Large-scale nuclear included in Australian cost report

22 May 2024

Large-scale nuclear has been included for the first time in national science agency CSIRO's annual GenCost report, which has included small modular reactors (SMRs) since its inception in 2018.

(Image: CSIRO)

GenCost is described by CSIRO as a leading economic report for business leaders and decision-makers planning reliable and affordable energy solutions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Published in collaboration with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the report offers "accurate, policy and technology-neutral cost estimates for new electricity generation, storage, and hydrogen technologies, through to 2050."

The decision to include large-scale nuclear in GenCost 2023-24 was prompted by increased stakeholder interest in nuclear following updated costings for SMRs in the 2023-24 consultation draft, the organisation said.

The report based its cost estimates for large-scale nuclear on South Korea’s nuclear programme, as the best representation of a continuous building programme consistent with other technologies in the report, and adjusting for differences between South Korean and Australian deployment costs. It calculated an expected capital cost of a large-scale nuclear plant in 2023 of AUD9217 per kW (USD6215 per kW) - but added that this capital cost could only be achieved if Australia were to commit to a continuous building programme and only after an initial higher cost unit is constructed.

With no local development pipleline for large-scale nuclear, and taking into account additional legal, safety and security requirements, and stakeholder evidence, the report estimated a development timeline of at least 15 years, with deployment from 2040 at the earliest.

The report found the estimated electricity cost range for large-scale nuclear under current capital costs and a continuous building programme to be AUD163 per MWh to AUD264 per MWh, which it said is expected to fall by 2040 to AUD141 per MWh to AUD232 per MWh.

New largeā€scale nuclear costs are "significantly lower" than for SMRs - which have been significantly increased in the latest version of the report to reflect more recent data based on Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems' Carbon Free Power Project in the USA, which was cancelled in November 2023.

The report's comparison of levelised costs of electricity (Image: CSIRO)

The report found the levelised costs of electricity - the total unit costs a generator must recover over its economic life to meet all its costs including a return on investment - used to summarise the relative competitiveness of different generation options were lowest for variable renewables (solar photovoltaic and wind). "If we exclude high emission generation options, the next most competitive generation technologies are solar thermal, gas with carbon capture and storage, large-scale nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage," it noted.

CSIRO Chief Energy Economist Paul Graham, lead author of the report, said GenCost is "flexible to adjusting assumptions, scope and methodology" in response to feedback received during the formal consultation period and throughout the year. “For example, our approach to the inclusion of large-scale nuclear technology provides a logical, transparent and policy-neutral method of costing a potential deployment scenario in Australia," he said.

GenCost 2023-24 can be downloaded here.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News