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Nuclear Power cost in Kilowatt Hour (kwh) and Comparison Nucler Energy vs Coal Energy cost

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Nuclear Power like other forms of Energy cannot be defined by a single cost as nuclear power plants differ in their technology and sources of fuel.No two power plants can have the same cost of electricity production similarly nuclear energy plants cannot have the same kilowatt hour cost.However nuclear energy is known for its very low costs of 2-3c/kilowatt hour which can only be currently be met by coal.But nuclear energy cost is based on older nuclear power plants which have already been depreciated.This cost is also controversial as the costs of nuclear waste storage is generally not included.USA and Japan which are the largest nuclear power producers have not constructed permanent nuclear waste storage sites despite accumulating thousands of tons of nuclear waste.Also these days extra safety measures are being taken due to the Fukushima disaster which means that the costs of nuclear energy is going up.

Factors to consider behind nuclear power costs

1) Fuel Costs – Uranium costs are currently quite low due to the surplus uranium from the Soviet Union Stockpile.For the last decade uranium fuel prices have been low due to the conversion of nuclear warheads into usable fuel for nuclear reacotrs

2) Technology – There are different technologies such as light water reactors etc. and they have different costs associated with them though most fall in the same ballpark.

3)Location – Developed country nuclear power has become much more costlier in recent times than the LCOE for nuclear energy in developing countries such as China which have lower construction and regulation costs .Large nuclear power plants require a long time to build with delays due to permitting,environment clearances,financing etc. This can lead to project risk and cost escalations which may make a nuclear plant too expensive when it finally gets built. On top of these problems the “3 mile” and “Chernobyl” disasters have made nuclear power plants a NIMBY for a lot of the developed countries.

4) Local  Opposition – The backlash against the new and existing Nuclear Power Plants has started in different places around the world despite defiant expressions by Nuclear Plant Owners and Operators.In Asia,doubts are being raised against the big investments being made in new nuclear plants.

Nuclear Cost vs Coal Costs

Currently nuclear power is costlier than coal as constructing a nuclear power plant has become much more costlier.Also the risks with nuclear power in developed countries has risen manifold.The risks are so high that some companies have cancelled their nuclear power plants.The time and cost  escalation has become a very high danger with nuclear power plant construction which does not exist with Coal.Also when you consider coal and nuclear costs you have to see that nuclear energy does not pollute the environment like Coal does not only with GHG emissions but also harmful substances like mercury.

Coal power costs can also vary from 3-5c/kwh due to differences in the coal fuel costs and the technology being used.Newer coal plants cost much more as they have to use clean coal technologies in order to reduce emissions.Nuclear Power Plants also do not have to pay for Carbon Emissions in the form of buying CERs in developed countries.

Nuclear Pros

  1. Reliability – Nuclear Power is a highly reliable form of energy almost as good as other fossil fuel energy forms like coal,gas etc.Nuclear Power Plants except in drastic situations continue to run reliably for the whole day without any changes.
  2. Low Fuel Cost – Large amounts of Nuclear Energy can be produced from the fission on radioactive elements like uranium.The costs of nuclear fuel is relatively  very low compared to other energy sources like coal and gas.Also uranium prices currently are quite low making the nuclear electricity price even lower
  3. Low Electricity Cost – The Electricity produced from Nuclear Power is quite low at around 3-5c/Kwh making it very attractive to construct hydro plants.Nuclear  Plants also  have long lives of between 40-60 years which means that they are extremely profitable once constructed within reasonable costs
  4. No Greenhouse Gas Emissions/Air Pollution – Nuclear electricity does not produce any GHG emissions or cause air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels unlike coal,oil or gas.This makes them very attractive as a source of cheap,non carbon dioxide producing electricity.
  5. High Load Factor – Nuclear Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shutdown for periodic maintanance
  6. Huge  Potential –Nuclear Energy Potential is almost infinite compared to the limited and peak features of other forms of  energy like Wind,Geothermal,Oil,Gas and others.Only Solar Energy can be said to have more potential.Note new technologies and fuels like fast breeder and thorium are still in the works which can increase the potential of Nuclear Power more

Nuclear Energy Cons

  1. Nuclear and Radiation Accidents – This is the biggest con for Nuclear Energy and has been repeated 3 times in the last 30 years in Japan,Russia and USA.The fear of a repeat is so great that despite all the safety arrangements touted by the nuclear equipment operators and suppliers,Nuclear Energy faces an uncertain future
  2. Nuclear Waste Disposal – Again a massive problem as the spent Nuclear Rods of Nuclear Reactors are prohibitively costly and difficult to dispose of.Spent nuclear fuel is initially very highly radioactive and so must be handled with great care and forethought.There is no foolproof way to dispose nuclear waste fuel after it is used in the Nuclear Reactors.The area around Nuclear Waste Sites can be dangerous to humans for hundreds of year as complex nuclear elements have half lives running into many years.the United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors.Permanent storage underground in U.S. had been proposed at the Yucca but that project has now been effectively cancelled.Presently, waste is mainly stored at individual reactor sites and there are over 430 locations around the world where radioactive material continues to accumulate.
  3. Low level of Radioactivity from Normal Operations – The nuclear industry also produces a large volume of low-level radioactive waste in the form of contaminated items like clothing, hand tools, water purifier resins, and (upon decommissioning) the materials of which the reactor itself is built
  4. Nuclear proliferation – Many countries have used the ruse of nuclear energy programs to generate fuel for developing nuclear weapons.Currently there is a major international controversy with regards to the Iranian Nuclear Energy Program.Nuclear Reactors are targets for rogue state actors who can steal the fuel for creating radiation weapons
  5. High Capital Investment,Cost Overruns and Long Gestation Time – The time to construct a large Nuclear power project can take between 5-10 years which leads to time and cost overruns.The Nuclear Plant being built in Finland has been one of the biggest failures in Project Finance.The reactor has been delayed by many year and has led to a massive cost overrun.Areva the main nuclear equipment supplier has endured huge losses.In fact the safety regulations and the long time of construction has brought the Nuclear Energy in the Developed World to almost a halt.
  6. Regulations – The Regulations for Nuclear Energy Power Plants are many and cumbersome due to the massive risks of a failure of a nuclear reactor.This greatly increases the costs of generating nuclear power.It also leads to a long time in the actual start to the completion of a Nuclear Plant .

Advantages of Coal

1) Abundance – Coal is located almost universally,it can be found on every continent in over 70 countries, with the biggest reserves in the USA, Russia, China and India.

2) Continuous,Predictable,Reliable Source of Power – Coal Based Energy can be generated almost 24×7  unlike other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar that are intermittent in nature

3) Low Capital Investment – The capital investment required for Coal based Power plants is relatively less at $1-2/watt of Thermal  Capacity.Note wind energy is slightly higher while Solar is even higher.Coal Mines are also quite cheap to build and Mine with Open Cast Mines providing Coal at a very Low Cost.

4) Low Cost – Coal is one of  the cheapest forms of energy making it the energy of choice in developing countries like India and China.In India its possible to get cheap coal at just $20/ton while international prices of coal range in the region of $100/ton.Note Coal based electricity can be produced at 2-4c/KwH making it the cheapest electricity source.

5) High Load Factor – Thermal Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shutdown for periodic maintenance.Coal Based Plants which have become too old or have been shutdown due to environmental concerns can still be used for backup power.

6) Large  Potential compared to Oil –Coal  Energy Potential is quite large compared to other Fossil Fules like Oi and Gas.Coal Reserves globally are estimated to be around 1 trillion tons which implies that Coal can be consumed at the current rates for another 200 years.

7) Big Industrial Base – Coal Energy has been present since the start of the Industrial Revolution with the development of the Steam Engine based on Coal .The technology and industry of the Coal Industry and Thermal Power Plants is well developed and mature.This allows a rapid deployment of Coal Power in most places in the world.

Coal to Liquids and Coal to Gases – Coal is now being looked upon as source of Transportation Fuels as Oil becomes scarce and increasingly costly.Coal to Liquid Plants are being constructed in India and China though the Technology is quite immature and the use of the technology is still questionable on environmental grounds.

Disadvantages of Coal

1) Greenhouse Gas Emissions – One of the biggest cons of Coal Energy is that it releases Carbon Dioxide which has been sequestered for millions of years in the dead bodies of plant and animals.This transfer the Carbon from the Earth to the Environment leading to the Global Warming Effect.Global Treaties have failed in putting a Cost on this,though individual countries are tying to account for this through Carbon Taxes and Cap and Trade.

2) Coal Mining Deaths – Coal Mining has resulted in thousands of deaths each year ever since man discovered coal.Note Coal Deaths happen not only in countries which don’t have good safety regulations like China but also in developed countries like USA and New Zealand.

3) Devastation of Earth and Scenery Near Coal Mines – Open Cast Mining of Coal has resulted in destruction of the habitat and destruction of the scenery.It leads to removal of trees and pollution of air and water in areas surrounding the mines.Coal Mine Fires have burned for hundreds of year underground and make living in those areas hazardous.Those burning underground can be difficult to locate and many cannot be extinguished. Fires can cause the ground above to subside, their combustion gases are dangerous to life, and breaking out to the surface can initiate surface fires as well.

4) Displacement of Humans due to Mining Destruction – In West Bengal,India people are being displaced in huge numbers as the hollowing of the earth due to underground coal mining has made those places unsafe as the  Land Caves in without warning.

5) Emission of Harmful Substances like Sulfur Dioxide,Carbon Monoxide,Mercury,Selenium, Arsenic ,Acid Rain – Thermal Plants emit harmful substances such as Mercury and Sulfur Dioxide which cause health hazards among the surrounding population and Acid Rain.While modern equipment has reduced the emission of these harmful substances,it is still very harmful to humans.


Abhishek Shah

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