In the above video clip, Robert Stone explains that the cost of nuclear power plants can come down if we start building and applying the techniques of manufacturing and mass production that have helped reduce the cost of wind turbines, solar panels and iPhones. He points out that we have been operating nuclear power plants for 50 years all around the world and that there have been only three significant accidents — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima — only one of which has resulted in any measurable fatalities.
Robert F. Kennedy says that he is all for nuclear energy if anyone can ever figure out how to make it safe and affordable. He says nuclear energy is inherently expensive and is the most expensive way to boil water ever invented. He claims that the new nuclear plant being built in Finland will cost “$14 billion per gigawatt” of capacity.
There is an element of truth in Kennedy’s position. Today, nuclear energy projects are expensive and time consuming in most countries outside of China. Not only does Kennedy ignore the focused effort that he and his allies have pursued for several decades to increase the cost and uncertainty associated with building nuclear power plants, he is also exaggerating the cost of Olkiluoto 3.
That project is a 1650 MWe European Pressurized Reactor (EPR). It is a first of a kind power plant started in May 2005. The project has been delayed and experienced a substantial cost increase, largely as a result of an inexperienced work force building a new reactor design for the first time. The first major problem was a substandard initial concrete pour which required about a year’s worth of rework to correct.
According to the most recent cost estimates, the project may end up costing 8.5 billion euros; at today’s exchange rate that is roughly $11.4 billion in total. Since the plant will have a nameplate capacity of 1650 MW, that works out to $7 billion per gigawatt. That means Kennedy was only exaggerating by a factor of two regarding nuclear energy’s cost.
He also directly compared the cost of a gigawatt of solar energy capacity with a gigawatt of nuclear capacity, neglecting the fact that the most reliable solar plants in the world can only produce about 25% of what they could produce if they operated at nameplate capacity 24 hours per day. In contrast, the whole fleet of US nuclear plants achieved a capacity factor averaging near 90% for an entire decade and it is not unusual for 10-15% of the fleet to produce their full nameplate capacity for all 8760 hours that are available in any given year.
If environmentalists take the advice offered by James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley and begin to cooperate in the development of nuclear energy as a vitally important energy source that can replace some of our need to burn fossil fuels, it is likely that nuclear energy costs will fall, the time required to build each project will be reduced, and the world will be a cleaner, safer and more prosperous place. More people will have access to reliable energy and have the opportunity to live more productive, healthier lives.
It’s never to late to make the right choice.