The Tennessee Valley Authority is the latest utility group to disclose revised estimates on the cost of building a new nuclear plant. The TVA says it now expects the cost of building a twin-reactor plant based on Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors could reach as high as $17.5 billion (U.S.). A few days earlier, Eskom, which is South Africa’s state utility, said it was dropping plans to build a single-reactor nuclear plant because of the “magnitude of investment” — an estimated $10 billion (U.S.).
Of course, these costs don’t include operating costs, long-term waste management and plant decommissioning costs, or costs for the massive volumes of water that are needed every day for cooling of the reactors. There are other costs as well, but somehow they never seem to be calculated in discussions about the economics of nuclear.
Eskom cited the fact that electricity demand is down because of the economic downturn so it didn’t make sense to rush into such an expensive infrastructure project. It’s not alone — power demand is falling across North America as well, including Ontario. In fact, the Ontario Power Authority has agreed to re-do its long-term load forecast for the province in light of recent consumption declines. It will be interesting to see what the agency concludes, and how the government will react if the forecast has been revised materially downward and the bids coming in to build a new 2,000 MW nuclear plant are much higher than expected.
Will Ontario make the same decision as South Africa? Somehow I doubt it, but certainly if the load trend falls and the nuclear cost trend rises, the government here will have some explaining to do if it hopes to sell the nuke plan to the general public.
My guess, if such a scenario does occur, is that the government will suddenly be all ga-ga over electric cars and the need to build nuclear plants to handle the sudden rise in grid load as more cars plug in.