NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Costs Of Nuclear Power

July 20, 2001

Nuclear power plants are cheaper to operate than coal or natural gas fired electric generating plants, say economists. But when higher construction costs for new reactors and the price of decommissioning old plants and disposing of waste are factored in, coal and natural gas processes are cheaper overall.

  • The Nuclear Energy Institute says a nuclear reactor generates electricity at an average cost of 1.83 cents per kilowatt hour -- compared to 2.07 cents from coal and 3.5 cents for natural gas.
  • Construction costs for nuclear reactors like the ones currently in use are about $2,000 per kilowatt -- compared to $1,000 to $1,200 for coal plants and $500 to $600 per kilowatt for natural gas fired plants.
  • But the nuclear industry expects that new designs will drive down future construction costs -- possibly to $1,200 to $1,500 per kilowatt, or even cheaper.

Whatever the outcome, the 103 commercial nuclear reactors now operating in the U.S. are turning out power at record rates.

They have increased their overall output by 25 percent during the last 10 years. They ran at 88.5 percent of capacity in 1999 -- up from just 58.5 percent of total capacity in 1980.

Source: Charles Oliver, "Nuclear Power's Future Glowing Despite High Costs, Safety Issues," Investor's Business Daily, July 18, 2001.


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