Can high nuclear construction costs be overcome?

3 February 2016

The difficulty of reaching the Final Investment Decision at the Hinkley Point C project in the United Kingdom highlights that it is ultimately the huge cost of building modern nuclear power plants that acts as the biggest deterrent.

Cost escalation in nuclear power projects in the Western world and the observation that plants in Asia can be built much cheaper has been recognised for some time. Evidence from the French nuclear programme suggests that nuclear power breaks the usual rule that costs of a technology should fall over time.

An important explanation for rising costs of nuclear construction in the Western world is the link with adverse public perception of nuclear. Even where public opinion is not strongly opposed to new reactor plans (such as in the UK and USA) gaining and maintaining public accord is a key factor in project costs.

More recently it has become apparent that building the latest reactor designs in China is proving much more expensive than anticipated. Could it be that the move to Generation III reactors has created an economic threat to nuclear? Perhaps the better is the enemy of the sufficiently good.

It sounds almost anathema to suggest that the push towards latest technology in nuclear may be killing it financially. But when it comes to safety, there are important financial trade-offs that have to be made.

The full version of this article will be published in the March 2016 issue of Nuclear Engineering International.

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