Keywords: nuclear economics, nuclear prospects, nuclear energy, nuclear power, USA, nuclear competitiveness, United States, nuclear waste, plant design
Nuclear power economics and prospects in the USA
This paper addresses three questions concerning the economics of and prospects for nuclear power in the USA: (1) What is the long-term economic future of nuclear energy? (2) Is the inability to resolve the nuclear waste issue a factor that will limit new nuclear plant development? (3) Are the new designs for nuclear plants an advance over current designs? With respect to the first question, we find that the long-term economic future of nuclear energy is uncertain, at best. Despite recent interest in a 'nuclear renaissance', objective, rigorous studies have concluded that at present, new nuclear power plants are not economically competitive with coal or natural gas for electricity generation and will not be for the foreseeable future. With respect to the second question, we find that the inability to resolve the nuclear waste issue will likely limit new nuclear plant development. Nuclear waste disposal poses a serious, seemingly intractable problem for the future of nuclear power and the waste issue could be a showstopper for new nuclear plants. With respect to the third question, the new designs for nuclear plants are an advance over current designs, but only marginally. Thus, while some new nuclear power plants will likely be built in the USA over the next two decades, a major 'nuclear renaissance' is unlikely.