Two years later, the people of Japan are bouncing back. The nuclear industry, not so much.
The United States has not (yet) built a new nuclear reactor since 1996 — new U.S. nuclear capacity has essentially flatlined. The U.S. still has far more nuclear power generation than any other country, though China, Russia, India, and Korea are actively constructing new reactors. A few U.S. building permits have trickled in since 2007, when an energy bill with incentives for new nuclear plants passed Congress. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that:
The first newly licensed nuclear-power plant to be built in the U.S. in decades, the Vogtle project in Georgia, has run into construction problems and may be falling years behind schedule, according to an engineering expert advising the state.
Nuclear power may continue to be a small wedge of our energy pie, but it is still not going to be more than a small wedge of the solution to human-caused climate change. Here’s why.
A new nuclear reactor will set you back a cool $10 billion or more. The Department of Energy is promoting a plan to build as many as 50 small modular reactors per year starting in 2040. Constructed in factories, these reactors would cost “only” $3-5 billion each.
But before they even get to building a new reactor, the nuclear industry has relied upon about ten times as much in federal subsidies compared to those reluctantly offered to renewable energy developers. This is important to keep in mind as the industry complains about wind energy subsidies lowering electricity prices.
One of the arguments the nuclear industry has made over the last several decades is that though it is expensive right now, once the industry learns how to construct plants again, the financial structure changes as costs drop. This appears to be the opposite of true: Nuclear power has a negative learning curve.
Average and min/max reactor construction costs per year of completion date for US and France versus cumulative capacity completed.
Nuclear power has always been very expensive, and will continue to be staggeringly so, especially if we are to build in safety and redundancy measures needed to avoid future Fukushimas.
Japan faces combined clean up and compensation costs at Fukushima estimated to reach $500 billion. The timeline for decommissioning the ruined plant is 30-40 years. There is a $6 million robot deployed to inspect the damaged hallways that got lost in the plant and has not been seen for 17 months. And the cost estimates are just guesswork: