While some variants of nuclear power plants are estimated to cost up to five times as much as competing technologies such as minimally-compliant coal power, these are extreme examples. Most populations will not allow minimally-compliant coal plants to be built because of their substantially dangerous pollution as well as radioactivity levels far above those of a nuclear power plant. Their radioactive and chemical emissions come in the form of massive fly ash ponds as well as airborne fly ash emissions.
There are examples of nuclear power plants in the world that were extremely costly. There are several factors that must be considered when discussing these examples. Firstly, the nuclear industry is the most heavily regulated industry on the planet. Canada specifically has extremely strict guidelines about human exposure to radiation and chemical wastes. We also have extremely strict guidelines regarding the physical construction of a nuclear plant. For example, the safety systems of a nuclear plant built today must include two independant shut-down systems which do not require any human intervention and cannot be turned off by an operator. The standards for waste, both radioactive and chemical, from a nuclear power plant are much more strict than those for a corresponding coal power plant.
High quality workmanship sometimes is hard to attain in areas that build nuclear plants. A good example of this is how a nuclear project in Finland in 2009 faced massive budget overruns. Some of the contractors involved tried to cut corners, including some outsourcing of cement pouring to a Polish company. The Polish company produced low-quality work, not up to the standards of the project. This issue has ended up costing the project a tremendous amount of money due to delays. Delays cost a lot of money in nuclear power plant projects because billions of dollars have been taken out on a loan in order to build the plant. Paying interest on several billion dollars for months and years can add up rather quickly. A very substantial part of the cost of nuclear power is interest on the loan. Delays introduced by the tight regulation of the industry can thus have huge financial consequences for a project.
The vast majority of nuclear plants are much closer to being on schedule and on budget, especially as the experiences of the past add to our predictive capacity for such projects. Nuclear power is also estimated to cost roughly the same as other competing technologies for producing baseload power, such as wind combined with storage and trade or natural gas to produce power when the wind isn’t blowing.
That said, there is no single answer to the energy question. It can certainly be the case that nuclear power will be more expensive than other options available for a certain region. Any reasonable energy planning must take into account population densities, distribution systems, the availability of cooling water, and the availability of different forms of heavy industry.
Answer: Not True
It is not true that nuclear power is more expensive than all of its competing technologies in every location. In some locations it makes a fair bit of sense. In others, such as Saskatchewan, it faces numerous challenges that reduce its feasibility. It is possible that nuclear power will be more expensive than its alternatives, but this is certainly not always the case.
This article is part of our nuclear myth and fact project.