Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit:
US DOE
)

Should any discussion of nuclear power go on for long enough, it
becomes inevitable that someone will rant that the only reason
they’ve become unaffordable is a proliferation of safety
regulations. The argument is rarely (if ever) fleshed out—no
specific regulation is ever identified as problematic, and there
seems to be no consideration given to the fact that we might have
learned something at, say,
Fukushima
that might merit addressing through regulations.

But there’s now a paper out that provides some empirical
evidence that safety changes have contributed to the cost of
building new nuclear reactors. But the study also makes clear that
they’re only one of a number of factors, accounting for only a
third of the soaring costs. The study also finds that, contrary to
what those in the industry seem to expect, focusing on standardized
designs doesn’t really help matters, as costs continued to grow as
more of a given reactor design was built.

More of the same

The analysis, done by a team of researchers at MIT, is
remarkably comprehensive. For many nuclear plants, they have
detailed construction records, broken out by which building
different materials and labor went to, and how much each of them
cost. There’s also a detailed record of safety regulations and when
they were instituted relative to construction. Finally, they’ve
also brought in the patent applications filed by the companies who
designed the reactors. The documents describe the motivations for
design changes and the problems those changes were intended to
solve.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of
the story