Questions & Answers

Would nuclear power not be an inexpensive way to reduce carbon emissions?

Nuclear is not bankable. No nuclear plant is currently being built in any free market without massive state support. Nuclear is currently considered an inexpensive source of power for two reasons: first, all of the currently operating plants in the West were built long ago and have been written down – the longer they stay in operation, the more profitable they become; and second, we do not pay to complete cost of nuclear power in our power bills. Some of the costs are passed on to taxpayers and future generations.

In the UK, French nuclear plant operator EDF is asking for a guaranteed 10 percent return on its investments over a 35-year time frame. Specifically, EDF is asking for nearly 10 pence per kilowatt-hour. In either case, this nuclear power would be far more expensive than onshore wind power currently is – and even more expensive than power from newly installed large ground-mounted arrays. For decades from now, this nuclear power will cost more because it is indexed to inflation, whereas new solar and wind will become even less expensive.

In the US, Wall Street has turned its back on financing risky nuclear power. Only the massive subsidy of 8.33 billion dollars in conditional federal loan guarantees kept Southern Company’s dream of building two additional reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia alive. But even that support was not enough; the project was up in the air in mid-2017 because Westinghouse went bankrupt. Vogtle also has a history that should trouble taxpayers. The original two reactors at the Georgia site took almost 15 years to build, came in 1,200 percent over budget, and resulted in the largest rate hike at the time in Georgia.

Decades-old nuclear plants (built with heavy subsidies and governmental support) do indeed produce quite inexpensive power, but all estimates are that the cost of building a nuclear plant today without heavy subsidies would be prohibitive. The only plants currently under construction in the EU (in France and Finland) are both behind schedule and far over budget.