The cost of nuclear

Building reactors in South Korea is far cheaper than building in the U.S., but why?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Nuclear construction costs in the U.S. are some of the highest in the world. Recent estimates put it at more than $6,000 per kilowatt, as measured by overnight capital cost. On the other hand, South Korea has some of the lowest costs in the world. Estimated overnight capital costs for reactors in South Korea are closer to $2,200 per kilowatt. And then there are countries such as China, France and the United Arab Emirates that fall between those extremes.

So why is there such a wide range in costs? 

In this episode, Shayle talks to Jessica Lovering, co-founder and executive director of the Good Energy Collective, a nonprofit that researches and promotes nuclear power policies. A former director of energy at The Breakthrough Institute, she also authored a comprehensive study of nuclear construction costs in 2016

Shayle and Jessica talk through topics including:

  • What goes into the cost of construction and South Korea’s secret sauce for low-cost nuclear reactors.

  • Why Jessica thinks we should manufacture and regulate reactors like large aircraft.

  • How to drive down costs with modularity, small reactors, passive safety features and more construction.

  • Why changing regulations might be necessary, but it’s not a silver bullet.

  • Why the pro- and anti-nuclear camps talk past each other — and why Jessica says her views fall somewhere in between.

Recommended resources:

  • Energy Policy: Historical construction costs of global nuclear power reactors

  • National Academy of Engineering: Chasing cheap nuclear: Economic trade-offs for small modular reactors

  • Joule: Evaluating the role of unit size in learning-by-doing of energy technologies

  • Science: Granular technologies to accelerate decarbonization

  • Canary: Future of small reactors at stake as NuScale deal flops

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Catalyst is a co-production of Latitude Media and Canary Media.

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