The high costs associated with the construction of nuclear power plants, among other factors, impede their large-scale deployment. This is exacerbated by analyses of historical cost data up to the 1980s for plants built by early-adopters — France and the US — that suggest an inevitable trend of escalating costs over time. Now, Jessica Lovering and colleagues at The Breakthrough Institute in California and Carnegie Mellon University perform a comprehensive analysis of construction cost data for seven countries, covering 58% of global reactors built between 1954 and 2015, and conclude that an escalating cost trend is not intrinsic to nuclear technology, but instead depends on country, institutional factors and technological maturity.
Overnight construction costs (OCCs) make up around 55% of the total levelized cost of electricity generation for nuclear. They are reactor-specific and include engineering and construction costs, as well as land and site costs. The researchers analysed OCC data for 349 reactors in the US, France, Canada, West Germany, Japan, India and South Korea. They found that, while costs had sharply increased for reactors in the US, other countries (like France and Canada) experienced a milder cost escalation, and South Korea even saw a decrease in OCCs over time. Lower costs might have derived from design standardization and parallel construction of multiple reactors on the same site. The researchers suggest that projections of future costs that inform decision makers should take into account the observed variance in historical trends.
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De Ranieri, E. Nuclear power: Doesn't have to cost the earth. Nat Energy 1, 16029 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2016.29