“It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter. … This is the forecast of an age of peace.”
That’s what Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, told the nation’s science writers in a speech in 1954. He was talking, of course, about nuclear energy. But his predictions proved to be wildly off-course, and by 1976, nuclear power had become so expensive and controversial that utilities stopped ordering reactors.
Still, memory – especially corporate and political memory – is short. Nukes are back in style again in some quarters (touted as a “green” energy source because they produce next to zero carbon emissions). In North Texas, Luminant (formerly TXU) wants to build two new units to join the existing ones at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant near Glen Rose.
But according to a variety of experts, from those at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to independent power plant analyst Craig Severance, constructing the new fission-powered plants may be just as outrageously expensive as the old ones proved to be a few decades ago. FERC puts the price tag at $7,500 per kilowatt; Severance is predicting an even higher figure of $10,500 per kilowatt, which translates to 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour for the consumer, he wrote. By comparison, the average Texan’s residential cost per kilowatt hour in 2008 was 13.44 cents, according to federal energy statistics.
“The cost … for new nuclear power plants puts them among the most expensive private projects ever undertaken in the history of the world,” Severance said in his most recent study on power plant costs. Indeed, even Luminant estimates the new reactors at Comanche Peak may run as high as $24 billion for two 1,700-megawatt “new generation” reactors.
Static wonders if the utility might want to consider the fate of Finland’s Olkiluoto “new generation” reactor, under construction since 2002 and the first nuke plant being built by a Western nation in more than a decade. The Finnish plant has been plagued by so many serious construction deficiencies that someone recently scratched the word “Titanic” on the lining of the containment wall, according to the January issue of Washington Monthly. Olkiluoto is three years behind schedule and already 50 percent over its original cost estimate
Sound familiar? Kinda like the history of Comanche Peak?
Static is no rocket (or nuclear) scientist. So maybe someone smarter can explain what is wrong with this picture.