The future of energy supply: what nuclear power costs


As of: 01/27/2022 4:49 p.m

A lot of money is at stake in the EU’s plans to give nuclear energy a green label. Economists see it primarily as a cost risk. Has the EU calculated nuclear power nicely?

By Nicoletta Renz, BR

For Alvin Weinberg, nuclear power was a “Faustian pact”, i.e. a bargain with the devil. And their Achilles heel is the high cost. Nevertheless, the well-known US nuclear physicist and inventor of the pressurized water reactor compared them to renewable energies. He estimated in 2003 that the costs could be amortized if the reactors ran long enough.

AKW not insurable

The EU is currently reviving the idea of ​​declaring nuclear power as a climate-friendly source of energy. But that’s greenwashed window dressing, says Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). Together with a team of international researchers from the “Scientists for Future” (S4F), she has shown that studies presenting nuclear energy as a technology for reducing emissions have shortcomings.

Example: The assumption that accidents are extremely rare. “In every decade since the 1970s, there have been major accidents and a multitude of minor incidents,” said Ben Wealer, lead author of the study. “Nuclear power is so risky that nuclear power plants cannot be insured anywhere.”

Society paid for the costs of the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters. A super meltdown causes damage of up to 430 billion euros; this roughly corresponds to the entire German federal budget.

Exorbitant construction costs

The big nuclear power plant builders like Westinghouse in the USA and Framatome or Areva in France are bankrupt. The construction of the EPR reactor in Flamanville turned from a flagship project into a nightmare for France. When planning in the early 2000s, the cost of the reactor was estimated at 3.3 billion euros. Commissioning was planned for 2012. After countless difficulties and constant delays, the word is now that the plant will go online in 2023. By then, according to a report by the French Court of Auditors, the costs could increase to 19.1 billion euros.

Only a few countries around the world are building new nuclear power plants because of this, says DIW energy economist Kemfert. It’s not just about supplying the population with energy, but at the same time about securing power: “Nuclear energy also harbors the danger of military weapons, which one shouldn’t hide, and it has a power component that renewable energies don’t have.”

Doubts about new technology

Proponents of nuclear power point to new technological developments such as “Generation 4” reactors. But these are old concepts, says nuclear power expert Heinz Smital from Greenpeace. Bad experiences have been made with them – as with the fast breeder in Kalkar and the Superphénix in France: “These failed reactor types are now sold as Generation 4”.

France wants to invest around one billion euros in new reactors, such as mass-produced modular mini-reactors. The cost of a mini reactor is at least one billion, but the output of 300 megawatts is not comparable to that of a conventional nuclear power plant (1000 to 1600 megawatts).

This is not the only reason why the French Court of Auditors is criticizing the government’s plans. According to his calculations, the operating company EDF would have to spend around 100 billion euros by 2030 to extend the lifespan of the existing reactors by ten years. That would be three times the market value of the company.

Expansion of renewable energies significantly cheaper

According to Ben Wealer, the cost of building a new conventional nuclear power plant is between 130 and 200 euros per megawatt hour of output. In the case of new photovoltaics, on the other hand, it is around 29 to 42 euros per megawatt hour, and in the case of wind power between 26 and 54 euros. There is an inexpensive alternative, says Claudia Kemfert – without waste that shines for centuries.

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