France uses about 80% nuclear energy for its electricity supply. The US has used about 16-24%. The US was on track to go to 80% nuclear energy but allowed this to be derailed with over-regulation. The spike in interest rates in the 1970s caused a problem but when interest rates went back down was when France built all of its nuclear reactors.
According to Australian National University researcher Peter Lang, the ’60s and ’70s saw a transition “from rapidly falling costs and accelerating deployment to rapidly rising costs and stalled deployment.” Had the initial trajectory continued, he writes in the journal Energies, nuclear-generated electricity would now be around 10 percent of its current cost.
Lang calculates that by 2015 it would have replaced all coal-burning and three-quarters of gas-fired electric power generation. Thus, over the past 30 years we could have substituted 186,000 terawatt-hours of electricity production, avoiding up to 174 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions and 9.5 million air pollution deaths. Cumulative global carbon dioxide emissions would be about 18 percent lower, and annual global carbon dioxide emissions would be one-third less.
The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey opened in 1969. It cost $594 million (in 2017 dollars) and took four years to build. America’s newest nuclear plant, at Watts Bar in Tennessee, opened in 2016. It cost $7 billion and took more than 10 years to complete.
Rational policy revision could enable safe nuclear reactors, lower costs and faster displacement of fossil fuels.
Overnight construction cost (in 2010 US $/kW) plotted against cumulative global capacity (GW), based on construction start dates, of nuclear power reactors for seven countries, including regression lines for US before and after 32 GW cumulative global capacity.
This paper presents evidence of the disruption of a transition from fossil fuels to nuclear power, and finds the benefits forgone as a consequence are substantial. Learning rates are presented for nuclear power in seven countries, comprising 58% of all power reactors ever built globally. Learning rates and deployment rates changed in the late-1960s and 1970s from rapidly falling costs and accelerating deployment to rapidly rising costs and stalled deployment. Historical nuclear global capacity, electricity generation and overnight construction costs are compared with the counterfactual that pre-disruption learning and deployment rates had continued to 2015. Had the early rates continued, nuclear power could now be around 10% of its current cost. The additional nuclear power could have substituted for 69,000–186,000 TWh of coal and gas generation, thereby avoiding up to 9.5 million deaths and 174 Gt CO2 emissions. In 2015 alone, nuclear power could have replaced up to 100% of coal-generated and 76% of gas-generated electricity, thereby avoiding up to 540,000 deaths and 11 Gt CO2. Rapid progress was achieved in the past and could be again, with appropriate policies. Research is needed to identify impediments to progress, and policy is needed to remove them