The Economics of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear

While few people now believe that nuclear power would provide ‘power too cheap to meter’, there is still a common perception that nuclear power is a cheap source of electricity. The fact that nuclear power has not come to dominate electricity generation is seen as being due to a combination of public opposition and dealing with the safety issues raised by accidents such as those at Three Mile Island (1978), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). The reality is that nuclear power has seldom been the cheapest option for new power stations. Worse, the real cost of any normal successful technology goes down over time due to the effect of intuitively sensible factors such as ‘learning-by-doing’, economies of scale and general technical progress. For nuclear power, these factors do not seem to have worked and for its entire commercial history, the real cost of nuclear power has only ever gone upwards. The Fukushima disaster can only give a further twist to this upward spiral.

This paper examines the determinants of the cost of a kilowatt hour (kWh) of nuclear electricity; what the latest designs of nuclear power plant can offer; how new nuclear plants might be financed; and what issues will determine whether South Africa can successfully launch a new nuclear programme.

The Economics of Nuclear Energy

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