Cost Comparison for Nuclear vs. Coal
To accurately compare the cost of nuclear against other energy sources, one must include the following costs:
1. Fuel costs
Costs associated with the fuel used in the production of energy.
For a nuclear plant, these tend to be lower even though the following steps occur in the production of the fuel assemblies used in the reactor:
Transportation costs are high for coal because of the amount of material needed to generate the same energy as the nuclear fuel.
2. Capital costs
Costs associated with initial construction of the plant and the modifications. These end up as embedded costs.
For a nuclear plant these may be higher than for other energy forms because the buildings used for containment or for safety-related equipment must meet higher standards than the traditional structures. Also, safety-related systems are redundant. Such considerations are not important in other energy forms. On the other hand, coal plants are required to include scrubbers to remove airborne pollutants as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulates.
However, these costs are influenced by factors as:
Capital costs are usually amortized over a period of time as allowed by IRS regulations.
3. Operation and Maintenance costs
The day to day costs associated with operating the nuclear power plant. This includes the costs of:
Labor costs in a nuclear plant include those for operators, maintenance personnel (electrical, mechanical, instrument and controls), health physics technicians, engineering personnel (mechanical, electrical, nuclear, chemical, radiological, computer).
Materials costs include replacement parts, computer parts, expendable office and other supplies.
NRC 1998 fee structure (PR 98-45, April 1, 1998) is:
In addition, the NRC assesses for license reviews.
Property taxes can result in a plant paying up to $ 15-20 million per year in property taxes.
4. Waste-Related Costs
The costs associated with the byproduct waste. For a coal plant this is ash. For a nuclear plant, these costs include the surcharge levied by the Department of Energy for ultimate storage of the high level waste. The DOE charge is a flat fee based on energy use.
5. Decommissioning Costs
The costs associated with restoration of the plant site back to "greenfield" status. Usually restoration would occur over a long period of time, e.g. 20 years. Parts of the plant could be used for energy generation by other sources.
Illustrative cost comparison. The table below compares nuclear versus coal specific item costs for similar age and size plants on a $ per Megawatt-hour (10 $/Mw-hr = 1 cent/kw-hr):
|2||Operating & Maintenance - Labor & Materials||6.0||5.0|
|3||Pensions, Insurance, Taxes||1.0||1.0|
|7||Decommissioning & DOE waste costs||5.0||0.0|
|8||Administrative / overheads||1.0||1.0|
A number of factors can affect the annual costs during any given year:
For other specific costs and comparisons, please check out the following:
Copyright © 1996-2006. The Virtual Nuclear Tourist. All rights reserved. Revised: December 20, 2005.