Costs and Benefits: Final in the SACOME Series

This article concludes the series of six articles from Barry Brook and me that have had published in the SACOME journal over the last 12 months.

In a subject like nuclear power which is not easily discussed in sound bytes (presuming it is a mature, responsible discussion you are seeking that is…) it is challenging to establish a quality conversation. SACOME’s support has enabled us to do that here, staying with their readers over six issues of the magazine, covering most of the hotly contested issues with a good 800+ words to play with each time.

The articles have been widely shared and roundly appreciated. We (Barry and I) are looking forward to releasing them soon in an easily shared compendium.

My thanks to SACOME for this opportunity. That organisation is representative of a whole range of energy technology players including those that might compete with nuclear power (and those some commentators mistakenly say compete with nuclear power). So their interest in raising the quality of discussion on nuclear is to be congratulated. It indicates they have the genuine longer term best interests of South Australia at heart, through facilitating more informed choices on energy that will be of benefit to the whole state.

In our final article, we talk turkey…

It does not take long in any discussion of nuclear power before people want to talk turkey. How much does nuclear power cost?

It’s odd that when it comes to nuclear power alone, some environmentalists morph into incredibly hard-nosed economic rationalists. If the solution can’t pay its own way from the get go, bad luck.

That suggests a misunderstanding of not so much nuclear economics, but of energy economics more generally. It also hints at an ideological position if the same criteria are not applied elsewhere.

In considering nuclear at all, we are looking to replace baseload fossil fuels at 100s or over 1,000 MW at a time. Take your pick of technology, including modern fossil fuels: that is never going to be a cheap task. There is no way around the “sticker shock” of a modern power facility.

If we want new, large-scale energy generation in Australia, there is a large price tag, comfortably in the billions of dollars range. If, as we would argue, response to climate change demands that any new baseload is zero-carbon generation, then the options are (currently) restricted to the more expensive end of the range for capital costs (fuel is cheap or free for these technologies).

So, what, in that context, can low-carbon options offer in terms of up-front cost?  Let’s take some real-world examples.