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Proponents of nuclear power in the 1940s and 1950s said that it would be a source of energy “too cheap to meter,” but this is an industry historically pock-marked with cost overruns and failed deadlines, loan defaults and managerial disasters. The history of nuclear power is a history of economic collapse and convulsion.

Nuclear Power:

Is not cost efficient. 

  • For every dollar invested, energy efficiency has the potential of delivering five times more electricity than nuclear power.
  • Substantial pollution reductions can occur at half the cost and be achieved without nuclear power/fossil energy sources.
  • The cheapest and fastest way to address energy problems in America is to reduce waste and increase efficiency, which both have the co-benefits of generating and saving energy in a close proximity to consumption, thus avoiding added costs of energy transmission. (Maryland PIRG Foundation, The High Cost of Nuclear Power, March 2009.)

Is highly expensive to tax payers.

  • Government subsidies, loan guarantees, extended liability insurance, and a tax credit for each kWh of electricity generated at a nuclear facility, result in tax payers being responsible for 60-90% of the levelized cost of power from a reactor, which can be up to $13 billion for a single reactor. (Doug Koplow, Earth Track, Inc., The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon Constrained World (power point presentation), Carnegie Corporation, New York, NY, 5 November 2007.)
  • Electricity customers “spent tens of billions of dollars saving power plant owners from large losses, even bankruptcy” during the 1990’s. “The loan guarantees arrange the next multibillion-dollar rescue before the fact and charge it to taxpayers instead of customers.” – Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner. (Source)
  • Price-Anderson Act, renewed for another 20 years in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, grants a two-part subsidy to the nuclear industry. Primarily, it limits the amount of insurance that a nuclear operator must have, without necessarily accounting for the unique safety risks of nuclear energy, resulting in a competitive advantage over renewable energy alternatives. Secondly, the Act limits the liability held by nuclear operators if there is a serious accident, where tax payers could be responsible for covering up to 98% of the cost of the accident. (Public Citizen, Price-Anderson Act: The Billion Dollar Bailout for Nuclear Power Mishaps, updated September 2004.)

Has continuously rising and unpredictable construction costs

  • Between 2005 and 2009, cost estimates for building a new reactor more than tripled, and have continued to increase since. (Maryland PIRG Foundation, The High Cost of Nuclear Power, March 2009.)
  • FERC 2008 Estimate: A 1000 MW reactor would cost about $7.5 billion to build, and according to a Moody Investor Services estimate, energy would have to be sold at 15 cents per kWh over the life of the plant to earn an adequate profit. (Maryland PIRG Foundation, The High Cost of Nuclear Power, March 2009.)
  • Due to subsidies and other loan guarantees, the public is responsible for bearing the costs of many failed projects. (Moody’s Investors Service, Stranded Costs Will Threaten Credit Quality of U.S. Electrics, August 1995.)

Additional Resources

What History Can Teach Us About the Future Costs of U.S. Nuclear Power
A review of past experiences with nuclear reactor development in the United States shows that any economic planning should factor in the possibility of ‘high-cost surprises.’ Environment Science and Technology (April 1, 2007). Nathan Hultman, Georgetown University and University of Oxford; Jonathan G. Koomey, Stanford University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Daniel M. Kammen, University of California, Berkeley.

New Nuclear Reactors: Too Costly, Dirty, & Dangerous
A basic factsheet about the risks of new nuclear reactors.

The Economics of Nuclear Reactors: Renaissance or Relapse?
Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School (June, 2009)

Is Unnecessary.

  • In the US we have strategic reserves of energy efficiency power that can be accessed through insulation, efficient appliances, and combined heat and power or cogeneration, which takes the waste heat produced during electricity generation and repurposes it.
  • Doubling energy efficiency globally would allow CO2 levels to remain below 550 ppmv, save consumers $500 billion annually, eliminate energy equivalent to that produced by 2000 coal power plants, and return the globe to 2004 energy consumption levels.
  • United Nations Foundation, Realizing the Potential of Energy Efficiency, July 2007.
  • Investing in energy efficiency is the most financially favourable return of any energy investment. 

Renewable Technology

Wind Power

  • The cumulative wind power potential in the United States is estimated to be greater than 10 trillion kWh annually. For reference, that is more than double the amount of electricity generated in the country per year. (US Department of Energy, Wind Powering America: Clean Energy for the 21st Century, Sept. 2004)
  • 40,000 tons of coal would be needed to generate the same amount of electricity that a single 1.5 MW wind turbine generates in 20 years. (US Department of Energy, Wind Powering America: Clean Energy for the 21st Century, Sept. 2004)
  • Both offshore and onshore wind potential.

Solar Power

  • Solar thermal is a particularly useful form of renewable energy that addresses the concerns regarding the intermittent nature of natural sources of power, as it functions by trapping heat during the day and then can be deliberately released at night or on cloudy days. (Environment Iowa Research & Policy Center, Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming, Nov. 2009)
    • Solar thermal plants covering a 100-mile-square area of the Southwest (about 9% the size of the state of Nevada) could power the entire country. (Environment America Research & Policy Center, On the Rise: Solar Thermal Power and the Fight Against Global Warming, Spring 2008)
  • Solar PV technology directly transforms light to power and design technology is constantly becoming more affordable, accessible, and effective.
    • If 7% of the land area currently used for buildings, parking lots, and other built up areas were covered with PV panels, it would provide enough power for the entire country. (US Department of Energy, How Much Land Will PV Need to Supply Our Electricity, Feb. 2004)

As a baseload power source

  • It is often cited that nuclear power, as a reliable and constant source of power, is necessary as the baseload power source within the grid. However, deliberate use of combinations of different renewable energy technologies across different locations would reduce variability of power output, especially when undertaken simultaneously with efficiency measures to reduce demand at both peak and non-peak times. (Rocky Mountain Institute and University of Colorado at Boulder, Spatial and Temporal Interactions of Solar and Wind Resources in Next Generation Utility, May 2008).