Argument: Building nuclear power plants is highly costly

Issue Report: Nuclear energy


  • Michael Levi, Council on Foreign Relations Fellow for Science and Technology, “Wasted Energy”,, 4/18/06 – “Sunday’s Washington Postpaean to nuclear energy by Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore is a textbook example of a good pro-nuclear case gone bad…Moore claims to refute those who say that nuclear power is expensive, retorting that it ‘is in fact one of the least expensive energy sources’ and noting, to support this point, that ‘the average cost of producing nuclear energy in the United States [is] less than two cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with coal and hydroelectric.’ While literally true, that’s a specious claim. The marginal cost of producing an additional kilowatt-hour of nuclear power using existing plants is indeed less than two pennies. But that ignores the capital costs involved in building nuclear power plants, which exceed the costs of building coal-fired facilities. Including those expenses, an MIT report (which made an honest argument for nuclear power) prices nuclear at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, in contrast with only 4.2 cents for coal, nearly 40 percent lower. To be logically consistent, Moore would also have to believe that buying a house is always cheaper than renting (because property taxes and maintenance cost less than rent) and that owning a car is always cheaper than riding a bus (because gas costs less than bus fare).”
  • Mark Hertsgaard. “The True Costs of Nuclear Power”. Mother Earth News. April/May 2006 – “The best case against nuclear power as a global warming remedy begins with the fact that nuclear-generated electricity is very expensive. Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsides over the past 60 years (roughly 30 times more than solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have received), nuclear power still costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. This is mainly due to the cost of borrowing money for the decade or more it takes to get a nuclear plant up and running.
Remarkably, this inconvenient fact does not deter industry officials from boasting that nuclear is the cheapest power available. Their trick is to count only the cost of operating the plants, not of constructing them. By that logic, a Rolls Royce is cheap to drive because only the cost of gasoline matters,not the sticker price as well.
The marketplace, however, sees through such blarney. As Amory Lovins, the energy guru who directs the Rocky Mountain Institute a think tank that advises corporations and governments on energy use points out, Nowhere [in the world] do market-driven utilities buy, or private investors finance, new nuclear plants. Only continued massive government intervention is keeping the nuclear option alive.”