March 03, 2016

The success of France, Canada, Japan and South Korea in controlling nuclear energy costs

France, Canada, Japan and South Korea did a better job than the USA at keeping nuclear energy costs down.

France started making a big push for nuclear power in the 1960s, starting with gas-cooled reactors and pressurized water reactor designs from the US and later, in the 1970s, developing its own PWR designs.

As Lovering, Yip, and Nordhaus show, costs stayed relatively stable throughout this period, hovering around €1,400/kW ($1,500/kW). Nuclear kept expanding until it provided more than 75 percent of France's electricity.

France only had one utility (EDF) and one builder (Areva) working closely together. They settled on a few standard reactor designs and built them over and over again, often putting multiple reactors on a single site. That allowed them to standardize their processes and get better at finding efficiencies. Canada and Japan kept costs relatively stable with similar tactics.

South Korea has seen nuclear costs decline sharply since the 1970s.

South Korea imported proven US, French, and Canadian designs in the 1970s and learned from other countries' experiences before developing its own domestic reactors in 1989. It developed stable regulations, had a single utility overseeing construction, and built reactors in pairs at single sites.

The results were remarkable: overnight construction costs fell 50 percent between 1971 and 2008 as South Korea built 28 reactors in all.

1. Stable regulations are essential for nuclear power to thrive. More than, say, solar or wind, nuclear will always need strict safety and environmental regulations. No way around that. The risks are inherently higher.

Regulations don't have to lead to rapid cost escalations — as long as they're predictable. A rule that forces reactors to limit the temperature of its water discharge, say, can be dealt with. But a requirement that changes midway through construction can be devastating. Predictability was a key difference between the US and places like France or South Korea.

There's not always a trade-off between safety and cost. Advanced reactor designs have passive cooling systems to automatically prevent overheating in the event of an accident or loss of power. Not only does this vastly reduce the risk of a meltdown, but it also reduces the need for costly containment and backup systems.

2. Standardization of design helps.

3. Build multiple reactors at the same site. Build two to eight reactors at a single power plant site for lower costs.

SOURCE- Vox, Breakthrough Institute

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