Your rainy weekend reading suggestion: the Congressional Budget Office's just released study,"Nuclear Power's Role in Generating Electricity." The pull quote:
In the long run, carbon dioxide charges would increase the competitiveness of nuclear technology and could make it the least expensive source of new base-load capacity. More immediately, EPAct incentives by themselves could make advanced nuclear reactors a competitive technology for limited additions to base-load capacity. However, under some plausible assumptions that differ from those CBO adopted for its reference scenario—in particular, those that project higher future construction costs for nuclear plants or lower natural gas prices—nuclear technology would be a relatively expensive source of capacity, regardless of EPAct incentives. CBO’s analysis yields the following conclusions:The study was written by Justin Falk, an analyst with the CBO's Microeconomic Studies Division, under the supervision of Joseph Kile and David Moore. Hat tip to the CBO Director's blog (?!), for the pointer to the study. You have to believe that when the Director of the CBO is blogging, this medium is here to stay.
- In the absence of both carbon dioxide charges and EPAct incentives, conventional fossil-fuel technologies would most likely be the least expensive source of new electricity-generating capacity.
- Carbon dioxide charges of about $45 per metric ton would probably make nuclear generation competitive with conventional fossil-fuel technologies as a source of new capacity, even without EPAct incentives. At charges below that threshold, conventional gas technology would probably be a more economic source of base-load capacity than coal technology. Below about $5 per metric ton, conventional coal technology would probably be the lowest cost source of new capacity.
- Also at roughly $45 per metric ton, carbon dioxide charges would probably make nuclear generation competitive with existing coal power plants and could lead utilities in a position to do so to build new nuclear plants that would eventually replace existing coal power plants.
- EPAct incentives would probably make nuclear generation a competitive technology for limited additions to base-load capacity, even in the absence of carbon dioxide charges. However, because some of those incentives are backed by a fixed amount of funding, they would be diluted as the number of nuclear projects increased; consequently, CBO anticipates that only a few of the 30 plants currently being proposed would be built if utilities did not expect carbon dioxide charges to be imposed.
- Uncertainties about future construction costs or natural gas prices could deter investment in nuclear power. In particular, if construction costs for new nuclear power plants proved to be as high as the average cost of nuclear plants built in the 1970s and 1980s or if natural gas prices fell back to the levels seen in the 1990s, then new nuclear capacity would not be competitive, regardless of the incentives provided by EPAct. Such variations in construction or fuel costs would be less likely to deter investment in new nuclear capacity if investors anticipated a carbon dioxide charge, but those charges would probably have to exceed $80 per metric ton in order for nuclear technology to remain competitive under either of those circumstances.