Study Shows 100 Proposed Nuclear Reactors Could Cost Trillions

July 3, 2009

A new Vermont Law School study has found that the construction and lifetime operation of the proposed 100 nuclear reactors could cost anywhere between $ 1.9 to $ 4.1 trillion more than it would to generate the same amount of electricity using a more renewable and energy-efficient method.

The study, headed by Dr. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School, is entitled "The Economics of Nuclear Reactors." The report puts forth information showing the extreme cost-inefficiency of nuclear power when compared to other, more renewable choices. For example, the cost of producing electricity with renewable energy is generally around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas nuclear power costs 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Dr. Cooper said, "There are numerous options available to meet the need for electricity in a carbon-constrained environment that are superior to building nuclear reactors. Indeed, nuclear reactors are the worst option from the point of view of the consumer and society."

The study compares the current blind enthusiasm for building new reactors to the rush of the 1960s and 1970s. Then reactor vendors came up with initial cost estimates that were much too low, but appeared very attractive. When the true cost of the reactors was finally projected at as much as triple the original estimate, half the planned reactors were cancelled for lack of sufficient funds. Dr. Cooper said, "We are literally seeing nuclear reactor history repeat itself. The 'Great Bandwagon Market' that ended so badly for consumers in the 1970s and 1980s was driven by advocates who confused hope and hype with reality. It is telling that in the few short years since the so-called 'Nuclear Renaissance' began there has been a four-fold increase in projected costs. In both time periods, the original low-ball estimates were promotional, not practical; they were based on hope and hype intended to promote the industry."

Former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter Bradford commented on the study, noting that the enormous cost of new reactors would fall solely upon the taxpayers. He said, "This study makes clear that new nuclear reactors can only be built if taxpayers or customers assume the very large risks that investors would normally bear in the U.S. economy. Such subsidy to a mature industry -- already heavily subsidized -- is contrary to the fundamental free enterprise principles that protect customers and allocate resources efficiently. The risks of cost overruns, reactor cancellation, poor operation and the development of less costly competitors are real. All have happened to nuclear power in the U.S. before.... Setting a quota of 100 new nuclear reactors by a certain date presumes -- against decades of evidence to the contrary -- that politicians can pick technological winners. Such a policy combines distraction, deception, debt and disappointment in a mixture reminiscent of other failed federal policies in recent years."

What You Can Do: Call your U.S. Senators and Representatives via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to inform them about this new report and urge them to oppose any further nuclear power subsidies.

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