The dream that failed via The Economist

A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety


In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat. Yet, as our special report this week explains, without governments private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants. This is in part because of the risks they face from local opposition and changes in government policy (seeing Germany’s nuclear-power stations, which the government had until then seen as safe, shut down after Fukushima sent a chilling message to the industry). But it is mostly because reactors are very expensive indeed. Lower capital costs once claimed for modern post-Chernobyl designs have not materialised. The few new reactors being built in Europe are far over their already big budgets. And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives; new nuclear plants are likely only in still-regulated electricity markets such as those of the south-east.

A technology for a more expensive world

For nuclear to play a greater role, either it must get cheaper or other ways of generating electricity must get more expensive. In theory, the second option looks promising: the damage done to the environment by fossil fuels is currently not paid for. Putting a price on carbon emissions that recognises the risk to the climate would drive up fossil-fuel costs. We have long argued for introducing a carbon tax (and getting rid of energy subsidies). But in practice carbon prices are unlikely to justify nuclear. Britain’s proposed carbon floor price—the equivalent in 2020 of €30 ($42) a tonne in 2009 prices, roughly four times the current price in Europe’s carbon market—is designed to make nuclear investment enticing enough for a couple of new plants to be built. Even so, it appears that other inducements will be needed. There is little sign, as yet, that a price high enough to matter can be set and sustained anywhere.

Read the entire article at The dream that failed

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