April 17, 2005
How To Calculate Nuclear Power Electric Costs?

Over at the NEI Nuclear Notes blog Elizabeth King reacted to an earlier discussion we had here on Futurepundit about nuclear power costs and has written a post on efforts by the nuclear power industry to set and achieve goals for nuclear power capital costs.

To ensure a common basis for comparison, the capital costs of electric generating technologies are expressed in dollars per kilowatt of capacity. The capital costs used in such comparisons are so-called “overnight” capital costs—i.e., they assume the plant is built “overnight” and thus do not include interest charges and financing costs.

In order to provide competitive electricity, the nuclear industry has determined that the next generation of nuclear reactors must have overnight capital costs in the range of $1,000 – $1,200 per kilowatt of generating capacity for the so called “Nth-of-a-kind” nuclear plant. Nth-of-a-kind capital costs are achieved after first-time design and engineering costs have been recovered and as industry incorporates improvements in construction techniques and construction management gained during construction of the first few units.

Let us suppose the nuclear power industry has met this stated cost goal. Well, how to translate those numbers into kilowatt-hour (kwh) prices that are a few pennies each at the residential meter? As a starting point I'll note that there are 8760 hours in a year. Also, nuclear plants run for decades and the new designs are supposed to last longer (anyone know how much longer?).

There are additional costs including nuclear fuel costs, labor costs, maintenance costs, waste disposal costs, decommissioning costs, and still other costs.

Also, how many nuclear plants would have to be built before “Nth-of-a-kind” costs would be 90+% of the cost of building a nuclear plant?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 April 17 12:03 PM  Energy Policy

Garson Poole said at April 17, 2005 2:17 PM:

When attempting to analyze the full economic costs of nuclear power one should try to take into account scenarios of sabotage and deliberate attack. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences argues that terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities could result in lethal radioactive fallout. See the New Scientists article entitled US nuclear power plants vulnerable to attack. Costs should include the probability of massive economic disruption and increased mortality from nuclear contamination. It might be possible to reduce the probability of an attack. But it seems that the cost of truly providing adequate security at nuclear plants is currently dramatically underestimated.

Engineer-Poet said at April 18, 2005 7:17 AM:

Nuke plants are fairly hard targets, and could be hardened further at relatively small expense (e.g. building a Monolithic(tm) dome over the spent-fuel storage, adding earth around the containment buildings).  Terrorists would be able to cause much more damage by aiming at other things.

If anything, the size of the group required to plan and execute a "spectacular" makes them far more likely to be discovered and rolled up than the ones and twos which could take out other assets.  How hard would it be to reproduce an 8/14/03 at whim?  How hard to stop?  Think about that.  I'd rather have them aiming for the romantic-but-impossible targets.

michael vassar said at April 18, 2005 7:24 AM:

For what it's worth, life in NY shows what kind of energy efficiency can co-exist with a modern high-tech life. Electricity here costs $10/month + $.16/kw/h and no-one cares, as monthly bills are still

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