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 Physics of bubbles could explain language patterns
25.07.2017 | University of Portsmouth

nachricht Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

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: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>