Japan, France consider nuclear power costs

08 November 2011

The cost of generating electricity with nuclear power plants could rise by as much as ¥1.60 ($0.02) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) if the risk of a serious accident is factored in, according to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC). Meanwhile, a French utility group has warned that cutting France's dependency on nuclear energy would be an expensive option.


According to a panel set up by JAEC in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a severe accident at a nuclear plant would add between ¥0.006 (0.001 US cent) and ¥1.60 ($0.02) per kWh to the cost of nuclear power generation in the country. These costs - based on a 1200 MWe reactor - include evacuation, compensation and decommissioning of reactors. However, they do not include the costs of decontaminating land and the long term storage of radioactive debris.


The panel said that, should a serious nuclear accident occur at a Japanese nuclear power plant at its current frequency, once in every 500 reactor-years, the "accident risk cost" would be between ¥1.20 ($0.01 US cent) and ¥1.60 ($0.02) per kWh. However, if that frequency is taken as once in every 100,000 reactors-years - corresponding to International Atomic Energy Agency safety guidelines - the cost would be ¥0.006  to ¥0.008 per kWh.


In light of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the panel revised its estimates for the amount of damage from a nuclear accident - including costs for decommissioning reactors - to some ¥5 trillion ($64 billion) from an earlier projection of ¥3.9 trillion ($50 billion). Above this level of damage, JAEC said that for every subsequent ¥1 trillion increase in damage, the cost of nuclear generation would rise by an additional ¥0.001 to ¥0.32 per kWh.


Cost estimates made in 2004 by a Japanese government sub-committee put the cost of nuclear generation at ¥5.30 ($0.07) per kWh, by far the cheapest means of generating electricity, with oil at ¥10.70 ($0.14), coal at ¥5.70 ($0.07), gas at ¥6.20 ($0.08) and hydro at ¥11.90 ($0.16). That estimate did not factor in the risk of a serious accident or the costs of recycling used nuclear fuel.


However, the JAEC panel’s report concludes that, even incorporating the costs associated with an accident, nuclear power generation costs between ¥6 and ¥7 (8 to 9 cents) per kWh. This would still make nuclear cheaper than other sources of energy, especially if the external costs (those related to health and environmental impacts) of other sources are taken into consideration.


The panel noted, "If the risk cost of a nuclear accident is included in calculations of atomic power generation costs, it is necessary to make a comparison in the same manner after estimating the accident costs of other power sources."


The panel's cost estimates are likely to be considered by the Japanese government in drafting a new energy policy.


French phase-out costs


Meanwhile, reducing France's dependency on nuclear energy would be costly, raise energy prices and increase carbon emissions, according to Union Francaise de l’Electricite (UFE), the French professional association for the electricity industry.


The Socialist Party's presidential candidate, Francois Hollande, has proposed reducing nuclear's share of the country's energy mix to about 50% by 2025, down from the current level of almost 75%.


UFE has released a study in which it considers three scenarios on France's nuclear energy use to 2030: where dependence on nuclear energy is maintained at 70%; where it is reduced to 50%; and where nuclear energy dependency is cut to just 20%.


According to the study, the cost of electricity to consumers would increase 30% by 2030 under the 70% scenario, under which all of France's 58 reactors remain in operation and two new EPR units are commissioned. Some €322 billion ($444 billion) in investments would be needed under this scenario, the report said.


Under the scenario to cut nuclear's share of France's energy mix to 50%, as proposed by Hollande, 26 of the country's reactors would shut by 2030. This would require investments of some €382 billion ($527 billion) in order to meet projected electricity demand.


In order to reduce France's dependency on nuclear to 20% by 2030, all of its reactors would be shut down after 40 years of operation. This would leave just 12 units in operation in 2030. However, this option would require some 40 thermal power plants to be built, bringing the cost of this scenario to €434 billion ($600 billion).


The study suggests, "The fundamental political question is whether it is more urgent to move away from nuclear or reduce carbon emissions." However, it adds, "It's not possible to maintain economic competitiveness and lower emissions without a high level of nuclear in the energy mix."


"We must not entertain the illusion that we can get out of nuclear by relying on energy savings and renewables," UFE president Robert Durdilly was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News