U.S. nuclear hopes choked by low emission costs

May 20, 2010

Nuclear power advocates in the United States may see their hopes choked by low emissions costs. The latest moves in the U.S. Congress involve expanding the hodgepodge of available subsidies. But these will be hard pressed to overcome the cost advantages of fossil fuels — especially with natural gas prices so low.

As global warming has climbed the political agenda, lawmakers have tried hard to rouse the nuclear industry from a multi-decade slumber. Just to maintain its existing 20 percent market share, the nuclear industry would need around 25 new reactors by 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Department, assuming electricity demand increases as forecast. Yet no new reactor projects have made it past the drawing board since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Streamlining the licensing process in the 1990s and dangling $18.5 billion in new government loan guarantees after 2005 has barely got the industry to the starting line. The Senate proposal this month roughly triples the loan guarantees available to cover perhaps nine new reactors and provides for more generous depreciation rules.

Even this is unlikely to do enough. Nuclear power plants are notoriously expensive — roughly $4 billion for one gigawatt of generating capacity, against $850 million for a similar amount of gas-fired capacity — and have a long history of blasting through their forecast costs. A reactor in Finland being constructed by France’s Areva  is now 65 percent over budget and three years behind schedule.

The surge in natural gas discoveries in the United States has further raised the hurdle for nuclear power. The 616 trillion cubic feet of shale gas rendered accessible in recent years by new drilling techniques have sent prices diving, making gas generation cheaper still.

The upshot is that the government would have to price carbon emissions at $100 per metric ton to make new nuclear plants economical, according to nuclear operator Exelon. Even if that’s an exaggeration, the contrast with what’s proposed is stark: the Senate bill has a carbon price ceiling of just $25 a ton. The subsidies proposed so far won’t bridge that gap. The nuclear industry’s future may depend on America adopting an unexpectedly beefy levy on greenhouse gases.

Comments

U.S. nuclear hopes choked by low emission costs!
The hydrocarbon producers are determined to keep not only the US but the world addicted to the supply and combustion of hydrocarbons, whether as solid, liquid or gas fuels.
They will have support, from a considerable number of sources, such as politicians, commercial operations, labor organizations, transport, etc., all of whom have a vested interest in keeping the addict hooked on their product.
After all abusing the world’s finite resources makes money and what can possible be more important than that.
Hence, the nuclear option as an energy source will face a long and painful uphill battle, until the public wake up to reality of global warming and are then prepared to vote for nuclear power generation and a transmission system to allow it to operate.

Posted by The1eyedman | Report as abusive
 

Face it. When the money in Big Oil starts to run out we’ll begin to get serious about alternative energy sources. Certainly not before then. Of course we will be in the middle of a created crises and have no other choice. Forget about the government doing anything more than the oil companies bidding (i.e., the “Energy Department” was created during the 1976 oil crises with a goal of getting the US off foreign oil.) They’ve done a great job, haven’t they? Oil & gas, as well as other fossil fuels will be good investments for years to come.

Posted by Avatar666 | Report as abusive
 

We’ve moved beyond nuclear. Nuclear power is kind of like drilling for oil. It only takes one accident to mess EVERYTHING up. Given the risks involved. It’s not worth the effort or the costs. Then there’s the matter of storing the waste, which NO ONE wants anywhere near where they live. And I can’t say I blame anyone.

We have technology that allows us to produce crude oil from algae. We have solar technologies that are fast becoming more efficient and effective. We have wind generators and some of the windiest land on earth in the Midwest. We could produce bio fuels from hemp without touching our food sources.

There are MANY alternatives that are more effective and far less dangerous than nuclear fission. I personally have no confidence in the regulatory agencies that would oversee the nuclear industry. Look at how effective regulators have been in the oil industry. It’s just not worth it.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive
 

Nuclear energy is almost clean if you compared it with the rest. The accident in Three Mile Island just caused financial costs nobody has beeing even hurt.
in the 50 years of the whole nuclear world industry no more than 100 people died. Compare it with the hundreds of people that died in the others energy industries.
We were induced to a mistake about nuclear energy.
the new book of James Lovelock helps in this issue.

Posted by Nereida | Report as abusive
 

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