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The economics

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 3 years ago

Part of the nuclear homework project and a page of energy issues


This is the difficult one. The economics of nuclear power are controversial, with some serious questions to be answered by both sides.


Nuclear is very vulnerable to political opposition. It is slow to build and has high capital costs, and its opponents know this only too well and are working hard to make it as slow and costly as they possibly can. Is this making a difference? That is a good question.


Obviously those working so hard at opposing nuclear power do believe that their efforts are making a difference. Am I missing something there?


And some of these very same people are also writing articles and blogs and the like claiming that the anti-nuclear-power movement has little or no effect on the time and cost of nuclear power. (Hard to believe? Check me!) We should not of course dismiss their arguments purely on ad_hominem grounds, but I think it's fair to note that the credibility of the authors is suspect. We could also ask, of corporate funded power stations, what business is it of these activists anyway? If they have other reasons for opposing the stations, fair enough. But these others are long discredited. See the nuclear homework index.


Nukes shouldn't be built without good answers to the question of whether they are cost justified. But neither should they be opposed on economic grounds on the evidence presented to date, which suffer from four main problems, any one of which is serious enough to call the credibility of the economic argument into doubt.


And all of them are pretty obvious, and taken together they are food for thought!


Problem one: It is impossible to compare the true economics of an industry that faces hysterical political sabotage at every turn with ones that get off scot free at worst.


Nuclear proved a very soft target for political pressure. Most of the cost is in building the plant and financing the construction. The cost of building is escalated by delays. The cost of finance is escalated by escalating building costs and by delays and by threats of cancellation. It's a perfect storm.


If there were any valid reasons for this opposition then that would be another thing. But there aren't. And how can you argue that you oppose nukes because they're expensive, when this greenist opposition is one of the things that makes them expensive? That surely is a circular argument?


Problem two: Nuclear power is the only heavy industry in history to account for and fund its waste disposal, while coal or natural gas are allowed to just dump radioactive waste with little if any research into where it will end up. And then of course there's CO2, which may be a bigger problem still, more expensive and far more dangerous. 


In the US state of New York nuclear has been unable to compete with natural gas. In Germany it has been unable to compete with coal. In both cases, PWRs have been prematurely closed. This makes no sense at all, The major cost was in building the plants. This cost, and the costs of decommissioning, are in no way lessened by the premature closures. Something is very fishy there.


So Problem three: The accounting that made the premature closures of these PWRs economic is seriously flawed, and so obviously flawed that it calls into serious question all of the figures produced by the anti-nuclear machine. An explanation is needed. Don't hold your breath.


Problem four: The recycling of solar panels is now getting some attention, but publications on the effects of the materials of which they are made on the environment are still few, and requests for the figures are generally met with silence or even hostility. There is still neither funding nor planning for the decommissioning of most of them. and no call for research into the health and environmental impacts of the exotic materials of which they are made.


I support greater use of wind and solar. But given a level playing field, in some countries it would be a whole new ball game for nuclear. 


Why are the opponents of nuclear power so terrified of having one?


See agendas and pollies and participants for some possible answers. 


See also Are nukes economically viable which says much the same in a wafflier way

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