The Economic Viability of Nuclear Power Is Only Going Down
Last year the Trump administration’s Energy Department announced the launch of a media campaign to counter what an official called “misinformation” about nuclear power. We haven’t noticed an upsurge in pro-nuclear news – because there is none to report.
On the first day of 2019, the energy industry trade journal Power asked whether new technology can save nuclear power by making new reactors economically feasible – not only to replace coal and natural gas but also to compete with the rapidly dropping cost of renewable energy. The verdict from Peter Bradford, a former member of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
. . . [N]ew nuclear is so far outside the competitive range. . . . Not only can nuclear power not stop global warming, it is probably not even an essential part of the solution to global warming.
His bleak outlook is shared by the authors of a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors – an engineer, an economist and a national security analyst – reviewed the prospects for so-called advanced designs for large nuclear reactors, and for much smaller modular reactors that could avoid the billions in construction costs and overruns that have plagued the nuclear energy industry since the beginning.
They concluded that no new designs can possibly reach the market before the middle of the century. They cite the breeder reactor that, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, received $100 billion in public development funds worldwide over six decades and still did not get off the ground.
The authors say there may be an opening for small modular reactors but that it will be very difficult to find a market for these reactors without – as is always the case with nuclear power – a massive infusion of taxpayer dollars. “For that to happen,” they argue, “several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies would be needed to support their development and deployment over the next several decades, since present competitive energy markets will not induce their development and adoption.”