Will the economics of nuclear energy work for Utah?


This morning, during part three of Sutherland’s series of policy forums called “Is Utah Ready for Nuclear Energy?” a panel of experts discussed the economics of nuclear power generation.

A Utah company is currently working to build a nuclear plant near Green River, Utah – an endeavor called Blue Castle Project. The panel at today’s forum made many interesting observations in regard to the economics of nuclear power which relate to this project. You can watch the entire forum here:


For those who can’t watch the forum, I’ll review some of the most interesting points here.

The cost of building a plant to produce energy from different sources varies. For example, coal and nuclear plants have very high upfront costs, whereas a natural gas facility requires a lower initial investment. According to the panel, about 60 percent of the total costs of a 60-year plant are upfront costs for building the plant; the other costs are for fuel (about 10 percent), licensing, regulation, waste disposal and operations. Nuclear companies build all these costs into the project from its beginning.

Once a plant is built, market prices for energy produced from uranium and coal are very stable, whereas prices for natural gas are volatile. Also, according to Edward Kee of Economic Research Associates (NERA), coal produces by far the most carbon dioxide emissions. Natural gas energy production gives off as little as 40 percent of coal emissions, and nuclear emits close to zero.

According to Cheri D. Collins of Southern Nuclear Company, the new Georgia Power Vogtle site inWaynesboro,Ga., building the plant has added 1,700 construction jobs to a rural part of the state and 150 jobs for people who oversee the project. She added that a technology-rich industry such as nuclear power attracts to an area high-quality people with strong leadership ability who are committed to the public’s health and safety. These people, she says, bring along their families, who all fan out to benefit their communities.

The panel also discussed the difficulties in obtaining approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Although a company can build a plant in four or five years, it usually takes up to 10 years total to build and make it through the NRC licensing process. This approval process can be very uncertain. A plant in the 1990s made it to the final approval stage but was decommissioned by the NRC at the last minute.

The consensus of the group seemed to be that building a nuclear power plant is economically viable, and the plants benefit the surrounding communities. According to Mr. Kee, although the startup costs of a nuclear plant are relatively high, when one calculates the long-term costs of projects for various forms of energy over a 60-year period, nuclear power is almost always the most cost-effective option.

What would help reduce these costs even more is if the licensing and regulatory process were less burdensome while still providing measures to protect the health and safety of the public. Of course, this panel focused on the economic issues of nuclear power. You can watch our previous forums on environmental safety, public safety and water issues here and here.

Finally, here is a report from the Deseret News on the forum.