Since the mid-1990s nuclear power has been staging a comeback. The Fukushima reactor disaster in 2011 may have given a moment of pause, but today 14 countries are building new reactors.
The United States generates most of the world’s nuclear energy, over 30 percent, but there has been little interest in building new reactors here since the 1980s. Following a 30-year hiatus, new U.S. plants are now under construction. Six are expected to come on line by 2020.
This renewed interest in nuclear power is fueled by energy policies sensitive to a changing climate. Nuclear power—generated from splitting a uranium 235 nucleus—leaves a light carbon footprint compared to the dirty business of burning fossil fuels. This feature has encouraged construction of many new plants worldwide, 27 in China alone.
But despite nuclear’s green reputation experts say it’s a bad deal.
It requires a comparatively tiny amount of uranium to generate electricity, so most of the cost consumers pay for nuclear power comes from building the reactor. But the construction of new facilities often proves much more expensive than promised.
New reports find that at least three quarters of all nuclear reactor projects worldwide are officially delayed. According to Mycle Schneider, International consultant on nuclear policy, and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) 2014, construction delays can run projects billions over budget.
In a conference call on Sept. 19, Schneider pointed reporters to the European pressurized water reactors under construction in Finland and France. These projects are now estimated at $11 billion each, totaling about $7 billion over budget and over four times as much as the original estimates 10 years ago.
According to Peter Bradford—adjunct professor on Nuclear Power and public policy at Vermont Law School, former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chair of the New York and Maine state utility regulatory commissions—time and budgetary discrepancies have always plagued the nuclear industry.
“This is an industry with a history of a terribly optimistic vender forecast,” he said. […]
Consumers Shoulder the Risks
According to Schneider, commercial banks no longer back reactor project financing, because it’s too risky. It is for this reason that the Asian Development Bank has never financed a nuclear facility.
“Without upfront customer financing no one in the U.S. will build a new reactor,” he said.
In South Carolina and Georgia where new reactor construction is underway, the legislature arranged for electricity customers to be charged for the facilities before they even come into service. Bradford said that while such laws do produce lower final reactor costs, they shift the risk of a reactor project cancellation to consumers, who, unlike investors, don’t charge for bearing those risks.
Read more at Nuclear Power Costs Billions More Than Promised