Cost Of Nuclear Power

The main cost for nuclear reactors is the initial construction of the plant.  However,  once a nuclear plant is up and running it has very low expenses which is why it can offer low rates for electricity and earn a reasonable profit.  Even the future decommissioning and waste disposal is passed on to the consumer when the plant is in operation.  Look at France which is 75% nuclear and has the cheapest electricity in Europe with 8 cents per kWh compared to Denmark's 40 cents.  India stated in August 2012 that it would cost about Rs.8 for producing a unit of electricity using solar energy, as against Rs. 2.55 using nuclear energy. And, it cost only Rs.2 a unit of nuclear energy at the Kalpakkam plant.

European end-user electricity prices compared.

End User Electricity Price
Tons CO2 000,000
Tons CO2 Per Capita
  Electricity prices above from EEP Eurostat May 2013.

One of the biggest cost for nuclear power plant construction is the bureaucratic licencing which is around US$500 million and is payable before construction even begins.  It takes years of safety, legal, tribunial and administrative processes as well as petitions and surveys before construction of a nuclear plant even begins.  Each "reactor" in a nuclear plant must go through these procedures even if they are identical and on the same site. As Edward Teller, the great physicist,  once put it "It took us eighteen months to build the first nuclear power generator; now it takes twelve years; that's progress."

It is not unusual to confront more unexpected bureaucratic barriers throughout the construction phase of a nuclear power plant which adds further expense and delays.  Most of this bureaucratic intrusion is unneccessary and the cost involved would be better spent on designing stronger and more durable reactors.  The resources committed to licensing can be focused where it matters most such as on the reactor design, rather than reinventing the wheel each time with repeated certifications of the same reactor.  If the government wants clean energy, then it should reduce the barriers to nuclear power.  

Another example is the nuclear fuel tax introduced in Germany on 1st January 2011. This nuclear fuel tax was to fund Germany's transfer from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable.  This was a further expense of US$2.9 billion per year for the German nuclear industry.  German nuclear plants are not refueling now due to the shut downs but the German government still wouldn't refund the tax paid by the nuclear industry when they did refuel prior to the Fukushima accident.  The taxes paid was in the hundreds of million of dollars for fuel that wouldn't be used because of the government closures.

Another factor as to why nuclear has become more expensive is the low number of nuclear orders in the past twenty years has meant that many component manufacturing facilities have closed down and there are now only one or two certified suppliers of key components. For example, the ultra heavy forgings needed to fabricate the pressure vessels are only produced in one factory (in Japan).  As with components, the lack of recent nuclear orders and the ageing of the existing workforce have led to a serious shortage of qualified personnel.  Countries  starting to go nuclear must hire skilled technicians and personnel from only a handful of countries with the expertise such as France or Japan.

Building a 1
gigawatt uranium nuclear power plant today cost around US$1.1 billion but building a 1 gigawatt thorium nuclear plant would cost US$250 million.  It would cost even less for a thorium reactor because meltdown concerns don't exist.   Most of these bureaucratic costs and procedures won’t apply to thorium reactors as many safety issues no longer apply. India has announced it is building a thorium reactor that should be complete by 2020.

The "overnight cost" (meaning without incurred interest) of nuclear power plants is between US$2 to US$2.5 billion for a plant with two conventional reactors and generating about 2 gigawatts.  Westinghouse estimates the cost of four power plants, each containing two AP1000 reactors and generating more than 2 gigawatts each to be about US$8 billion.

Physical Costs Breakdown

Non-Power Related: US Dollars
Land Acquisition and Clearing:  0-5,000,000
Administrative office building:  20,000,000
Fixtures and other incidental:  2,000,000
Roads and parking:  500.000
Other Misc:  500.000     

Perimeter security (fence, gate, systems):  2,000,000
Guardhouse, other security: 2,000,000
On-site emergency services:  4,000,000
Four One Megawatt diesel generators:  250,000
Six 125 kilowatt diesel generators:  200,000
Uninterruptible Power systems:  150,000
Control Room Systems and Redundancy:  10,00,000  

Power Generating:
Steam Turbine Generator Sets: 160,000,000
Piping, cooling, regulation:  30,000,000
Turbine building:  10,000,000
Misc support and service equipment:  5,000,000
Transformers and switching:  15,000,000  


                                                   Total: $255,000,000

Staffing a 1GW uranium plant costs $50 million per year and fuel costs $30 million per year (20,000kg of uranium). The average fuel cost for nuclear power is $0.77 per kWh and the average non-fuel operations and maintenance cost in 2012 was 1.65 cents/kWh.  On average fuel for nuclear power plants make up around 25% of the cost of production which is in contrast to coal, oil and natural gas plants where fuel is 80% of the cost of production. This means the price of nuclear electricity is very stable as it doesn't fluctuate with fuel costs as much (especially when considering they refuel only once every 18-24 months).   


Uranium was $40 per pound as of April 2013, you can triple this spot price and it would make an insignificant cost increase to the overall electricity production. So the nuclear power plants, whether they’re paying $40 or $100, it makes no difference to them because it changes the actual electricity costs marginally. Whereas natural gas, the biggest cost is actually the commodity and not the actual physical natural gas plant or coal plant.

The total cost of a 60 year old uranium reactor  is 4.9 billion dollars.  The total cost for a thorium reactor would be $500 million over 60 years and there is the possibility that thorium reactors could remain in operation for longer as there is no meltdown risks involved.  This makes it an even cheaper alternative.

One way nuclear power plants in the United States have managed to expand their output is through “uprating” (upgrading the existing plants). According to analysis by the Energy Information Administration, the operators of 98 of the country’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors have asked regulators for permission to boost capacity from their existing plants. All in all, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved more than 6,500 megawatts worth of uprates since 1977. That’s the equivalent of building six entirely new nuclear reactors,  and this is during a period when fresh plants were impossible to build.

Funds committed for US nuclear waste are $41.2 billion (1/10th of a cent per kWh of electricity generated at nuclear power plants plus interest since 1983). The estimated cost of decommissioning each plant is between $300-$500 million and includes estimated radiological, used fuel ($100 million) and site restoration costs (about $300 million). Of the $41.2 billion, $10.8 billion has been spent. Payments to the Nuclear Waste Fund are included in the fuel costs and are passed on to the end user.


Many criticise nuclear power for excessive subsidies but per kWh of power generated nuclear power recieves little subsidies when compared to other energy sources.  The table below is from the Global Subsidies Initiative (April 2010).

The below subsidies table is from the Global Subsidies Initiative.

 Subsidies per

Subsidy estimate
Energy produced
energy unit
Energy Type
(US$ billion/year)
(US cents/kWh)
Nuclear energy
2,719 TWh
Renewable energy (excluding hydroelectricity)
534 TWh
34 Mtoe
Fossil fuels (non-OECD
4,172 Mtoe
*Wind power  recieved 6.8 cents per Kwh in subsidies.

Whilst wind and nuclear power were able to reduce their dependencies on subsidies by a factor of 1000 and more, subsidies for PV power are still only 10–20 times or so lower than they were during the development stage.

The capital cost of 25GW of wind and 25GW of solar installed in Germany since 2000 under the feed in tarrif initiative is $150 billion, with annual subsidy costs of $1 billion in 2000 rising to $20 billion in 2011 for a total of $100 billion. The subsidy costs are apportioned to all electicity consumers giving Germany the second highest electricity charges in Europe, after Denmark. Note these subsidies are guaranteed for 20 years.

Stephan Kohler, the head of the German Energy Agency, said in November 2012 that Germany must be more realistic in its transition to renewable energy. The "feel-good" subsidies for locally produced wind and solar power have had unintended consequences, and the environmental movement is often part of the problem.

                                            Comparing Costs

A cost will be assigned to greenhouse gases, through either a direct tax or a so-called cap-and-trade system, which would set a limit on emissions while allowing companies whose discharges are lower than the cap to sell or trade credits to companies whose pollution exceeds the cap.  Major carbon emitters like coal-powered electricity will be more expensive compared with low-carbon sources such as nuclear power, wind power and hydropower.
  It is estimated by the Energy Information Administration that carbon costs will make up 33% of the cost of coal plants and 12% for the cost of natural gas plants.

Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan. Figures can vary due to different conditions and  technical knowledge in different countries.  For example the South Koreans can build nuclear power plants for US$1600/kW while the nuclear reactors in Hungary were the most expensive at US$5900/kW.
  Coal plants were costed at $900-2800/kW, gas plants $520-1800/kW and wind capacity $1900-3700/kW.

The high installation costs of nuclear compared to other non-fossil fuel sources that are often cited are incorrect and stem from a misunderstanding of capacity factor and lifespan.  Renewable technology such as wind has an average capacity factor of 30%-40% and decline with more installations
as the optimal windy locations are used first,  then less windy areas must be used.  Nuclear power has an average capacity factor of 89% now and does not decline with future installations. Countries with the top capacity factors are Finland and South Korea with 93% and the United States with 91% (

Nuclear reactors shut down around every 2 years to refuel approximately one third of their reactor. These refueling outages typically  last around a month. 

Price comparisons below are from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report "Projected Costs of Generating Electricity – 2010 Edition"

5% Discount rate
Overnight Construction cost

Cost of Electricity Generation

Kwe - Kilowatt Electrical


900 /kWe
2800  /kWe
0.054 /KWh
0.120 /KWh
Natural Gas
520 /kWe
1800  /kWe
0.067 /KWh
0.105 /KWh
1600 /kWe
5900 /kWe
0.029 /KWh
0.082 /KWh
Onshore Wind
1900 /kWe
3700 /kWe
0.048 /KWh
0.163 /KWh
Offshore Wind
0.101 /KWh
0.188 /KWh
Solar Photovoltaic
0.215 /KWh
0.600 /KWh
Coal-fired: Plants with carbon capture have overnight construction costs ranging from 3 223 to 6 268 USD/kWe. Construction times are approximately four years for most plants.  Without Carbon Capture.
Natural Gas: Natural gas costs are highly sensative to fuel costs.  Without Carbon Capture.
Nuclear: Includes refurbishments, waste treatment,  decommissioning after 60 years of operation.
Onshore/Offshore windfarm: Plant level costs only. Doesn't include costs associated with the integration of wind or other intermittent renewable energy sources into most existing electric systems and, in particular, the need for backup power capacities to compensate for the variability and limited predictability of their production. Construction times are approximately 2 years for onshore wind farms.

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