New Nuclear Reactors – A Fool’s Errand

By Russell Lowes, 12/24/2021 (This was earlier published in the Newsletter of Physicians for Social Responsibility–Arizona Chapter.)

Can you imagine having two grocery stores, one where you pay the regular price for your groceries, and another store that has the same groceries for three times the price? That is the situation with new nuclear energy.

Unfortunately, some have said that nuclear should be part of the future energy mix, some even saying that nuclear energy can help save the planet. They miss the mark by a mile.

The cost of nuclear energy is so high that it actually forces utilities to produce more fossil fuel electricity. Here is how.

New nuclear energy is very expensive. The total delivered cost is about 28.5¢/kilowatt-hour (KWH). In other words, you get about 3.5 KWH per dollar that you spend on new nuclear energy. For comparison, a home in Arizona might consume 650 KWH per month. Instead of paying the current 12¢/KWH, if you bought nothing except new nuclear electricity, your bill would more than double.

So, with that in mind:

  • Each $1 you spend on new nuclear electricity gives you 3.5 KWH;
  • Each $1 you spend on solar, with battery backup, provides 10 KWH.
  • 3.5 minus 10 KWH gives you a deficit of 6.5 KWH for every dollar spent on new nuclear electricity.
  • How do you make up for that 6.5 KWH deficit? Households and businesses will have to buy more energy from their utility — 75% of that will be from fossil fuels. That is because on average, in the U.S., 75% of all grid energy is generated by fossil fuels. That means for every dollar spent on new nuclear energy, 4.9 KWH will be produced by fossil fuels (75% of 6.5). If you buy more new nuclear energy, then you will buy more fossil fuel energy. It’s that simple.

   In other words, this deficit of 6.5 KWH is called “opportunity cost” in economics. It is what you did not get because you spent your money on the wrong option. One person’s loss is another person’s gain. Opportunity indeed — it’s about money – big money – for the greedy profiteers who build these polluting plants.

   It would be like buying groceries for triple the normal cost at an overpriced grocery store, but you get only one third the groceries. Why? Because you went to the wrong store. 

   It is a fool’s errand to pay triple the cost of your groceries. It’s a fool’s errand to buy nuclear at triple the cost of electricity from solar with battery backup.

   On top of that – never forget this – there is the nuclear waste that is toxic for millions of years. Add the much higher water use, the production of nuclear-weapon ingredients, uranium mining contamination of the Navajo Nation and elsewhere, the massive nuclear subsidies (your money), and more. The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

Let’s get all the groceries we need for a decent price, and all the electricity we need for a decent price.

P.S., the same goes for other expensive options, not just nuclear energy. The other false options include carbon capture and sequestration coal and gas (aka “clean” coal and gas), and even some “renewable” options like corn ethanol as a gasoline additive.

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