Energy Options for the Southwest, Part I: Nuclear and Coal Power

This book, by Russell J. Lowes (Primary Author), Kevin Dahl, Paul Lowes and Jerry Lawson, all of Power Plant Analysts, was published in 1979 and projected the costs of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station compared to the coal alternative at the time.

The construction cost projection was perhaps the most accurate projection in U.S. history, with a plant construction cost that fell within 4% of the Power Plant Analysts projection. The utility estimate, by comparison, was overrun by over 110%.

“Energy Options” was used in the early 1980s as the main document in a citizens’ initiative in the municipal utility of Redding, California to pull out of the contract with Palo Verde Units 4 & 5. The Redding, CA vote ushered the way for other California cities to withdraw from their contracts for Palo Verde electricity. This reduction in demand caused cancellation of these two reactors.

To see the full book in pdf format, click Download below.

Hansen is Wrong about Nuclear Power

Nuclear is a drain on our ability to deal with climate solutions, energy needs.

Dr. James Hansen is dead wrong. He is wrong about nuclear energy being able to make a contribution to solving global warming. He has little or no grasp of the economics of nuclear energy, and that leads him to mistakenly support this doomed option.

Let’s just forget for a moment a key negative aspect of nuclear energy. Let’s assume that there is no greenhouse gas from the nuclear fuel cycle, even though the two lifecycle meta-studies done so far both peg the number at approximately sixty-five grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, more than six times that of wind energy.

Let’s focus instead on costs of new reactors in the U.S., which make them infeasible to solve energy and global warming problems. The newer round of reactors Dr. Hansen would like to see are very similar to the last group of reactors finished in the 1980s in at least one aspect – economics. These reactors require giant nuclear steam supply systems, oversized condensers, large plant footprints, huge reactor containment buildings and an insane level of complexity compared to the other options – and even more complexity and construction material than the last round of reactors.

There have been recent proposals for smaller reactors. The U.S. nuclear program started out small and chose to go with larger reactors to reduce cost per kilowatt. The small reactors would just spread out the radioactive waste, relative cost and complexity issues over a wider ground.

Simply put, the nation, and the planet, can neither gain traction against global warming nor solve its energy problems practically and cost effectively, with nuclear energy. The nation and the world would in fact be set back by the extreme additional cost, compared to a better planned energy strategy. That alternative strategy includes solar, wind, energy efficiency, storage and energy management technologies, plus a rapid phase-down of fossil and nuclear energy.

Let’s just forget that an accident like the one at Fukushima can endanger an entire nation’s nuclear energy program. This is where Japan switched from nuclear to mandated energy cut-backs and massive increases in fossil energy use. It is five years later and things still are not back to normal. However, the Japanese have amplified their renewable energy program.

The last significant round of U.S. nuclear construction was completed in 1987. The average reactor was completed for around 3,100 dollars per kilowatt of capacity. See Brice Smith, Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, found at

That comes to 6,211 dollars per kilowatt of capacity, in 2015 dollars. See

***Editor’s note: Dr. James Hansen, the renowned climate change scientist, has said that nuclear power is essential to combat climate change. A number of environmentalists disagree including Lowes and Mainland.***

“This lower-cost clean energy blend would not

only produce less greenhouse gas, but also save

$92 billion/year.” –Russell Lowes


Let’s just forget about other issues like national security, and the likelihood that centralized nuclear plants remain vulnerable not only to terrorism and foreign attack but also natural disasters, accidents and operator error. Let’s ignore the Fukushima disaster as well as the damage that some U.S. nukes have already shown in tornados and hurricanes, plus the creeping onset of sea-level rise and storm surges. Let’s also put aside the problem of disposing of long-lived radioactive waste, which is enormously expensive, technologically intractable and probably insoluble.

We’ll just continue on with what 6,211 dollars per kW would cost for one reactor. If we ran this out from this year to 2023, at four percent inflation, the cost per kW would equal 8,173 dollars.

One of us, Russell Lowes, has been accurately projecting nuclear costs since the 1970s (only four percent off on Palo Verde reactors projected in 1978 for 1986 completion). He has come up with twenty-seven reactor construction cost factors, perhaps the most varied list of factors compiled for nuclear construction costs.

The estimate is that the reactors of the early 2020s will cost about twenty percent more in real dollars than the reactors finished in the last big wave of the mid-late 1980s. This considers factors that would make reactors cheaper than in the inflation-adjusted cost of the past, like labor cost declines in America. And it also takes into consideration factors that would increase the costs, like material cost increases, and increases in plant robustness requiring more cement, copper, steel, etc.

If an average U.S. reactor in the future is 1,350 megawatts of capacity, this average nuclear reactor would cost 9,808 dollars per kW in 2023. That’s 13.2 billion dollars per reactor.


“When you put a dollar into nuclear, that dollar

would cause only four kWh to be delivered to

ratepayers, versus seven for wind.” –Edward Mainland


Assume a higher than average thirty-year capitalization cost, say fourteen percent instead of twelve percent for a typical large fossil plant, due to increased risk (per the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency). The cost per kilowatt-hour just for construction, for an eighty-five percent plant output average, would be 13.8 cents per kWh over forty years.

This would be upped by operation and maintenance costs. See Keystone Report, “Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding,” page 42. Add 4.3 cents per kWh for operations and maintenance, plus transmission and distribution of say 7 cents, to deliver the average cost of nuclear energy to 25.1 cents per kWh.

This compares to solar power purchase agreements of 7.5 cents for production, 13.5 cents delivered, with prices continuing to improve. It compares with wind at 3.5 cents, 10.5 cents delivered, and energy efficiency at 3.5 cents. It compares to rooftop solar at about 12 cents delivered with net metering, including on-site transmission and distribution.

Let’s put this on a larger scale. The U.S. spends about one trillion dollars on all energy each year. If it were to build, say, a hundred nuclear reactors, the cost would be about 1.325 trillion dollars for construction. With the interest, operation and maintenance, etc., this would cost ratepayers in the U.S. about 173 billion dollars per year.

This 173 billion dollars is almost half our current annual electricity outlay in the U.S. The equivalent energy produced from solar and wind, and saved from energy efficiency improvements, per kWh, is shown in Table 1.

The 11.8 cent average cost for energy received and saved in the Table 1 energy mix would translate to 81 billion dollars per year, compared to the nuclear option of a hundred plants at 173 billion dollars per year. By the way, this lower-cost clean energy blend would not only produce less greenhouse gas, but also would save 92 billion dollars per year.

We have only a limited amount of dollars to put into energy. When you put a dollar into nukes, you get about four kWh. When you put that dollar into centralized solar, you get about seven kWh. Rooftop solar gets you about eight kWh. Wind delivers about nine kWh. Energy efficiency delivers twenty-nine kWh saved for every dollar spent.

The U.S. has limited capital resources for energy. They shouldn’t be wasted. When you put a dollar into nuclear energy, instead of putting the same dollar into one of the cheaper options, for example wind energy, that dollar would cause only four kWh to be delivered to ratepayers, versus seven for wind. This creates a deficit of three kWh, that now needs to be recovered from this mismanaged dollar.

As Amory Lovins said, “If you buy more nuclear plants you’re going to get about two to ten times less climate solution per dollar and you’ll get it about 20 times slower than if you buy instead the cheaper faster stuff.”

Nuclear energy is plainly a boondoggle, one that is made even more expensive when you consider its subsidy costs, compared to the other options covered here. It would be one thing for James Hansen and others to consider nuclear energy if it gave you extra value, compared to the other options. Instead, it is a financial drain on our ability to deal with climate solutions and energy needs. It is time to nuke the nuclear option.

Russell Lowes is the primary author of the book, “Energy Options for the Southwest, Nuclear and Coal Power.” This was used by citizens creating initiatives at California electric municipalities to cancel Units 4 and 5 at the Palo Verde nuclear plant. Lowes projected a cost of $6.1 billion for the nuclear plant, west of Phoenix, compared to the industry projection of $2.8 billion. The plant came within four percent, at $5.9 billion, perhaps the most accurate projection for a nuclear plant in the U.S. Lowes testified before the Arizona Corporation Commission, as an expert witness on the economics of power plants. Today he heads, and is the Energy Subcommittee Chairman for the Southern Arizona Sierra Club Rincon Group.

Edward Mainland is co-founder of Sustainable Novato and currently Secretary of Sustainable Marin, both volunteer groups in Marin County, California that promote long-term community sustainability and local self-reliance. He has been Senior Conservation Fellow at the International Program at national Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco, and co-chair of California State Sierra Club’s Energy-Climate Committee.

Printed with permission of Public Utilities Fortnightly. See more at:


Fact Sheet on the SunZia Power Transmission Line and Who to Write to Stop this Project

SunZia Fact Sheet and Contact List – Who to Write to Stop this Project

Below are some facts about the SunZia proposal and who you can write to help stop this environmentally destructive project. This is a partner article to another at:   However, this factsheet is from the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

1)  This is a transmission project, and does not involve approval of any renewable energy projects. No one knows exactly how much renewable energy generation will result from building the proposed transmission lines and support towers.

2)  A 2008 economic feasibility study has established that transmitting the proportion of renewable energy claimed (81 to 94%) in the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is very unlikely to occur, because this mix would not be economically competitive in the absence of a CO2 emissions tax.  The same study concluded that under current market conditions, the most likely energy mix to result in actual power purchase agreements would consist mostly of fossil fueled energy. The BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement never acknowledged these findings, despite repeated submission of this third party study by local stakeholder groups.  This violates federal regulations regarding the use of the best available data in the EIS.

3)  The owners of the SunZia project also own a very large planned and permitted natural gas fired generation plant in southeastern Arizona that is located along their proposed transmission lines. The BLM never acknowledged the relationship between the owner’s interests in the two proposed projects, despite the disclosure of this relationship by the owners to another federal agency (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).  This violates federal regulations regarding the use of the best available data in the EIS.

4)  The SunZia project would open up a new industrial scale infrastructure corridor on  40% of its proposed route, most importantly through environmentally sensitive lands along the Rio Grande and San Pedro Rivers. On one route segment alternative, over 80% of the proposed path would be through previously undisturbed lands.

5)  Other proposed transmission projects, such as the Southline Project, would co-locate with existing infrastructure and disturbed lands to a much higher degree than the proposed SunZia project. SunZia is a project that would cause significant new impacts to our dwindling wildlands, and would not live up to its purported renewable energy benefits.


To email your Representatives regarding these points, especially regarding the use of best available data in the EIS (points 2 and 3):

Rep. Martha McSally:

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick:

Rep. Raul Grijalva:


To email the head of the Bureau of Land Management:

Principal Deputy Director: Neil Kornze:


To send a message to the President’s staff:


To send an email to the Albuquerque Journal:

Sharon Hendrix / Journal Editorial Writer/ / 505-823-3846

Dan Herrera / Editorial Page Editor/ / 505-823-3810


To send an email to the Tucson Weekly:

Mari Herreras/ Editor/


To send an email to the Arizona Daily Star:

John McCain’s 45/100 Whim for Nuclear Power

By Russell Lowes, June 22, 2008

Senator McCain announced a new prescription for energy for America in a recent speech. He is now calling for 45 nuclear reactors to be completed by 2030 and an additional 55 reactors to be completed thereafter.(1) He had been promoting nuclear energy as a solution to global warming for years. But now. . .

So much for nukes being the solution for global warming. With McCain's 45/100 nukes, even if we had  100 nukes tomorrow and even IF THEY DID reduce carbon emissions, 100 nukes would not be enough to play a significant role.

However, John McCain probably wants to get his foot in the door and push for many more, eventually. The infamous 2003 MIT study postulated 1000 nukes.(2) Some organizations and individuals since then have postulated many more.

The reason that 100 nukes will amount to about a drop in a bucket is this. The United States generates about 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.(3) Even if that electrical production was used to displace coal, and CO2 production of the twenty steps of the nuclear energy cycle was not counted, then it would save coal plants from putting about 400 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. 400 million is only 7% of 6 billion U.S. CO2 emissions.

However, much of this nuclear capacity would displace solar, energy efficiency technologies, natural gas, etc. These technologies produce far less CO2 than coal, so the displacement would be much lower.

It is important to remember that nuclear energy has twenty steps of CO2 production, from mining to waste management. It produces a huge amount of CO2.

Let’s focus on the costs of McCain's 45/100 Rx.

In the early part of this decade, nuclear reactors were projected by the industry to cost $1500 to 2000 per kilowatt of capacity. Then about two years ago, a utility put the cost at $2600. Then estimates started really climbing. Over the last two years, estimates have increased all the way to $10,000 per kilowatt, 5-7-fold what the projection was just a few years ago.

With these new cost estimates flying out of the utilities' planning staffs, the 100 reactors would cost about $9-10 billion each if they averaged 1000 megawatts each. Most reactor designs these days are larger, though, ranging from 1100 to 1600 megawatts. So let's say the average size changes from the current 1000 to the future 1350 MW. At the most recent utility estimate of $10,000 per kilowatt, 100 reactors would total $1.35 trillion.

If these plants were all finished in the same year, to make it simple, and the payback (levelized fixed charge rate) was 15% per year, the annual payback would average $202.5 billion per year. If we shared that expense over 350 million U.S. citizens over 30 years, that would be $579 per person per year for each of those 30 years.

To put this into another perspective, the total energy bill for our country is about $900 billion per year. That is for gas for our cars, electricity, all manufacturing, commercial and residential consumption for heating, cooling, everything. Just for this measly 100 reactors, with a boost from 19% of energy to probably 25% or so (considering we won't have any money left to spend on energy efficiency or renewables, so energy growth will remain high), there will simply not be enough benefit to outweigh the costs.

All this nuclear plant capacity for $579 per citizen of the U.S. for 30 years, and we haven't even put on the costs of fuel, operation and maintenance, waste storage, environmental remediation from terrorist or other environmental breaches!

–Russell Lowes

1) Public Record, at
2) Energy Information Administration at
3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Future of Nuclear Power, 2003.


About SEA Safe Energy Analyst

The Safe Energy Analyst is about Safe Energy:

  • Safe economically for the investment community and general public in the short run,
  • Safe economically for the investment community and general public in the long run,
  • Safe environmentally. . .
    • in terms of global warming,
    • in terms of toxic discharges,
    • in terms of clean water,
    • in terms of clean air,
    • in terms of radiological exposure,
    • in terms of employment to produce or save the energy,
    • in terms of wise resource management,
  • Safe for our civil liberties,
  • Safe for keeping government smaller, and out of the way of our lives,
  • Safe for our way of life,
  • Safe for future generations and leaving the planet in as positive a place as when we began our lives,
  • Safe for our energy security, tending to set up systems that  discourage wars, rather than promote them.

The Safe Energy Analyst will also point out the battle for funding that is going on between the different technologies. While there are, of course, no absolutes in concepts of safe investment, safe levels of environmental impact and societal safeties, there are relative comparisons, sometimes stark comparisons as in the case of nuclear versus solar, or so-called “clean coal” versus energy efficiency. This website and the blogs that ensue will promote clarity on these issues.Get map_of_us_currentplanned_nukes_from_nrc.pdf


Contact Information:
Russell J. Lowes


Site Founded by: Russell J. Lowes

Bio for R. Lowes: Russell lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife
Lhasha, and has lived in Arizona for most of his life. He has studied
energy issues since 1976, wilderness issues since 1973, and works in
accounting and financial management. He is the primary author of a book
on the Palo Verde Nuclear plant, the largest nuclear plant in the
nation, thirty-five miles west of Phoenix. This book, Energy Options for the Southwest, Part 1, Coal and Nuclear Power, was used in municipal initiatives to stop municipal investment in Units 4 and 5 at Palo Verde, which were subsequently canceled. He has written  articles
on nuclear power and alternatives. Russell hikes weekly throughout
Arizona with friends, has interests in environmental and energy issues,
and enjoys visiting and visits from friends and family.