The nuclear industry argues that nuclear power is cheaper than coal-fired power or wind power - but an assessment in Ontario, based on the actual performance of reactors and the required return of capital, suggested that the realistic lifetime price of new nuclear power would be 20 cents/kWh, 250% greater than wind or microhydro.
The nuclear industry wants to build 1000 new plants globally – but nuclear plants almost always come in over budget and over time, and the average construction time is 15 years (8 years in France); the last US plant took 23 years to complete. Ontario’s five nuclear plants had cost overruns ranging from 40% to 270%.
Nuclear power also brings big hidden costs that the taxpayer has to cover—a nuclear disaster, could cost $600 billion in damages and claims. The nuclear industry’s liability is limited to $13.6 billion in the US and just $1 billion in Canada, with the taxpayer picking up the rest. If the nuclear industry had to buy insurance for its liability costs, it would never get financed.
Radioactive wastes have to be stored for up to 250,000 years, twice as long as since modern humans left Africa. In Canada, taxpayers are on the hook for $24 billion to cover just the first 300 years. At then the end of a reactor’s life it has to be decommissioned, at an average cost of $325 million per reactor. In Britain the estimated cost of decommssioning the Sellafield nuclear complex is more than £70 billion, most of which will have to be covered by the taxpayer.
As a result of these realities, the private sector is unwilling to invest in nuclear power without firm government support. In the US since 1948 the nuclear industry has received $74 billion in subsidies, plus $13 billion in 2007 and $50 billion in loan guarantees, at an average of $13 billion per new nuclear plant – roughly its entire cost. In Canada, the industry has received $20 billion in subsidies since 1952.
In 2008, Architecture 2030 reported in The 2030 Blueprint: Solving Climate Change Saves Billions that a $21.6 billion investment in building efficiency would produce three times greater CO2 reductions than the same investment in nuclear energy. It would create 216,000 new jobs, and produce new energy for a fifth of the cost clean coal or nuclear power. Because such options exist, public investment in nuclear power will actually slow progress on climate solutions.
The world has a limited supply of uranium
The world’s 440 nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of 363 GW, use 67,000 tonnes of uranium a year, averaging 146 tonnes per reactor. At this rate, the world’s uranium reserves of around 4.5 million tonnes will last for 70 years.
If we build 1,000 new nuclear plants with a combined capacity of 1500 GW, as proposed, they would need an additional 277,000 tonnes a year.
By 2030, when the new reactors might begin to operate, the reserves will have fallen to 3.5 million tonnes, and the demand will now be 344,000 tonnes a year (assuming 184.5 tonnes of uranium per GW of capacity). At that rate, the global supply of uranium would be exhausted in 10 years.
Some propose fast breeder reactors fueled by their own fissile wastes, but these have been a technical and economic failure. Others argue that higher uranium prices will cause new reserves to be found, but even if reserves doubled, they would be exhausted in 20 years.
Nuclear Energy in BC
No nuclear power is generated in BC.
Nuclear power plants need cooling, but in the summer of 2003 France had to close a quarter of its 58 plants because the river-water used to cool them was too warm – because of global warming. If they are located by the sea, they are vulnerable to sea-level rise. They are also very vulnerable to earthquakes, as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami has clearly demonstrated.
Nuclear technology also enables nuclear weapons proliferation, and the use of stolen plutonium to make dirty bombs. There is also the alarming prospect that terrorists might choose to fly a hijacked plane into a nuclear reactor.
Nuclear power also poses grave health risks. Uranium mining and nuclear power plants contribute to greater rates of breast cancer, lung cancer, and childhood leukemia. Following the Chernobyl nuclear accident, there has been a 90-fold increase in thyroid cancer, and thousands of deaths.
Nuclear power produces less CO2 than coal-fired power, but 24 times more than wind – so why take such risks when there are cheaper, safer, renewable ways to generate the energy we need?
Nuclear operators' liability limit rising to $1B. CBC, June 2013
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