And I don’t think that £92.50 price includes these cost overruns. £92.50/MWh is the price the government was willing to guarantee, but which left the developer responsible for cost overruns. But for the next generation plants the developers want the government to take on the risk.
The £40/MWh offshore wind bids are less than the cost just to run existing gas plants, mainly the fuel cost, which means you’re actually saving money by adding wind alongside a gas generator. Such a system will make it difficult to get above a certain percentage of renewables because of the need for gas backup, but maybe we should be spending money on developing new storage technology to facilitate wind and solar with predictable falling costs, rather than on deploying nuclear where the costs seem to be consistently high.
I'm more struck by the link in the middle of the piece to "£100m fund aims to boost UK wind power". Wonder what they could have achieved with Hinkley's £22.5bn.
You need to think of wind as a combined wind and gas system, you use wind when it's available because it has a very low marginal cost, and then use gas when it isn't. Luckily capital costs for building gas plants are low, and marginal costs for buying the fuel are high. That means it isn't expensive to build plants as backup, which are only going to be used part of the time. You can use the fuel savings to pay for the capital cost of building the wind farms, and end up without significant extra expenditure, or even saving money. The same can also apply to solar.
It's more difficult if the backup is coal, though, there the balance is more towards capital cost, not marginal cost, so there is a much less leeway to defray fuel costs using renewables.
If we're serious about climate, we have to reduce use of gas too.
Lastly, note the borrowing rate for the nuclear plant was extremely high. That would certainly have been part of the problem in financial expenditures.
According to December 2017 estimates, Hinkley is being built for £20.3bn by 2025, to be paid over a 35 year period. According to Dieter Helm, professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford, "Hinkley Point C would have been roughly half the cost if the government had been borrowing the money to build it at 2%, rather than EDF's cost of capital, which was 9%."
What a lot of people miss is that wind can be overprovisioned thus reducing the instances where it undergenerates.
No one should be building any more of the older designs at this point, period.
The US also needs to revise the regulations governing reactor construction, because they're also centered around the old technology. The construction and operation of reactors was a very easy target for expanded regulation for many years from any politician who wanted to exploit the public's fear of nuclear, so reactors are very over regulated.
With newer/safer reactor designs and revised regulations to govern them, construction will be considerably cheaper.
However, there's no comparison between Solar/Wind and nuclear anyway, because they serve different needs, base load vs. peak load.
Case in point, wind energy makes up 17% of production in Germany, whereas nuclear makes up only 11%. However, wind energy only accounts for 3% of consumption, whereas nuclear accounts for 6%.
Nuclear is 6% of primary power consumption, not electricity consumption.
The reduction in both nuclear and renewables is presumably because the other sources are burnt, losing a great deal of energy as heat during conversion to electricity. (Nuclear also loses heat but I don't think anyone keeps track of the initial heat output as it's not a very useful number).
I don't think so.
> Nuclear is 6% of primary power consumption, not electricity consumption.
I'm aware of that, but wind energy and nuclear energy almost exclusively account for electricity, that's why it's fair comparison.
> The reduction in both nuclear and renewables is presumably because the other sources are burnt, losing a great deal of energy as heat during conversion to electricity. (Nuclear also loses heat but I don't think anyone keeps track of the initial heat output as it's not a very useful number).
No, the relative share here is different because energy consumption also includes vehicle fuel and heating, not just electricity. That doesn't really change the relation between nuclear and wind, however.
It's not clear how curtailed wind and solar is being accounted for here (does it count as "produced" in the first place?)
Or is the curtailment only being calculated for the Primary power chart? Seems odd that solar would reduce so much more than wind unless that is the case. Yet the curtailment rates of those are both low enough that they can't explain this difference.
Possibly the primary chart is using capacity factor for solar and wind? That would roughly explain the greater shrinking of solar compared with wind, but would basically be meaningless (as generally putting renewables on a primary power chart is).
I don't think the curtailment rates of German wind and solar support your contention so I still think you're incorrect.
A graph further up suggests that renewables together comprise a slightly higher share of consumption than production (37% to 34%) which doesn't match up with the primary power chart.
While it seems odd that over 50 years ago we could build them quickly, I suspect one of the main drivers of cost is the need to make them bomb proof sic from a safety point of view.
With the sums involved, you'd have to say wouldn't the money be better spent in research on alternatives? Either renewable/energy storage systems, or more money for nuclear fusion rather than 20 million here and there
Yes the UK has a supply/demand issue - and nuclear is great for base load from a grid point of view - however given the delays will Hinkley actually be relevant by the time it's operational?
Perhaps better to spend money on reduction of demand, other generation mechanisms and modernizing the grid to support more distributed generation and storage?
One of the under discussed points about fission is the fuel is not renewable - it's dug out of the ground from potentially politically unstable sources.
The point: we should not be aiming for net-zero energy, we should be aiming for net-zero energy, and a ten or a hundred fold increase in generation.
I can see the move from gas to electricity for domestic heating and the move from fossil fuels to electric transport.
Even if you ignore the offset against continuing de-industrialization and increasing efficiency, it's surely not going to be that level?
"The US consumes 25% of the world's energy with a share of global GDP at 22% and a share of the world population at 4.6%" 
This means the US consumes 5.4 more energy per capita than the average human on Earth. If you hope for a world where the non-US population reaches the same life standard as the US, you need to increase the energy production by this factor.
Now, in the US, only 38% of the energy consumption is electricity generation . The rest is tranportation, industrial, residential and commercial sectors. Making the huge assumption that you can replace every BTU in these other sectors with one BTU of electricity, you would need to increase the electricity production by another factor of 2.6. More realistically, any replacement of a non-electricity BTU with some electric energy will have an efficiency well below 100%, let's say 30%. You then need a factor of 6.4.
So far we get to a total factor of 5.4 x 6.4 = 35. Quite close to the (logarithmic) mid-point between 10 and 100, wouldn't you say?
I think this is a mistake - the US is energy wasteful compared to places like Europe which has a similar standard of living.
There is a strong emphasis on energy efficiency in Europe, plus higher density living meaning more efficient transport etc.
In the  wiki page you quoted it shows that the US is ~2 fold worse at energy efficiency than leading European countries and the trend in Europe is to be increasingly efficient.
If you build in energy efficiency during the development of countries, in theory the savings could be even greater.
In terms of US quality of life, it's not just energy consumption that drives it, it's available natural resources and the hegemony of the dollar in world markets.
ie there are large contributions from other factors to US GDP that you can't match by increasing energy use - ie the real underlying US productivity per energy unit is even worse that it appears.
In summary the US is a bit of an outlier not a benchmark.
Finally - obviously the original story is in the context of UK supply - not world - so there was some misunderstanding on what your numbers applied to.
I also wonder how that would affect the chances of an accident - instead of inspecting one cooling system, you're checking 20, and with 19 more parts to potentially fail
But each of those failures would be pretty unspectacular with little to no impact on the environment or the stability of the power grid. Which in turn allows you to use lower cost (automated) failure detection systems.
When we build more reactors our processes will improve. Just like Korea, Japan, and France.
Fortunately the Chinese ones in Taishan were delivered quite on time & budget this year.
It's sad to see all these issues with execution, doing a bad press for nuclear - while we really need more of it to decarbonize our electricity (at least in the mid-term).
Or reported to have been. How much can we trust they were, and that huge corners weren't cut. I don't like to be cynical but all in china seems to be propaganda. For example from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/25/chinese-rail-c...
But Hong Kong University's China Media Project said propaganda authorities have ordered media not to send reporters to the scene, not to report too frequently and not to link the story to high-speed rail development. "There must be no seeking after the causes [of the accident], rather, statements from authoritative departments must be followed," said one directive. Another ordered: "No calling into doubt, no development [of further issues], no speculation, and no dissemination [of such things] on personal microblogs!"
The whole story is worse. Difficult not to be cynical.
I've also heard that one of China's largest nuke stations was built dead on a seismic fault which could produce a known acceleration of n, but the station was designed to deal with n/3 acceleration. This is from memory and I can't find the original, so pinch-of-salt mode please.
Also consider continued spending on projects to send men to orbit/Moon/Mars etc, but which never seem to actually get anyone anywhere and are reprogrammed and rescheduled every few years.
Then there is the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, first started in 2005, keel laid in 2009, launched in 2013, expected to be deployed in 2020 once all the bugs are worked out of things like the electric elevators. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Gerald_R._Ford
In this political climate, it is unlikely that another reactor will ever be commissioned, operating a plant is an ongoing risk that can be avoided by never even going online.
Might as well keep the paychecks for everyone coming for a while, then sail smoothly into inevitable bankruptcy.
That’s nonsense, the UK is right in the middle of commissioning 5-10 new nuclear reactors, if Areva/EDF could demonstrate an ability to build these plants on budget there’s a huge market opportunity.
I'm not talking about the reactors that already have been or will be commissioned soon. I'm talking about the situation in 10 years when these reactors are supposed to be finished.
Let's see what the situation is like today:
Hinkley B - under construction, way over budget already
Oldbury and Wylfa Newydd - shelved
Moorside - failed
Bradwell B - Chinese venture
That leaves Sizewell C, to be completed in 2031.
That's just a not a good trend for western companies.
> ...if Areva/EDF could demonstrate an ability to build these plants on budget there’s a huge market opportunity.
If private companies need to be dragged in with tons of incentives just to get involved, that doesn't sound like a great opportunity at all.
The worst thing that happened to this project was that it went to production. Had it not come to pass everything would be fine.
This is the problem with the approche taken in the Western world for nuclear. A few were built a long time ago, then the industry mostly went in decline and then in the modern day a few individual projects were greenlit.
Nuclear was always only cost effective when you build many of them. As in the early expention of US nuclear, or in France.
Nuclear in an effect produce to much power, a country like Switzerland (where I am from) would only need to build one every 10-20 years for all the electicity needs and that will never be cost effective.
Even worse, each country historically has its own designs that they want to push. Today you could probebly be cost competitve if you let China or South Korea bill some reactors, but that will not happen in the West. France, Britain, US, Russia, Germany all want or wanted their own reactors.
The nuclear industry will not be saved by these mega projects, but if its safed at all, it will be newer reactors that can be build smaller. The pure size, complexity and regulatory requirments, plus the interest rate absolutly kill anybody that is trying to build a Gen III reactor.
I love nuclear and had envoirmental movement focused on pushed for them we would have had a viable solution for climate change back then. We see this in France, they had green power for almost as long as the debate existed and provided a clear model that somehow nobody else adopted rather talking about wind and solar for decades.
Wind and Solar are still very questionable while nuclear was ready 30 years ago. Now it is slowly changing but we lost lots of time.
Maybe one of the new nuclear technologies that is being worked on will turn out to be a help in the new world. But I am not going to wait.
If you look back at the history of nuclear construction, at least in the US, late and massively over budget is the norm. Late and over budget are closely tied together, of course, as it's all about project management and that's not trivial at this scale. This sort of typical overrun is why US utilities stopped building more nuclear in the 80s.
Another utility canceled a project that was underway in South Carolina.
If the average software project is over budget, late and doesn’t do all the things it was supposed to do on design stage, just think how much more complex these things are.
Thats some revisionist history to fit the current zeitgeist, right there.
What stopped nuclear construction in the United States was the complete overreaction to Three Mile Island and the disaster at Chernobyl
The major regulatory hit that that first wave of US nuclear plants took wasn't specific to nuclear: the Calvert Cliffs decision held that the National Environmental Policy Act applied broadly, including to the regulatory process of the AEC.
As you and siblings pointed out, nuclear seems to have been frought with problems for a long time.
Wikipedia, if it is to be believed, paints an even more dire picture than you say:
I find this so counterintuitive having safely operated naval nuclear reactors. More research is needed from me!
Curiously, these sorts of high nuclear costs are not experienced by every country. France's electricity (70-80% nuclear) is a fraction of the cost of Germany's electricity production, while simultaneously emitting less carbon. Countries like South Korea, and Japan (until they cancelled nuclear plants following the tsunami) had cost effective nuclear industries. Cost overruns happened, but not as large as compared to the US. The main explanations for this that I have encountered is that US nuclear plants have tended to be one-off projects, whereas other countries implemented serialized production of a handful of designs. Building 10 instances of the same plant is easier than building 10 different plants.
At the same time, France has tried to get its nuclear industry going again with new reactors, to disastrous result.
So if you want to build energy infrastructure in 1980, sure, go ahead and choose nuclear over renewables. If you want to do it now, that choice would be crazy.
> So if you want to build energy infrastructure in 1980, sure, go ahead and choose nuclear over renewables. If you want to do it now, that choice would be crazy.
Did technology magically get worse from 1980? Did the French somehow forget how to build power plants? Nuclear energy projects were cheap during the 1980s because France built a large number of a handful of plant designs. Modern plants are usually one-off projects with a single digit number of plants built of a given design. Building a dozen of the same reactors, turbines, etc. is much cheaper than building one. Political opposition has meant that only small allocations of funds have been dedicated towards nuclear power, so serialized production has not been done recently.
> Did technology magically get worse from 1980?
Nothing magic about what happened. Did you expect the relative rankings of technologies to remain fixed and unchanging across the decades?
Nuclear is now a clear loser technology, far more expensive than renewables. Why would anyone want to invest now in the loser technology? What weird psychological phenomenon is driving this fixation?
People keep saying that intermittent sources are winners and that nuclear is a losing technology. Real world experience says otherwise. The only way intermittent sources are feasible is with cheap high capacity energy storage, which has never been built. In fact, Germany has had to build more fossil fuel plants following the closure of nuclear facilities. If we want to replace all electricity generation with carbon free sources nuclear is the only known way to do that (besides geography-dependent sources like hydroelectricity and geothermal power). If there's some psychological fixation at hand here, it's the aversion to nuclear power and draw to intermittent sources despite the unsolved fundamental limitations of the latter.
The first is Levelized Cost of Energy (total cost, divided by total energy generated.) For solar and wind this is current 3-4x better than new nuclear construction. This is an enormous difference.
The second is time to market. Renewables can be brought online much faster than a nuclear plant. This (along with staged introduction) allows renewables to track actual demand rather than needing to be able to predict future demand. Failure to do that was the cause of much utility pain in the first nuclear era, including the bankruptcy of the WPPSS ("Whoops"). Demand for electricity suddenly stopped growing. The same dynamic occurred more recently as the "nuclear renaissance" collided with suddenly cheap natural gas.
The final metric by which renewables are destroying nuclear is rate of improvement. Renewables have shown strong and consistent experience effects. Solar improves in cost by ~20% for each doubling of cumulative installed capacity. Nuclear, on the other hand, has not consistently shown any experience effects. This is likely related to the fundamental complexity of large, integrated nuclear systems, vs. the improvement trends seen in design and manufacture of small, highly replicated systems (a phenomenon well known in Silicon Valley).
> The second is time to market. Renewables can be brought online much faster than a nuclear plant. This (along with staged introduction) allows renewables to track actual demand rather than needing to be able to predict future demand. Failure to do that was the cause of much utility pain in the first nuclear era, including the bankruptcy of the WPPSS ("Whoops"). Demand for electricity suddenly stopped growing. The same dynamic occurred more recently as the "nuclear renaissance" collided with suddenly cheap natural gas.
You're hand-waving away the fact that intermittent sources are exactly that: intermittent. And what happens when the demand for energy occurs when the renewable supply of energy is not available? Germany and California both encountered the same problem, and they both used the same solution: use fossil fuels. That is why Germany's carbon emissions have remained flat for the last decade  despite renewable power generation doubling in the same period of time. It doesn't matter how much energy wind and solar produces if you need to revert to hydrocarbons in the evening.
The levels of energy storage necessary to run an electrical entirely on renewable energy remain the stuff of science fiction. Batteries are possible, but using those would cause the price of electric vehicles to increase considerably and ensure that hydrocarbons remain the primary fuel for cars. California uses hydroelectric storage, but the efficiency is extremely low (over 70% energy lost).
By comparison, nuclear plants provide continuous output throughout the day. You paint this as a negative, when it's really not. If excess power is generated, then use that excess power to sequester carbon. Too much energy is an easy problem to solve, too little energy is not.
> The final metric by which renewables are destroying nuclear is rate of improvement. Renewables have shown strong and consistent experience effects. Solar improves in cost by ~20% for each doubling of cumulative installed capacity. Nuclear, on the other hand, has not consistently shown any experience effects. This is likely related to the fundamental complexity of large, integrated nuclear systems, vs. the improvement trends seen in design and manufacture of small, highly replicated systems (a phenomenon well known in Silicon Valley).
This is exactly that I explained in my comment above. Most nuclear power in the United States has been one-off projects to the public's unwillingness to see widespread adoption. By comparison, countries that used serialized plant designs (most famously, France) saw much cheaper nuclear power construction. Yes, replicated designs are much cheaper to build than unique designs. That is why nuclear power was so cost-effective in France while so much more expensive in the United States.
The reality is that there are only two proven methods of powering nations with carbon-free energy: Geographically dependent solutions like hydroelectric power and geothermal power. And nuclear power.
Intermittency has a cost, but the enormous levelized cost advantage of renewables is already dooming nuclear. There's a reason no merchant nuclear plants are being built -- it would be economically ludicrous to do so. I'll believe what the selfish investors who want to make money are doing before I believe what you think they should be doing.
First of all, your claim that countries aren't building new nuclear plants is factually incorrect. China, Korea, and other countries are continuing to build nuclear plants. What you really mean to say is that few Western countries are building nuclear plants, and that's primarily due to an unwillingness to build nuclear plants at any significant scale. Nuclear loses not because it is uncompetitive with solar and wind, but because it is uncompetitive with fossil fuels and because of irrational nuclear phobia that leads to intense opposition to nuclear power construction.
The levelized cost of intermittent sources may be low for the first 20-30% of electricity generation. But every country hits a wall around that figure, because there isn't any cost effective storage solution. If the levelized costs were altered to include energy storage costs to deliver power when power is in demand, intermittent sources would have terrible costs for providing power outside of its peak production time. This is why Germany, California, and every other countries that tries to use solar and wind energy ends up building the same amount of capacity with natural gas plants to fulfill peak demand. Politicians sell the dream of intermittent energy production, then turn around and build gas plants when they realize it's a fantasy.
The intermittency argument you are giving is quite flawed. Solar and wind can go far past 20-30% and still be cheaper than new nuclear. If they are not going higher now it's because of sunk costs in existing generating capacity, the slow growth of demand, and the slow turnover of existing generating capacity.
I'll believe it when I see it. History so far has demonstrated otherwise. In the meantime, the French are laughing at all of us as they enjoy their cheap, carbon free energy with enough surplus to export 3 billion euros of it.
The French are also not laughing, since their attempts to build new nuclear plants have gone disastrously wrong. Their nuclear construction industry is in a shambles, losing billions, and had to be bailed out by the government.
But that's all water under the bridge. Their attempts NOW to build nuclear capacity have demonstrated that they cannot build nukes competitively. The facts on the ground trump what you think should be true.
And Germany clear would have the chops to pull of a nuclear build up if that was their focus.
Had Germany done so they might now be close to done rather then still decades away from carbon-free energy.
Or look at when new projects were started, and you see nuclear starts dramatically fall even before we had TMI and Chernobyl.
The revisionist history is to say that we stopped building nuclear because we are scared of it. The reality is that economics and bad management make it extremely unattractive to build, then and now.
Stop blaming Chernobyl when the truth is clear: the costs of retrofitting most reactor designs to absolve fault tolerance make them inherent unprofitable compared to wind, geothermal, and solar.
It talks about sources of bias in estimates, and why that bias is so prevelant.
Today, I still believe the technology, but I doubt about its practicality, both financially and politically.
1. If we do a cost-benefit analysis, we must realize that the political resistance of the nuclear power plant is parts of its cost, it doesn't matter whether the anti-nuclear politicians or activists are correct or not, in either way, it simply adds to the cost of the project. Sometimes the cost is serious - the complete halt of the project is not out of the possibilities, and it means billions of tax dollars are wasted on useless projects.
2. Also, the strong pressure and paranoia on its safety, both from the public, and from the engineers, is sometimes responsible for the escalating costs of the projects, as more and more safety upgrades are implemented over time. I'm not saying that safety is not important, but it means there are hidden costs. And because safety is paramount, you can't just ignore them,
e.g. a safety risk is discovered in incident X, to avoid similar problems, all the XYZ reactors must be upgraded!
e.g. the nuclear reactor Y has an minor anomaly Z, it's believed that the issue is not a big deal, but for safety, the reactors are switched off until the reason is determined! (6 months later) Engineers have determined the issue is a completely normal phenomenon within the design! (3 months later) The executive/legislative body finally allowed the reactors to be restarted...
Just think about how much economic damage is done in this process... Worse, any such problems, even it was the direct result of being safety-minded, will be attacked by the anti-nuclear activists and politicians, further contributing to problem No.1, make the cost even greater.
3. In addition, a nuclear power plant requires highly competent personnels, companies and regulatory agencies to run and monitor. Mismanagement due to incompetency can make its safety risks much higher than the projected risks. It's not a big problem if it's operated with a good record of safety in some countries with a government that has a relatively good public image, but in other countries it's a big problem. I've once asked a networking engineer from Taiwan about the nuclear protests over the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant, he said he was against the project, not because he doesn't believe the technology (which is the most common reason in the anti-nuclear movement), but that he has no confidence that the miserable government is competent enough to operate it.
4. Furthermore, the political resistance of deep underground nuclear waste disposal repository is even higher. One should realize that currently there are already thousands buckets of nuclear waste waiting for proper disposal, and without a deep underground repository, by doing nothing, the risks for the environment is much more higher. Unfortunately, as long as the political resistance exists, it adds a huge cost to everything nuclear. Not to mention the environmental risks of continue producing more nuclear waste without a repository.
5. Finally, even in China - one of the biggest supporters of nuclear power - the ambitious construction projects are slowing down due to reason No.1 and No.2, despite that the political resistance is not a big problem in its authoritarian political system. Competition of cheap solar and wind is another reason.
> China’s losing its taste for nuclear power. That’s bad news.
I'm really uncertain about everything now. What is your opinion regarding my observations?
This is IMO a factor that is talked about far too little. It doesn't matter how safe the technology is in theory, in practice it will be run by people who are fallible, and often incompetent and/or greedy.
IMO the latter is an even bigger concern. If you can make a buck by cutting corners and flouting security protocols, someone somewhere will do it.
To me this political/managerial drawback is the only drawback to nuclear power; the sole and single downside. But it's a killer because of human nature.
In return may I offer this absolutely bitchin' tome Safeware by Nancy Leveson https://www.amazon.co.uk/Safeware-System-Safety-Computers-19... which I can't recommend enough. It's aimed at a lower level than your book AFAICT (lower level = less about interconnectedness of large systems) but it's a must read.
It's similar to how the fossil fuels based externalities are also never included in the true cost.
Of course, they do:
- Hinkley Point: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Hinkley-Point-C-contrac...
- France [French]: http://www.sfen.org/sites/default/files/public/atoms/files/n...
- Switzerland [French]: http://www.swissnuclear.ch/fr/couts-_content---1--1050.html
Unfortunately, I think it's stupid, but as long as the political resistance exists, it adds a huge cost to everything nuclear. Not to mention the environmental risks of continue producing more nuclear waste without a repository. As long as there's no solution, it only makes the existing problem even greater.
There is almost no "real" deep underground disposal repository currently in operation at large scale anywhere in the world (!!!), the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the U.S. is the most active one, but it's still more of an experimental site and cannot replace a real one. The ones in Finland and Sweden are small.