Mark Whitby

Calculating the real cost of nuclear

Has anyone actually done the calculations to establish th sustainable credentials of nuclear power? They should says Mark Whitby.

There was a great meeting recently where, at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), a nuclear expert promoted the concept of nuclear batteries. Or U-battery to use industry jargon.

A lovely idea where we may scale down a nuclear power plant to the size of a couple of squash courts for a smart city or even smaller for a remote off grid application.

The idea is not altogether new, small nuclear thermal electric batteries have been developed for  lighthouses with some success, most notably during the Soviet era  along their Arctic coast line.

"Mindful of the realities our government has set a price of 9.25p/kWhr for our new nuclear, just four times the estimate made in 2004."

Following glasnost the security around these ice stations became a problem and whilst the Americans and Norwegians attempted to aid in their salvage, it would appear it is not only the copper and lead that is unaccounted for.  Of course we will manage better but should remember these tales when imaging solutions to the worlds power supplies. 

Back in 2004 the RAE published a paper on the cost of generating electricity that estimated the cost of the next generation of nuclear power at 2.26p /kWhr. This was at the time possibly reasonable .

Areva and Siemens had just signed a £2.2bn JV contract  for a new reactor in Finland. The report’s conclusions were to be repeated throughout the next decade and influence our whole energy policy.  Siemens meanwhile bought themselves out of the JV and with costs at now at over £6.5bn, Areva  have recently posted a £3.5bn loss .

Mindful of the realities our government has set a price of 9.25p/kWhr for our new nuclear, just four times the estimate made in 2004.

However this is not all the story, more recent research has begun to seriously question the ‘ low carbon’ claims for nuclear . Published in the Ecologist earlier this year the Ecologist report maintains that much like the ‘ RAE cost estimate’ there has been a tendency for experts  to cite as evidence ‘sources’ which have been replicating in a viral manner the same common unsubstantiated source. 

Each serve to support each other all without justification. Worse still it is the  calculation in the Ecologist that our planned new nuclear  doesn’t even meet the Climate Change Committee’s definition of low carbon nor the requirement that all new energy beyond 2030 should come in below 50 g/kWhr. 

Perhaps this won’t matter for Hinkley Point but with decreasing grades of ores from which the uranium is mined there are even the suggestion that by the end of its life such a plant would be totally unsustainable.

It would help if the experts could at least  do a definitive calculation.

Mark Whitby is a director of WME Consultants and a past president of the ICE