Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Weighing the financial risks of nuclear power plants

05.04.2007
New study of historical costs of nuclear power shows potential for high costs in future technologies

Enticed by the gleam of government subsidies, many companies are rushing to invest in nuclear power, expecting that new technology and safer reactors will make them as good an investment as other types of power plants.

A new study appearing in the April 1 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology notes, however, that the country's history of unexpected cost overruns when building nuclear plants should sound a cautionary note for power companies that nuclear power may not be financially attractive.

"For energy security and carbon emission concerns, nuclear power is very much back on the national and international agenda," said study co-author Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources and of public policy. "To evaluate nuclear power's future, it is critical that we understand what the costs and the risks of this technology have been. To this point, it has been very difficult to obtain an accurate set of costs from the U. S. fleet of nuclear power plants."

The study, conducted by a research team from Georgetown University, Stanford University and UC Berkeley, analyzes the costs of electricity from existing U.S. nuclear reactors and discusses the possibility for cost "surprises" in new energy technologies, including next-generation nuclear power.

What they found was a range of electricity costs, from 3 cents per kilowatt hour to nearly 14 cents per kilowatt hour, with the higher costs attributed to such problems as poor plant operation or unanticipated security costs.

"In the long term, whether these plants are 4 cents or 8 cents per kilowatt hour, they are still a good deal, if you think carbon is an issue," Kammen said, referring to the carbon dioxide emissions from oil, coal and gas-fueled power plants that exacerbate global warming. "If the argument is that cost really needs to be important, then I'm not sure nuclear competes that well."

Some politicians also tout the increased security benefits of having domestic sources of energy, but this doesn't translate into decreased risk for investors, the study notes.

"In a deregulated electricity environment, investors will increasingly share the financial risks of underperformance of generation assets," said co-author Nathan Hultman, assistant professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a visiting fellow at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization at the University of Oxford. "We don't have a good way of forecasting these risks yet, but looking at the historical data can be one way to understand the possibilities and scenarios for the future."

No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in 29 years, in part because they've proved to be poor investments, producing far more expensive electricity than originally promised. In 2005, about 19 percent of U.S. electricity generation was produced by 104 nuclear reactors.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Advanced Energy Initiative of 2006 sought to change that, offering financial incentives for new plant construction that employs new reactor and new safe-operating technologies. Current nuclear plant operators have given notice that they intend to apply for approval of 27 new "generation III+" reactors.

But Kammen points out that in the past, when U.S. companies have introduced new technologies, they've run into unexpected costs that have kept electricity prices high. France, on the other hand, standardized the design of its nuclear power plants and encountered fewer cost surprises.

"Some U.S. plants were really well done, and they happen to be the older ones," he said. "If we can learn the lessons from those plants, which are often simplicity of design and standardization of design, then I think nuclear could make a comeback."

New and safer technologies are essential to making nuclear power more acceptable, he said, but "we need to optimize a few designs, we don't need a proliferation of types of plants, because we have proven we are not good at managing them."

The answer to the increased riskiness is not more government subsidization, he added, but more savvy investment decisions by the companies interested in nuclear power.

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>