunity.


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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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