A US Nuclear Exit? (Part 5) The Economics of a Phase-out

Source:Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) has released its third and final issue in its Nuclear Exit series, this time turning its expert focus on the United States. The first two installments looked at Germany and France, countries that share a border but are - for historical, political, and economic reasons - answering the nuclear power question in different ways.

The final editorial piece in this five-part installment presented on PennEnergy.com comes from Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on efficiency and renewable resources. Starting from a detailed discussion of the US nuclear energy industry’s economic problems, Lovins draws on a comprehensive study that he and his institute authored, Reinventing Fire, to analyze three possible nuclear futures.


Part 1: Introduction- A US Nuclear Exit

Part 2: How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing

Part 3: The Limited National Security Implications of Civilian Nuclear Decline

Part 4: Nuclear exit, the US energy mix, and carbon dioxide emissions

 

The economics of a US civilian nuclear phase-out
By Amory B. Lovins

In the United States, which trades three-fifths of its electricity in competitive markets, the prohibitive capital cost of new nuclear power plants ensures that only a handful will be built. Nonetheless, with 40-year licenses being extended to 60 years, the 104 existing reactors’ relatively low generating costs are widely expected to justify decades of continued operation. But the generating costs of aging reactors have been rising, while competitors, including modern renewables, show rapidly falling total costs—and those opposed cost curves have begun to intersect.

An expanding fraction of well-running nuclear plants is now challenged to compete with moderating wholesale power prices, while plants needing major repairs or located in regions rich in wind power increasingly face difficult choices of whether to run or close. Thus, even without events that might accelerate nuclear phase-out, as the Fukushima disaster did in Germany, shifting competitive conditions have begun to drive a gradual US nuclear phase-out. Its economics are illuminated by a detailed energy scenario that needs no nuclear energy, coal, or oil and one-third less natural gas to run a 158 percent bigger US economy in 2050—but cuts carbon emissions by 82 to 86 percent and costs $5 trillion less. That scenario’s 80-percent-renewable, 50-percent-distributed, equally reliable, and more resilient electricity system would cost essentially the same as a business-as-usual version that sustains nuclear and coal power, but it would better manage all the system’s risks. Similarly comprehensive modeling could also analyze faster nuclear phase-out if desired.

Nuclear power in the United States, long considered the durably low-cost generator of electricity, faces intensifying competitive risks: New reactors are far too costly to replace the aging fleet of existing reactors, which in turn face rising pressure from even cheaper-to-operate ways to save or make electricity. For economic or other reasons, the gradual phase-out of unprofitable nuclear power plants, already quietly under way, may accelerate. Transparent empirical data and orthodox analytical techniques can illustrate the economics of this US nuclear energy transition—a complex transition embedded in a context that extends far beyond nuclear power.

Continue here: The economics of a US civilian nuclear phase-out

Part 1: Introduction- A US Nuclear Exit

Part 2: How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing

Part 3: The Limited National Security Implications of Civilian Nuclear Decline

Part 4: Nuclear exit, the US energy mix, and carbon dioxide emissions

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