Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I agree with you.  We need many resources, starting with conservation.  Local emissions-free power generation is a beautiful thing. Tides, geothermal, solar, wind--yes!

But, as you say, industrial power is another matter.  As Jérôme, wind-powerologist extraordinaire, points out, wind turbines are heavy industry.  They are not carved out of wood by cheerful peasants.  To make their components requires factories and cement plants, the mining and smelting of ores, the forging of steel, the making of plastics from oil, etc., etc.  In other words, baseload energy is required.

So we have a choice.  The US gets 5% of its electricity from hydro.  That resource is dwindling as droughts reduce dam levels around the country--thanks to global warming.  So that leaves CO2 emitting fossil fuel plants (about 75%)or emissions-free nuclear plants (20%).  Wind and solar come to less than 1%

In fact the wind can stop blowing, just as rain can stop falling in one place and start falling elsewhere.  As ocean currents are affected by the huge influx of fresh water from melting ice caps and glaciers, and the Greenland ice sheet, winds may change and go blow elsewhere.

As for the economics of nuclear power, the OECD has made some findings:

The OECD does not expect investment costs in new nuclear generating plants to rise, as advanced reactor designs become standardised.

The future competitiveness of nuclear power will depend substantially on the additional costs which may accrue to coal generating plants. It is uncertain how the real costs of meeting targets for reducing sulphur dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions will be attributed to fossil fuel plants.

Overall, and under current regulatory measures, the OECD expects nuclear to remain economically competitive with fossil fuel generation, except in regions where there is direct access to low cost fossil fuels. In Australia, for example, coal-fired generating plants are close to both the mines supplying them and the main population centres, and large volumes of gas are available on low cost, long-term contracts.

A 1998 OECD comparative study showed that at a 5% discount rate, in 7 of 13 countries considering nuclear energy, it would be the preferred choice for new base-load capacity commissioned by 2010 (see Table below). At a 10% discount rate the advantage over coal would be maintained in only France, Russia and China.

This was updated in 2005 with a joint report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency showing that nuclear power had increased its competitiveness over the seven years. The principal changes since 1998 are increased nuclear plant capacity factors and rising gas prices. The study did not factor in any costs for carbon emissions from fossil fuel generators, and focused on over one hundred plants able to come on line 2010-15, including 13 nuclear plants. Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$ 1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan, and averaged $1500/kW. Coal plants were costed at $1000-1500/kW, gas plants $500-1000/kW and wind capacity $1000-1500/kW.


A detailed study of energy economics in Finland published in mid 2000 shows that nuclear energy would be the least-cost option for new generating capacity. The study compared nuclear, coal, gas turbine combined cycle and peat. Nuclear has very much higher capital costs than the others --EUR 1749/kW including initial fuel load, which is about three times the cost of the gas plant. But its fuel costs are much lower, and so at capacity factors above 64% it is the cheapest option.

In 2003 the MITpublished the outcome of a 2-year study of nuclear energy prospects in the USA. Adjusting its assumptions to those more in line with industry expectations ($1500/kW & 4 year construction, 90% capacity factor, interest rate 12%, and adding fees & taxes) the generation cost comes out at 4.2 c/kWh, the same as coal without any carbon cost.

The French Energy Secretariat in 2003 published updated figures for new generating plant. The advanced European PWR (EPR) would cost EUR 1650-1700 per kilowatt to build, compared with EUR 500-550 for a gas combined cycle plant and 1200-1400 for a coal plant. The EPR would generate power at 2.74 cents/kWh, competitively with gas which would be very dependent on fuel price. Capital costs contributed 60% to nuclear's power price but only 20% to gas's. While the figures are based on 40-year plant life, the EPR is designed for 60 years.

A UK Royal Academy of Engineering report in 2004 looked at electricity generation costs from new plant in the UK on a more credible basis than hitherto. In particular it aimed to develop "a robust approach to compare directly the costs of intermittent generation with more dependable sources of generation". This meant adding the cost of standby capacity for wind, as well as carbon values up to £30 per tonne CO2 (£110/tC) for coal and gas. Wind power was shown to be more than twice as expensive as nuclear power.

Without the carbon increment, coal, nuclear and gas CCGT ranged 2.2-2.6 p/kWh and coal gasification IGCC was 3.2 p/kWh - all base-load plant. Adding the carbon value (up to 2.5 p) took coal close to onshore wind (with back-up) at 5.4 p/kWh - offshore wind is 7.2 p/kWh, while nuclear remained at 2.3 p/kWh. Nuclear figures were based on a conservative £1150/kW (US$ 2100/kW) plant cost (including decommissioning).



Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable. The quantities needed are very much less than for coal or oil. One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal. It is therefore intrinsically a very portable and tradeable commodity.

The fuel's contribution to the overall cost of the electricity produced is relatively small, so even a large fuel price escalation will have relatively little effect. For instance, a doubling of the 2002 U3O8 price would increase the fuel cost for a light water reactor by 30% and the electricity cost about 7% (whereas doubling the gas price would add 70% to the price of electricity).


There are other possible savings. For example, if spent fuel is reprocessed and the recovered plutonium and uranium is used in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, more energy can be extracted. The costs of achieving this are large, but are offset by MOX fuel not needing enrichment and particularly by the smaller amount of high-level wastes produced at the end. Seven UO2 fuel assemblies give rise to one MOX assembly plus some vitrified high-level waste, resulting in only about 35% of the volume, mass and cost of disposal.

Sources for this information:

OECD/IEA, 1992, Electricity Supply in the OECD, (above Figure from Annex 9).
OECD/ IEA NEA 1998, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity
OECD/ IEA NEA 2005, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity- update
OECD, 1994, The Economics of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.
Nuclear Europe Worldscan 7-8/97
NEI: US generating cost data
Siemens Power Journal, Dec 1999.
Tarjanne & Rissanen, 2000, in Proceedings 25th International Symposium, Uranium Institute.
Percebois J. 2003, The peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Energy Policy 31, 101-08, Jan 2003
Gutierrez, J 2003, Nuclear Fuel - key for the competitiveness of nuclear energy in Spain, WNA Symp.
Nucleonics Week 20/2/03.
Royal Academy of Engineering 2004, The costs of generating electricity.
ExternE web site
Canadian Energy Research Institute, August 2004, Levelised Unit Electricity Cost Comparison Š Ontario.
University of Chicago, August 2004, The Economic Future of Nuclear Power.
Feretic D, & Tomsic Z, 2004, Probabilistic analysis of electrical energy costs, Energy Policy 33,1; Jan 2005


by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 01:36:45 PM EST
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