Nuclear industry prices itself out of power market, demands taxpayers keep it afloat
Nuclear power is so expensive even some conservatives are turning on it
By Joe Romm
May 25 2017
The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive that half of U.S. nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. And if existing nukes are uneconomic, it’s no surprise that new nuclear plants are wildly unaffordable.
New York and Illinois have already agreed to more than $700 million a year in subsidies, and if all northeast and mid-Atlantic nukes got similar subsidies, it would cost U.S. consumers $3.9 billion a year. Things are so bad for the nuclear industry that, recently, even conservatives have started to publicly oppose the subsidies the industry needs to survive.
“Ever since the completion of the first wave of nuclear reactors in 1970, and continuing with the ongoing construction of new reactors in Europe, nuclear power seems to be doomed with the curse of cost escalation,” explained one 2015 journal article, “Revisiting the Cost Escalation Curse of Nuclear Power.”
At the same time, nuclear’s main competition — natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewables — have gotten much cheaper.
The nuclear industry has essentially priced itself out of the market for new power plants, at least in market-based economies. Even the nuclear-friendly French — who get more than three fourths their power from nukes — can’t build an affordable, on-schedule next generation nuclear plant in their own country.
Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the umpteenth cost overruns in Georgia Power’s effort to built two new reactors, with the headline, “Plant Vogtle: Georgia’s nuclear ‘renaissance’ now a financial quagmire.” The Westinghouse plants, originally priced at a whopping $14 billion are “currently $3.6 billion over budget and almost four years behind the original schedule.” Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March.
The Georgia debacle should not shock anyone. Bloomberg explained two years ago that “even as sympathetic an observer as John Rowe [former chair of the U.S.’s largest nuclear utility] warns that the new units at Vogtle will be uneconomical when — or if — they’re completed.”
As a result, the industry has started demanding new subsidies to keep their plants open — beyond the staggering $100 billion and more in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades.
Yet, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that “Even the promise of state subsidies wasn’t enough to help a struggling nuclear power plant in the biggest electricity market emerge a victor in a closely watched auction” in Illinois. Exelon, however, claimed it hadn’t taken the subsidies — which have not been officially awarded — into account.
And here’s the last straw: You know the industry is in trouble when even conservatives start penning pieces dissing it. This week saw two such pieces: