Nuclear Electrical Power Generation – Why The Fuss? (Part 8)

Posted on Thu 08/06/2009 by



Proponents of Nuclear power who may actually be reading this series may be smugly sitting there thinking that I haven’t mentioned costings yet, because their fall back position is inevitably that these plants are just so expensive. They may think I have conveniently neglected to mention these costs, but actually, I have been looking forward to this this post because, even though on the surface these plants may ‘seem’ to be enormously expensive, something the contrary to that is the truth of the matter.

I’ll speak in today’s dollars, but you need to be aware that these plants can take a while to construct, so the ‘cost’ of that original money increases due to interest accruing on that original funding. Having said that, the same applies for any plant. Both Solar and Wind plants take around the same time to construct, and in fact a modern coal fired plant, while taking less time to construct will also suffer from the same monetary constraints, so individually applying that burgeoning cost due to the cost of money just to a nuclear power plant is a spurious argument. Where this most comes into play is not for the actual construction of a nuclear plant, because they can come on line delivering power to the grid three years after the first concrete is poured. The time factor is greater in that pre concrete pour stage, getting the planning and approvals in place, and the same applies also for any plant, even wind and solar.

There are 2 main types of reactors currently in most common use, Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). The most recent versions of these are becoming cheaper to construct in relative dollar values at construction time that is.

The most recent version of the PWR comes in at around $1500 per KW of nameplate capacity. The most recent advance in BWR sees these plants coming in at around $2000 per KW of nameplate capacity. So, keeping that in mind, I’ll split the difference and call it at $1750 per KW. The thought here might be that as a supporter, I’d tend to try and make them as cheap as I possibly could, but if you follow this through, the point I’m trying to make will become as clear as glass.

Lets build one of those big ones with 2 reactors, and 2 huge turbine generator complexes. No cheaping out for me.

Let’s go 2200MW of nameplate capacity.  

So at $1750 per Kw, then that comes in at $3.85 Billion. Let’s then just call that $4 Billion shall we?

Wow. That is a lot.

But wait there’s more.

The cost of decommissioning at the end runs at around $300 Million for the U.S. average, but gee, some pundits say it is around a third of the construction cost, so I’ll go with their larger figure. There’s an extra $1.3 Billion.

Now we have a total of $5.3 Billion, and smugly, those proponents of nuclear power plants are thinking, see we’re right. They are too expensive.

But wait there’s even more.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, from the original ‘dirt’ dug out of the ground, 150,000 tons of that then goes through 5 processes before it becomes low enriched nuclear fuel in the rods. I mentioned that amount of dirt produces 24Tonnes of nuclear fuel, and this is the amount used in each reactor for one year. The cost of that fuel comes in at $2200 per Kilogram, so the cost of that 24 Tonnes now comes in at $52.8 Million per year. There are 2 reactors, so now we see a yearly bill for the fuel amounting to $106 Million.

Now Nuclear power plants have a commissioning life of 50 years. However, that can be extended out to 75 years and most plants currently in operation in the U.S. have a ‘life’ of around 60 years, so what I’ll do is just go with that 60 years.

Oh, by the way, that refurbishment after 50 years adds more to the total, and that is also around a quarter of the construction cost, so there’s another $1 Billion, so before the fuel cost is factored in the total now rises to $6.3 Billion.

60 years of fuel for the 2 reactors now adds a further $6.3 Billion.

That gives us now a total of $12.6 Billion.

Case closed. They’re way too expensive. End of story.

However, what do we get for that $12.6 Billion.

Nameplate capacity X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 for theoretical total power to consumers in KWH.

2200 X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 comes to 19.3 Billion KWH per year.

The U.S. plants are currently running at 92.5% power delivery efficiency rate, so the actual power delivered to the grid each year amounts to 17.9 Billion KWH.

For the full lifespan of the plant, 60 years that figure now becomes 1.08 Trillion KWH. Keep this last figure in mind.

Okay. for the sake of comparison, let’s then do a comparison with two forms of renewable power plants, because, after all, that’s a huge amount of money that can be best spent on those renewable plants. Keep in mind that solar plants might be fine in Arizona, Texas, Florida, or California, but would be worthless in the North East and North West because in the Winter months they would be producing close to zero power.


For example for solar power, let’s look at an existing Concentrating Solar Plant, the one in Arizona. It has a nameplate capacity of 280MW and costs $1.1 Billion. So for our $12.6 Billion we will get 11 of these plants, which, theoretically has a nameplate capacity now 1.5 times greater than the large nuclear plant we built. For that we get in total power delivered to the grid per year coming in at 8.1 Billion KWH. So, even though the nameplate is considerably higher the actual power delivered to consumers amounts to just a tick over 45% of the total delivered in that same year from the nuclear power plant.

The lifetime figures however are more revealing because the Solar Plant only has a total life of thirty years, at best. So for the life of these 11 solar plants, the power delivered to the grid is now 240 Billion KWH. Compare that to the power delivered in the life of the Nuclear plant 1.08 Trillion KWH. That total from the solar plant now amounts to only 22% of the total power. So even though this solar plant has 1.5 times the nameplate capacity, the Nuclear plant delivers almost 4.6 times the total power for the same money, a larger total power by a factor of seven.


For example here I’ll use the proposed plant near Cape Cod in Massachusetts. That plant has 140 huge turbines with 3MW nacelles on top of them, producing a nameplate capacity of 420MW. It’s cost comes in at $1.2 Billion, so for our $12.6 Billion, we’ll get ten of these, or just on double the nameplate capacity of the nuclear plant. That’s 1400 huge towers covering hundreds of square miles. The actual power delivered to the grid each year comes in at 9.2 Billion KWH ( only 51% as for the nuclear plant) It’s life span is also only 30 years, so it’s lifetime delivery of power to the consumer comes in at 275 Billion KWH. (25% of the total for the nuclear plant) So, even though this huge wind plant has double the nameplate capacity, the nuclear power plant delivers 4 times the total power for the same money, a larger total power by a factor of eight.


For theoretical purposes lets work out costing for the total power delivered to the grid, that 1.08 trillion KWH, and over the same 60 years.

For the solar plant we now need to build 25 of them at the start, and then a further 25 of them thirty years later, in today’s dollars amounting to $55 Billion, more than four and a half times times the cost of the one nuclear plant.

For the wind plants. we need to construct 20 of these plants at the front end, or 2800 of these towers, and then the same number 30 years later, 40 plants in all, (5600 huge towers in total) amounting to a total of $48 Billion, four times the cost of the one nuclear plant.

As is now quite evident, this large nuclear plant that seemed so costly on the surface now looks not only cheap by comparison, it looks downright attractive.

So, when costings are factored in for the lifetime of the plants, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. Payroll for the workforce needs to be factored in and if truth be told, both renewable methods would use a greater work force because the tens of millions of mirrors need to kept immaculately clean for the plant to function at its optimum. I also have not factored in the cost of the actual fuel consumed in the solar plants, that molten compound that needs to be replenished regularly so it can be used to generate the steam to drive the turbines. Also, maintenance costs for those renewable plants has not been factored in, breakage of mirrors, a common and prevalent problem, working on the nacelles atop those near 500 foot towers spread over hundreds of square miles, the immense cost in manufacturing tens of millions of mirrors, the factories required for that and the work force needed for it, the same applying for the thousands of nacelles, the infrastructure in connecting thousands of wind towers to the one central area and then to the grid, and the list goes on. Over the life of the renewable plants, the costings could see those figures blow out to between eight and ten times the total cost as for the one nuclear power plant.

That bottom line, effectively showing that nuclear power is not expensive by comparison, but in fact cheap, means that the power supplied to consumers can be done so at a much cheaper end cost for those consumers than those renewable methods could even wish for in their widest dreams.

Also, keep in mind that even though this is effectively a front end paper calculation, all these things are done at the front end. The overarching thing that needs to be taken into account here is that the nuclear power plant can provide that electrical power for 24/7/365, and that both forms of renewable power cannot do this, also even in their wildest dreams.

That is why nuclear power needs to be kept on the table, and why this lunatic rush to renewable power is not only a false economy, but an utterly useless exercise because it cannot supply the power on the constant basis that it is needed for, and without huge Government subsidies, would never even be considered to be viable.

In the next post I will deal with that other fall back of the nuclear plant proponents, the perceived problem of the waste.