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Reuters recently published the following piece:

Nuclear energy too slow, too expensive to save climate: report

Inside, it says:

The cost of generating solar power ranges from $36 to $44 per megawatt hour (MWh), the WNISR said, while onshore wind power comes in at $29–$56 per MWh. Nuclear energy costs between $112 and $189.

It surprises me that the nuclear figures are so high.

Are those figures accurate?

  • Just an other random article about this: world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/… The article seems published by a pro-nuclear organization. If you look at the table in the section "NEI 2013 Financial Modelling" you see they claim nuclear is around that cost (they divide in two categories ranging between 85 and 121.90). However they claim wind would be 112.9$/MWh which is more than twice what Reuters claim... – Bakuriu Sep 25 '19 at 21:07
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    Do they include the price for safely storing the produced waste for many millennia? – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 25 '19 at 21:22
  • @HagenvonEitzen: I don't know. My wild guess is "no" or "partially". – einpoklum Sep 25 '19 at 21:48
  • Paging @EnergyNumbers who has a history of writing excellent answers to these sort of questions. – Oddthinking Sep 25 '19 at 22:55
  • @AndrewGrimm I think it is a dupe. But might be worth adding some of the content here into the other question. – matt_black Sep 26 '19 at 11:28
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The figures seem consistent with most sources:

  • A Lazard 2018 study puts nuclear firmly in that range.
  • A UK government study puts new nuclear construction at 95 GBP per megawatt hour, which sits somewhere in the middle of the range stated by Reuters, depending on the exchange rate of the day.
  • The OpenEI configurable chart trends lower, but only outliers lie below the bottom of Reuters' stated range.

There appears to be a fair amount of agreement on the figures in question, across a number of countries and governing bodies.


Speculation - accounting for fuel disposition after use and decommissioning the plant at end of lifetime adds substantially to the low marginal cost-per-MWh during operation. On top of this, it's hard to think of any utility project with higher up front capital costs than a new utility-scale nuclear power plant, and that factors into the lifetime generation costs as well.

This isn't to say that nuclear might not still outperform the fossil fuel plants (particularly the dirty ones like coal) if their externalities (cleanup, pollution) are taken into account, but it's easier to do cost estimation for nuclear plants because their storage and decommissioning costs are well established at this point.

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    You also have to factor in that nuclear is available all the time - renewables aren't so for some of the time they are not competing and so a more complex consideration is needed (unleast until much cheaper large batteries are available) – mmmmmm Sep 26 '19 at 8:08
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    @Mark - That depends on the renewable. Concentrated solar thermal is available 24/7, and offshore wind is very dependable. – jdunlop Sep 26 '19 at 17:47
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    @jdunlop - hydro seems pretty steady, as well. The big challenge is the aged infrastructure. It needs to be updated for many reasons, but that is a prerequisite for a truly functional renewable generation model. Then whether the wind is blowing at location X becomes less important than the fact that wind will pretty much always be blowing at some combination of X, Y, and/or Z (or land-based wind, for example). – PoloHoleSet Sep 26 '19 at 21:47
  • @jdunlop: IIANM, coal-fired plants can be dramatically less dirty with gassification technology. – einpoklum Sep 26 '19 at 21:55
  • @einpoklum - Potentially true, but then you have the cost of gassification, you're still dealing with carbon emissions and nitrogen oxides (smog), and you have to dispose of the slag/fly ash/sulphur dioxiode somewhere as well. Plus, of course, the damage done to the environment by coal mining. – jdunlop Sep 27 '19 at 0:28

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