KAUNAS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
CENTRE OF LANGUAGES
The Economics of Nuclear Power 3.
Active vocabulary 6.
Exercise 1-3 6.
Answer sheet 8.
Grammar practice 10.
References 11.The Economics of Nuclear Power
The relative costs of generating electricity from coal, gas and nuclear plants vary considerably depending on location. Coal is, and will probably remain, economically attractive in countries such as China, the USA and Australia with abundant and accessible domestic coal resources as long as carbon emissions are cost-free. Gas is also competitive for base-load power in many places, particularly using combined-cycle plants, though rising gas prices have removed much of the advantage.
Nuclear energy is, in many places, competitive with fossil fuel for electricity generation, despite relatively high capital costs and the need to internalise all waste disposal and decommissioning costs. If the social, health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are also taken into account, nuclear is outstanding.
The report of a major European study of the external costs of various fuel cycles, focusing on coal and nuclear, was released in mid 2001 – Extern. It shows that in clear cash terms nuclear energy incurs about one tenth of the costs of coal. The external costs are defined as those actually incurred in relation to health and the environment and quantifiable but not built into the cost of the electricity. If these costs were in fact included, the EU price of electricity from coal would double and that from gas would increase 30%. These are without attempting to include global warming.
The European Commission launched the project in 1991 in collaboration with the US Department of Energy, and it was the first research project of its kind „to put plausible financial figures against damage resulting from different forms of electricity production for the entire EU“. The methodology considers emissions, dispersion and ultimate impact. With nuclear energy the risk of accidents is factored in along with high estimates of radiological impacts from mine tailings (waste management and decommissioning being already within the cost to the consumer). Nuclear energy averages 0.4 euro cents/kWh, much the same as hydro, coal is over 4.0 cents (4.1-7.3), gas ranges 1.3-2.3 cents and only wind shows up better than nuclear, at 0.1-0.2 cents/kWh average.
Fuel costs are one area of steadily increasing efficiency and cost reduction. For instance, in Spain nuclear electricity cost has been reduced by 29% over 1995-2001. This involved boosting enrichment levels and burn-up to achieve 40% fuel cost reduction. Prospectively, a further 8% increase in burn-up will give another 5% reduction in fuel cost.
Comparing electricity generation
For nuclear power plants any cost figures normally include spent fuel management, plant decommissioning and final waste disposal. These costs, while usually external for other technologies, are internal for nuclear power.
Decommissioning costs are estimated at 9-15% of the initial capital cost of a nuclear power plant. But when discounted, they contribute only a few percent to the investment cost and even less to the generation cost. In the USA they account for 0.1-0.2 cent/kWh, which is no more than 5% of the cost of the electricity produced.
The back-end of the fuel cycle, including spent fuel storage or disposal in a waste repository, contributes up to another 10% to the overall costs per kWh, – less if there is direct disposal of spent fuel rather than reprocessing. The $18 billion US spent fuel program is funded by a 0.1 cent/kWh levy.
French figures published in 2002 show (EUR cents/kWh): nuclear 3.20, gas 3.05-4.26, coal 3.81-4.57. Nuclear is favourable because of the large, standardised plants used.
The cost of nuclear power generation has been dropping over the last decade. This is because declining fuel (including enrichment), operating and maintenance costs, while the plant concerned has been paid for, or at least is being paid off. In general the construction costs of nuclear power plants are significantly higher than for coal- or gas-fired plants because of the need to use special materials, and to incorporate sophisticated safety features and back-up control equipment. These contribute much of the nuclear generation cost, but once the plant is built the variables are minor.
In the past, long construction periods have pushed up financing costs. In Asia construction times have tended to be shorter, for instance the new-generation 1300 MWe Japanese reactors which began operating in 1996 and 1997 were built in a little over four years.
Overall, OECD studies in teh 1990s showed a decreasing advantage of nuclear over coal. This trend was largely due to a decline in fossil fuel prices in the 1980s, and easy access to low-cost, clean coal, or gas. In the 1990s gas combined-cycle technology with low fuel prices was often the lowest cost option in Europe and North America. But the picture is changing. Source: US Utility Data Inst. (pre 1995), Resource Data International (1995)
Note: the above data refer to fuel plus operation and maintenance costs only, they exclude capital, since this varies greatly among utilities and states, as well as with the age of the plant. On the basis of the OECD projections opposite, capital costs in
USA are 55% of total for nuclear, 45% of total for coal and 16% of total for gas. Grossing these up on this basis for 2001 gives 3.73 c/kWh for nuclear, 3.27 c/kWh for coal and 5.87 c/kWh for gas.
FACTORS FAVOURING URANIUM