Back in 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study on nuclear power because they believed "this technology, despite the challenges it faces, is an important option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and other atmospheric pollutants." The 2003 study identified "the issues facing nuclear power and what might be done to overcome them."
Today, MIT released its Update to the 2003 study (pdf), and while some great progress has been made over the past six years, more needs to be done:
After five years, no new plants are under construction in the United States and insufficient progress has been made on waste management. The current assistance program put into place by the 2005 EPACT has not yet been effective and needs to be improved. The sober warning is that if more is not done, nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for deployment at a scale that would constitute a material contribution to climate change risk mitigation.Yikes. All is not bad though. Here are some good things that have happened over the past six years that the Update mentioned (p. 5):
The performance of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants since 2003 has been excellent.What's MIT's latest assessment on the costs of new nuclear plants? Here's page 6:
The NRC has granted 51 license extensions to date with 19 such renewals granted between January 2003 and February 2008. Furthermore, modest power uprates have been granted in that period, adding about 1.5 GWe to the licensed capacity.
Seventeen applications for combined construction and operating licenses for 26 reactors have been submitted to the NRC.
Extension of the public attitudes research carried out in 2003 reinforces a trend towards greater public acceptance of nuclear power.
While the U.S. nuclear industry has continued to demonstrate improved operating performance, there remains significant uncertainty about the capital costs, and the cost of its financing, which are the main components of the cost of electricity from new nuclear plants.No surprise there. Uncertainty will continue to remain until we actually complete new plants. Here's MIT's updated table on costs comparing nuclear, coal and gas. (LCOE = levelized cost of electricity)
The results of the costs seem reasonable with the following caveats:
The 2003 report found that “In deregulated markets, nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas. However, plausible reductions by industry in capital cost, operation and maintenance costs and construction time could reduce the gap. Carbon emission credits, if enacted by government, can give nuclear power a cost advantage.” The situation remains the same today.Just to make sure we're clear here, the MIT study is saying nuclear power is not competitive with coal and gas plants that freely emit greenhouse gases. Once coal and gas plants actually have to account for their generous unwanted byproducts, nuclear power becomes competitive. I think most everyone would agree that the day of freely emitting GHGs is coming to an end. Somehow, though, I have a feeling that our nuclear opponents are going to spin this Updated study to claim that nuclear power is uneconomical, even though that claim will be based on one scenario that is becoming more and more unrealistic for coal and gas plants. We'll see...
Also worth noting is that the MIT team conducted some great research on new nuclear plant costs. In a supplemental paper to the 2009 update, MIT presented the costs of five units built between 2004-2006 in Japan and Korea (page 45 of the pdf). The two ABWRs mentioned came in under $3,000/kW. MIT found that "this more recent range [in costs] is lower than the range for the earlier Japanese and Korean builds [built between 1994-2002], perhaps reflecting continuing improvements in construction or other design factors." Exquisite. Hopefully the US can capture those lessons learned.
After you read this Update, be on the lookout for "a new MIT study, currently underway, on The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, which will examine the pros and cons of alternative fuel cycle strategies, the readiness of the technologies needed for them, and the implications for near-term policies." That study should generate some interesting discussions...