Those who talk down the benefits of nuclear power are showing a poor understanding of current energy realities, according to the World Nuclear Association.

David Hess, Communications Manager with the WNA has responded to the content of a recent article by Noah Smith on Bloomberg News, where the commentator contended that nuclear would not be viable in the electric power mix due to the expensive nature of nuclear power projects. The association also queried the data the author used to base his analysis.
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Hess told Power Engineering International, “It demonstrates poor understanding of current energy realities in the USA and Europe to criticise nuclear costs without mentioning either the distinct benefits of the technology or the distorting effect of existing and exclusive support schemes for renewable generators.”

He warned that, ‘as is the case for renewables’ society is in danger of losing the benefits of nuclear power if not valued properly.

“The list of benefits is long and includes enhanced grid stability, less volatile consumer bills, reductions in air pollution, increased energy security through diversification, and economic stimulus to nearby rural communities through the creation of well-paying skilled jobs and taxation.”

“There is huge scope for nuclear construction costs to fall and indeed the Breakthrough Institute article the author points to shows exactly this. It is integral to climate and sustainable development goals that more countries learn from good international practise and realise improvements in nuclear construction performance”.

In his piece Smith pointed out that a new nuclear plant in the US costs about $9bn to build – ‘more than 1,000 times as much as a new fracking well, and more than 3,000 times as much as the world’s biggest solar plant.’

He added that the risk of so much up-front costs and the rise in competing technologies conspire to make nuclear an unwise choice, unless a new breakthrough occurs in the sector.

However Hess feels such an opinion is failing to acknowledge the powerful imperatives to ensure nuclear is included in the future global energy mix.

“Ongoing cost reductions in solar and battery technology are great news, but do not obviate the need for dispatchable low-carbon sources, like nuclear energy, that can help to ensure a reliable power supply over every season. Rather than competing with each other nuclear and renewables are obvious and complementary partners for a secure, low-carbon future mix. It is past time that all serious energy commentators acknowledged this.”

The WNA also pointed out that the author erred in his use of the Ivanpah solar plant to make his comparisons with nuclear power. They say that the piece doesn’t take into account the fact that this solar plant is only 392 MW and has been performing with a capacity factor of less than 20 per cent. They added that, assuming a 1000 MW reactor and 90 per cent capacity factor, it generates around 10 per cent of the electricity, for 24 per cent of the cost and would be 2.4 times more expensive than nuclear, taking the data used.

“Smith has made a very significant error in his analysis, the costs of the solar plant he uses as a comparison is $2.2bn, not $2.2m as he states. In addition it generates only around a tenth of the electricity that Smith’s nuclear plant example will generate. Using Smith’s own method the solar plant would actually be more than twice as expensive as nuclear.”