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Costs soar for new nuclear power plants

Bloomberg has a very long article on the troubles plaguing Finland’s Olkiluoto-3, “the first nuclear plant ordered in Western Europe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.”

The plant has been delayed two years thanks to “flawed welds for the reactor’s steel liner, unusable water-coolant pipes and suspect concrete in the foundation.” It is also more than 25 percent over its 3 billion-euro ($4 billion) budget. The article notes:

If Finland’s experience is any guide, the “nuclear renaissance’’ touted by the global atomic power industry as an economically viable alternative to coal and natural gas may not offer much progress from a generation ago, when schedule and budgetary overruns for new reactors cost investors billions of dollars.

The U.K.’s Sizewell-B plant, which took nearly 15 years from the application to build it to completion, opened in 1995 and cost about 2.5 billion pounds ($5.1 billion), up from a 1987 estimate of 1.7 billion pounds.

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Nuclear power’s costs balloon partly because plants must be built to more exacting safety standards and stand up to more stringent oversight, leading to lost time and extra expense.

Indeed, the oversight is needed because so many plants have safety-related construction problems:

Areva’s Finland EPR isn’t the only nuclear project to run into delays. The June commercial startup of China’s Tianwan project came more than two years later than planned. The Chinese regulator halted construction for almost a year on the first of two Russian-designed reactors while it examined welds in the steel liner for the reactor core, says Jacques Repussard, who follows global developments as head of France’s radiation protection agency.

In Taiwan, the Lungmen reactor project has fallen five years behind schedule. Difficulties include welds that failed inspections in 2002 and had to be redone, S.H. Liao, project manager for Taiwan Power Co., said in an e-mail. He also said the rising cost of steel, concrete and other commodities has gutted subcontractors’ profits, causing them to stop work to renegotiate fixed-price contracts.

Rushing headlong into massive construction of nuclear power plants would be unwise. While nuclear may be part of the solution to global warming, it is probably going to be only a limited part, especially in this country.