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A common theme amongst calls for nuclear power in Australian politics is the idea that nuclear power is cheap. For example, the United Australia party (Wikipedia) ran the below full page add making just that claim. There are other examples from the liberal democrats as well.

Photo of full page ad Please note this is not to discuss the general politics of nuclear energy. The photo below is intended to show that this is a notable claim.

Photo of advertisement

The below image also claims directly that nuclear energy is more affordable than wind or solar Liberal democrats version

marked as duplicate by gerrit, Barry Harrison, Jan Doggen, Brythan, DevSolar May 21 at 7:27

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    Is the question specifically about the text in this ad? They only mention building it in Victoria, and to deliver power to the manufacturing industry. Your title is very broad. – pipe May 15 at 11:26
  • @pipe this is not specific to Victoria, but if the conditions in Australia make the cost of generation of energy so much different its worth noting call it out. Also nuclear might be cheaper in China or Russia if so its worth highlighting. Note that the people who make these claims rarely include any detail . – user1605665 May 15 at 21:19
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    If it's so cheap, are they paying for nuclear waste disposal? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Martin Schröder May 18 at 11:24
  • @MartinSchröder ideally VB any answer would cover end to end costs – user1605665 May 18 at 13:06
  • @user1605665 That's hard since we don't really have implemented nuclear waste disposal solutions; almost everybody only has plans. – Martin Schröder May 18 at 14:27

That claim cannot really be proven or disproven, because there is not clear (or objective) what "cheap" means.

Nuclear power is fairly cheap, but it is not the cheapest.

As already mentioned in a comment "cheap" is only really useful in comparison to something else (i.e. in this case other energy sources). Furthermore, it depends on the costs that are associated with electricity generation.

The costs you are looking for are the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). These include all costs from building to decommision. This study did an overview of LCOE for different energy sources in Germany.

Equation of Levelized Cost of Energy

Where, for all periods t, I is capital expenditure, M is operation and maintenance costs, F is costs of fuel, E is the energy created and r is the interest rate.

The calculation for best and worst case for each energy source is shown in the following graphic.

Calculation LCOE

In graphical form the results look like this.

Levelized Cost of Energy for different power sources

Costs for Australia may be slightly different, but will be in the same range. There are some crucial differences though. The costs for PV in Australia will likely be lower than in Germany, because climate conditions in Australia are better suited for PV.

As far as nuclear is concerned this study may also show an optimistic picture. For the newest nuclear power plant build in the United Kingdom (Hinkley Point C - HPC) a minimum price of 92.50 GBP (119 USD) per MWh has been agreed. That is 50% higher than on-shore wind power in Germany according to Agora Energiewende and higher than the worst case scenario for nuclear power in the table above. The investment cost of HPC are at almost 10.000€/kW, which is almost twice as high as the worst case cost in the study. Since the study was published a number of new nuclear plants in OECD countries have reported significant cost overruns. Given the cost overruns, it seems reasonable to regard the nuclear worst case LCOE in the study as realistic.

As an alternative source Hansen gives the following costs for different energy sources. Which ranks nuclear power in the upper half in terms of LCOE. (l) and (s) stand for large and small plants respectively.

  €34   | €39|  €40   |  €45   | €58|   €66   |  €69  | €72 |  €88  | €104

An important thing to keep in mind for nuclear power is the question of insurance. While the LCOE include operating costs (which in clude insurance), the insurance will not suffice for a nuclear desaster. In case of Fukushima the total costs are currently estimated to be $187 billion. These costs are not included in the LCOE and would probably increase the LCOE of nuclear power quite a bit. Additionally, since the problem of final disposal has not been adequately resolved, costs associated with final disposal are highly uncertain.

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    The study is per definition biased by conflicting interests, as it's from the VGB. Further you should explain a bit more that and how taxes and subsidiaries are included in that calculation. – LangLangC May 15 at 17:12
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    errata: the study you link states that it does include the cost of insurance: "These include the costs of maintenance, and expenses for auxiliary and operating materials, personnel, administration and insurance." Even 187 billion spread over hundreds of plants and a couple of decades gets pretty tractable. – Murphy May 16 at 13:48
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    @Murphy Yes and I mention that in the answer. But it only covers insurance that actually gets paid by the utility. These do not provide full cover, though. – redleo85 May 16 at 15:32
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    @redleo85 I'd be extremely cautious of accepting that analysis given it's commissioned by an industry group of non-nuclear energy providers. Kinda like if the American pork council commissions a study with the conclusion: "veganism, actually bad for your health, pork way better" For example it assumes 2.4 million extra cancer cases from a nuclear disaster when Fukushima and chernoble saw a tiny fraction of that. It's numbers are crazy: It assumes a 1/1000 chance that a given plant will be attacked by terrorists per year: we'd expect that every 2 years with 450 plants worldwide. – Murphy May 16 at 15:53
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    Funny that you point out the cost of Fukushima but don't bring up, for example, the cost of Benqiao Dam disaster (~200k deaths + millions of buildings destroyed) or Vajont's disaster. Sure nuclear costs in case of disaster are huge, but up to now hydro has been the deadliest source of power by far. – Bakuriu May 18 at 14:53

According to Cost of electricity by source (Wikipedia) estimated UK LCOE for projects starting in 2015 gives nuclear at 93 £/MWh. Onshore wind power is at 62 £/MWh. A US study gives nuclear at 96.2 $/MWh and geothermal at 44.0 $/MWh. You can see that page for more studies.

  • Pointing to wikipedia gives a pretty shallow overview. Is wind power an alternative for the type of baseline stable industrial energy they talk about in the ad? Is geothermal an option in Australia? – pipe May 15 at 11:25
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    @pipe: The question was whether nuclear power was cheap, compared to other power sources. Please don't create distractions, or I will pitch the question of final storage at you. ;-) – DevSolar May 15 at 12:07
  • @DevSolar The question does not mention other power sources, so in this case it's the answer that creates distractions by bringing up things that may not be comparable. – pipe May 15 at 12:10
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    @pipe: You can't tell if something is "cheap" without comparing it to something else. – DevSolar May 15 at 12:12

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