Paul Gipe article on economics of nuclear power

Grist posted a piece yesterday by renewable energy expert Paul Gipe, who argues that the costs of nuclear power may stall its resurgence:

The world’s beleaguered nuclear industry continues to take a battering. The “nuclear renaissance” juggernaut that once seemed unstoppable now appears dead in its tracks.

The cabinet of Germany’s conservative government on Monday voted to take the country out of nuclear permanently by 2022. Not to be outdone on the right, the country’s opposition parties say that’s not fast enough.

The conservative party in the state of Bavaria has gone even further and says that while it was first in German nuclear power, it will now be first in exiting nuclear. Bavaria, known as the “Texas of Germany” for its conservatism, gets more than 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy.

Gipe cites a report from the California Energy Commission (CEC), a public agency that periodically assesses the costs of various forms of generation within the state:

The CEC’s 186-page report, “Comparative Costs of California Central Station Electricity Generation” found that a 1,000-megawatt pressurized water reactor would generate electricity in 2018 from as little as $0.17 per kilowatt-hour to as much as $0.34 per kilowatt-hour. These results are startling: Most renewable technologies today, even solar photovoltaics (PV), generate electricity for less than that.

But it’s the costs of insurance that really make nuclear the least-desirable choice for electic generation:

In an unrelated study for the German Renewable Energy Association, consultants found that nuclear reactors are effectively uninsurable. The 157-page report by Versicherungsforen Leipzig estimated that the premium necessary to insure a nuclear reactor from accident would cost from $0.20 per kilowatt-hour to a staggering $3.40 per kilowatt-hour.

Thus, the cost to insure a nuclear reactor — at a minimum — would cost as much as the electricity itself from a nuclear plant coming online in California in 2018.

Earlier German studies of the cost for insuring reactors against catastrophic failure found similar results. A 1999 report for the European Commission on the externalities of energy found that the external cost of nuclear power was $2.59 per kilowatt-hour largely due to the cost of insurance.

These studies indicate that the cost of nuclear energy is far higher than proponents have led policymakers to believe.

Here’s a link to Paul Gipe’s Grist article:


About Robert Singleton

By day, I work for a call center. In my spare time, I try to save my hometown (and planet) from a nearly constant onslaught of greedheads, lunatics and land developers. I live in a fictional town called Austin, Texas, where I go to way too many meetings.
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