The UK's Energy Technologies Institute has launched a project that will look at potential cost reductions for nuclear power plants.
The project hopes to find ways in which nuclear power can become an attraction to investors, by taking on lessons from renewable sectors such as offshore wind, which have successfully reduced costs through research and development.
The Nuclear Cost Drivers Project expects to study and analyse historical, contemporary and future nuclear projects to identify the areas of design, construction and operation that have the greatest influence on costs. It also hopes to identify credible areas for potential cost reductions.
The project, which will run until April 2018, is being led by CleanTech Catalyst Ltd, working with Lucid Strategy. Dr Tim Stone will act as an independent reviewer.
ETI analysis has demonstrated that nuclear power could have a "significant" role to play in the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy as long as it is cost competitive within the overall energy mix and provided there is a market need.
In the UK, the initial challenge for the nuclear new build industry is to complete the commissioning and construction of new nuclear projects within acceptable budget and schedule. The next task will be to deliver cost reductions for follow-on plants.
Mike Middleton, the strategy manager for the ETI’s nuclear programme, said: “There are currently no evidence led projects which can illustrate whether the costs of generating electricity from new nuclear power stations can be reduced."
“The renewables industry, particularly offshore wind, is able to show a meaningful route to getting costs down though research, development and deploying at scale."
“The challenge for nuclear new build in the UK is to demonstrate that it can show a credible way of delivering reduced costs. The expectation for advanced reactor technologies is that they should deliver a step reduction in costs.”
Kirsty Gogan, director at CleanTech Catalyst, said that new-build costs vary widely around the world. They are high in the USA and Europe, but far lower in Japan, South Korea and China. "Attracting private sector investment for nuclear projects is challenging due to the quantum of investment required, and the perceived financial and construction risk," Gogan said.
"Nonetheless, once built, low operating costs and high capacity factors generate reliable income for investors, security of supply and price stability for consumers.”