The hidden costs of nuclear power

New analysis suggests that EdF will have to pay £50 billion to build four new nuclear reactors prompting speculation that the Government will have to subsidise

Analysis by Left Foot Forward suggests that EdF will have to pay £50 billion to build four new nuclear reactors prompting speculation that the Government will have to back down on its refusal to subsidise the industry.

Citigroup’s nuclear power report, which this blog examined yesterday, says:

  • A conservative estimate for the cost of one “EPR” European Pressurised Reaction (the frontrunner nuclear reactor design favoured by the UK government) = £5 billion
  • Annual increase in construction costs = 15 per cent

Estimating the start of construction as 2013 (optimistic given licensing problems with the EPR and the regulations that will need to be in place), this means three years of added costs between now and then. The net present value for one EPR in today’s money is therefore £7.6 billion.

Now consider this:

  • EdF wants four EPRs at £7.6 billion = £30.4 billion
  • EdF effectively paid £10 billion for British Energy (£12.5bn minus £2.5bn for a 20 per stake sold to Centrica)
  • EdF have already paid around £1bn for land access to sites, scoping work etc
  • Factor in decommissioning waste costs of about £500 million per reactor times four = £2 billion (this figure is very sketchy though – it could quite easily be almost anything from between 5 per cent – 50 per cent of capital costs.)So £30.4bn + £10bn + £1bn + £2bn = £43.4 billion

Effectively, this means EdF will have to pay around £45 billion for four new EPRs plus the few British Energy creaking reactors they bought recently. If they are forced to pay more for waste disposal and decommissioning the final sum could therefore be around £50 billion. And that is before you consider that EdF has a corporate debt of around £22.5 billion.

No wonder that EdF has started asking the government to intervene and support a preferable carbon price or an exemption from the Climate Change Levy to try and make the economics easier for them. But Ed Miliband recently told Parliament:

“We are not going to provide public subsidy for the construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power stations.”

Unless the government performs an enormous volte face on the question of subsidies for the French state nuclear operator, the prospects of new nuclear appear bleak indeed. This is something that Tom Burke, the professor of energy at Imperial College, has been saying for sometime.

13 Responses to “The hidden costs of nuclear power”

  1. DevonChap

    How do the economics chnage if we factor in a future carbon tax?

  2. Richard Blogger

    So what, the government has to subsidise the nuclear programme? And the pope is catholic. Lots of people said that it was a mistake to flog off electricity generation in the first place – now it is a case of the “chickens coming home to roost”.

    Yesterday you quoted Citigroup saying that nuclear generated electricity would cost £58.5/MWh. BEER says that gas with carbon capture is costs £49-61, onshore is £51-63 and offshore is £55-98. So basically, even if the Citigroup figures are right nuclear is still cheaper that wind turbine generated electricity and natural gas with carbon capture. (BERR says the cost of nuclear is £35-45/MWh, but I note that Burke quotes a price for nuclear of £80/kWh [sic] and compares it to non-nuclear of £40/kWh [sic]. I’ll allow him the mistake of giving kWh units instead of MWh. But the figures he quotes do not agree with BERR, this over-estimation makes the rest of his paper suspect.)

    Let’s face it, Burke has an agenda (which I’ll come to in a moment), so he’s hardly unbiased. He starts his paper by saying: “The lights are not going to go out.” But they are going to go out, we have ageing power stations, all of which will need to be replaced in the next decade or so (Burke says, most will have to be replaced by 2015). The non-nuclear power stations produce CO2, replacing them with “clean-coal” with carbon capture, or gas with carbon capture is more expensive than nuclear, (see the BERR figures). Wind technologies are far more expensive than nuclear and have the additional problem that they are not reliable.

    In his article Burke admits that “some 22,000MW of existing coal and nuclear capacity is closed between now and 2020, much by 2015”, but he dismisses this by saying “Of course, no government will let the lights go out.” No, that is why there is a plan for nuclear new build. The lights will go out unless we start doing something now.

    As to Burke’s statement that no-one knows how much a nuclear power station costs to build, well, that is fatuous. If you want to know, ask the French. They have been building them constantly. But in any case, Burke’s argument can be applied to any large construction project, and that includes coal-, gas- and wind
    turbine generation (how much would the wind farm originally planned for Lewis cost? Estimates can be made, but until you build it, you don’t know for sure). There is nothing special about nuclear.

    Finally, it is important to address Burke’s agenda. He is in favour of coal power stations with carbon capture. This is a totally unproven technology (nuclear is proven). At the moment no one knows for sure where to store the CO2 (we have had 50 years of research and we now know the right sites to store nuclear waste safely). The quantities involved are *huge*, tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 annually (in contrast if the same amount of electricity was generated by nuclear there would be tens of tonnes of waste – yes a factor of more than a million). Nuclear produces a tiny amount in comparison, and we know how to store it. James Lovelock has even offered his garden! Hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 (a few years’ worth) would be very dangerous. First, it would be a target for terrorists, and second, we do not know how to store that much CO2 safely: it has not been done (in contrast to nuclear, where we know how to store waste safely).

    If you compare the two technologies (CO2 storage and nuclear waste storage) and estimate what would happen if the worst were to occur, nuclear is easily containable and relatively risk-free. For nuclear the contamination would be very localised with just a few people affected (nuclear waste cannot explode, it is extremely heavy, so it stays in place). For a CO2 repository, if millions of tonnes of CO2 were released then millions of people would die instantly (and rather painfully since you suffocate, gasping for breath). Such a release would make the gas attacks of the Somme look tame.

    The lights will go out sometime in the next decade if we do not build more nuclear generation. This will not affect the rich – they can always buy generators. But it will hit the poor the hardest. We must take the path that benefits the poor, and the most reliable and low carbon source of electricity is nuclear. That it will cost more than originally expected is something that we have to bear, but we must not allow the lights to go out.

  3. rwendland

    DevonChap, CEO of Exelon (largest nuc fleet in US) says $75/ton CO2 pricing is needed for economic deployment of new nuclear power in the US. If the economics are roughly the same over here, and he’s not exagerating too much to play for more nuclear subsidy, that’s about £45/ton CO2 tax needed to make them competitive – a bit of a step up.

    Interesting that he says wind in the US at current penetration levels doesn’t need such a high CO2 tax:

    “New wind generating capacity ranges from $45 to $80 per ton depending on the location. New nuclear generating capacity is $75 per ton. A new integrated gasification combined cycle plant with carbon capture and sequestration costs $160 per ton.”

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  5. jimbobbysez

    The hidden costs of nuclear #energy. Will UK taxpayers have to subsidise French #nuclear company EDF? #green

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