1 July 2012

Nuclear safety and affordable reactors: Can we have both?

Mark Cooper

Cooper is a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the ...

The cost of building new nuclear reactors receives a great deal of attention in market economies, including the United States, Japan, and Germany. But in a post-Fukushima era of additional safety regulations, the economics of keeping a fleet of aging reactors online may command just as much attention. The author reviews the experience of the US nuclear reactor fleet in light of the post-Fukushima scrutiny of nuclear safety and describes the factors that have influenced, and will likely influence, future decisions about whether to own and operate nuclear reactors. He shows that safety has been the driver of nuclear costs and that the inability of the industry to deliver safe reactors at affordable costs is an endemic, long-standing problem. Nuclear power, he writes, is a complex technology based on a catastrophically dangerous resource that is vulnerable to natural events and human frailties, which suggests that nuclear safety and affordable reactors are currently incompatible and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.