As attractive a nuclear power may seem in terms of operating without emitting carbon dioxide, there are many problems associated with nuclear power that argue for caution.
CAC is critical of the current Waxman – Markey legislation now before Congress (House Resolution 2454). Although some see it as a “tax” increase, we see it as yet another corporate bailout. Billions of dollars would be given the coal industry to bolster the status quo instead of the more economic and environmentally superior options of energy efficiency and renewable energy technology.
Those in Congress who are critical of the Waxman legislation, point to the Republican proposal of, among other things, expanding nuclear power. But expanding nuclear power would harbor many risks for taxpayers and ratepayers.
For some reason, the issue of cost is not part of the debate in Congress or the US Senate. The two most expensive options at our disposal at this time are new coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The least cost options are energy efficiency, renewable energy, and distributed (decentralized) power investments at industrial and large commercial buildings where businesses generate their own power.
Nuclear power is extremely expensive and new construction has had a history of excessive cost overruns. Even for those who point to the French, they recently abandoned a nuclear power plant in Finland due to cost overruns. Time Magazine in December 2008 noted that the industry historically has had 250% in cost overruns for new construction.
In terms of initial cost, a 1,000 megawatt unit (1 megawatt can power 700 homes) will cost $10 billion. The Republican proposal envisions building 33 plants in 20 years. The current cost for new construction of nuclear power is 17 to 22 cents per kilowatt hour. Adding in operating and maintenance, fuel and decommissioning costs, the price tag rises to 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour. Compare that to energy efficiency which is less than 1 cent to 4 cents per kilowatt hour or wind which is 4 cents to 7 cents per kilowatt hour to construct, with limited operating costs. The 25 to 30 cent range makes solar, in many larger applications, competitive with nuclear power.
To further make the case against nuclear power, we turn to the March 2009 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly (a trade journal on the utility industry). In it, an article states, “Most retail rates are too low to support nuclear power.” Indeed, the average retail electric rate in the country is 10.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Indiana ratepayers pay on average just above 8 cents per kilowatt hour.
What this boils down to is this: The only way new nuclear power plants can be built is if taxpayers and ratepayers pay directly or are held as collateral for the costs of the plants. Keep in mind that Indiana is seeing expansion of wind power investments now without massive taxpayer and ratepayer bailouts. The only incentive the wind industry is using in Indiana is the federal production tax credit. The turbines in Benton County, IN are being installed at half the cost of Duke’s coal gasification plant in Edwardsport, IN. In other words, lenders are willing to finance wind with a minimum of support. They will not finance nuclear (or coal plants for that matter) without massive taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies and direct support.
CAC Executive Director
These are the issues of immediate importance we are working on right now.