Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar
"According to an article on the New York Times, a historical cross-over has occurred because of the declining costs of solar vs. the increasing costs of nuclear energy: solar, hardly the cheapest of renewable technologies, is now cheaper than nuclear, at around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. Furthermore, the NY Times reports that financial markets will not finance the construction of nuclear power plants unless the risk of default (which is historically as high as 50 percent for the nuclear industry) is externalized to someone else through federal loan guarantees or ratepayer funding. The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive, and the push from the US government to subsidize it seems to be forcing the wrong choice on the market."
First off, the study doesn't read like much of a scientific study.  The PDF has lots of colors and select quotes.  It's a PR press release by a company called NC WARN who define their mission as:
NC WARN is a member-based nonprofit tackling the accelerating crisis posed by climate change – along with the various risks of nuclear power – by watch-dogging utility practices and working for a swift North Carolina transition to energy efficiency and clean power generation. In partnership with other citizen groups, NC WARN uses sound scientific research to inform and involve the public in key decisions regarding their wellbeing.
Still it's possible that they could have conducted an impartial study.  However, it's clear they did not.  It relies heavily on future projections, and includes a number of factors that are just silly.
Ten billion dollars has been expended over two decades to license the Yucca Mountain repository for used commercial fuel rods, but in 2010 the Obama administration is attempting to cancel the project. That wasted sum was accumulated through utility bills, so it was included in the kilowatt-hour cost of nuclear power. To date there are no credible plans or cost estimates for managing this highly radioactive waste for thousands of years, but much or all of the outlay will be borne by the federal taxpayer.
Why should nuclear power have to foot the bill of the political Yucca Mountain project?  Also, as for plans for managing nuclear waste, how about what we are already doing?  That is storing it on site.  Also, by definition if nuclear waste is highly radioactive then it can't be radioactive for thousands of years.
While the study includes subsidies for both solar and nuclear power, it estimates that if subsidies were removed from solar power, the crossover point would be delayed by a maximum of nine years.
So it's not actually cheaper today, unless you get someone else to pay for it, but hopefully it'll be cheaper in a decade.  I'm thinking about publishing my own earth shattering study.  It turns out living in your parent's basement beats nuclear, solar, and coal.  I use several hundred watts and pay $0.

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