Trimming the Data on Nuclear Costs

Kristin Shrader-Frechette

in What Will Work

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199794638
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919277 | DOI:

Series: Environmental Ethics and Science Policy Series

 Trimming the Data on Nuclear Costs

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Chapter 3 reveals that atomic energy is also very expensive. This chapter surveys all 30 recent nuclear-electricity cost analyses to show that all the industry-funded studies (but not university-funded research) tend to violate standard conflict-of-interest guidelines and to illegitimately trim relevant cost data by making counterfactual assumptions. Most such studies exclude costs of full-nuclear-liability insurance, underestimate interest rates and construction times by using “overnight” costs, and overestimate reactor load factors and lifetimes. Even if one ignores taxpayer subsidies, fission costs are at least triple those of wind, and they are much higher than those of solar PV. Nuclear energy likewise imposes many costs on the public, in the form of government-mandated liability limits that make nuclear-accident victims, not industry, responsible for more than 98 percent of worst-case-accident damages, even those caused by industry's intentional safety violations. Indeed, the chapter shows that market proponents agree: nuclear fission is uneconomical. Consequently, all credit-rating firms downgrade the credit of utilities with a nuclear plant. This costliness is one reason the nuclear industry cannot build any reactors without massive taxpayer subsidies, including covering half the costs of each $12 to $20 billion plant. Thus the chapter shows that atomic energy only “appears” economical—because most nuclear-cost studies (nearly all done by the reactor industry) ignore costs from the full, 14-stage nuclear-fuel cycle, and they erroneously include only costs from 1 stage (reactor construction and maintenance). When these flawed methodologies are corrected, market costs (excluding subsidies) of fission-generated electricity can be shown to be roughly 6 times higher than most nuclear-economics studies claim. After answering several objections, the chapter shows that nuclear fission is actually far more expensive than conservation, efficiency programs, and renewable-energy sources, like wind and solar photovoltaic (PV).

Keywords: atomic energy; construction times; cost data; insurance; interest rates; reactor load factors; taxpayer subsidies

Chapter.  18632 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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