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Models that run decarbonization scenarios to meet mid-century goals for mitigating climate change almost always include a significant role for nuclear energy. The source’s projected level of deployment, however, remains uncertain, largely due to a wide range of estimated costs for new builds. Other factors that make it hard to gauge nuclear’s portion of the future energy mix include whether policies advancing low-carbon technologies will be enacted, the degree of public support for transmission siting and available low-carbon energy sources, whether new reactor technologies and fuels will change the investment equation, and how quickly “competitor” sources such as carbon capture and sequestration, renewables, and storage reduce costs.
This report, part of ongoing research into nuclear energy at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA, examines the economics of new nuclear facilities for electricity generation—whether building them out makes sense financially as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as power demand grows across the globe. Insights into costs can be gleaned by reviewing the history of construction delays and cost overruns in the United States, international experiences that have fared better and worse, and studies that model a transitioning energy system. Studies reviewed in this report estimate new US reactor costs generally ranging from $3,000/kilowatt (kW) to $6,200/kW based on a variety of reactor designs and cost reduction curves assumed for subsequent years. Internationally, new reactor costs vary significantly by country, depending in part upon factors such as the cost of labor and whether projects involve multiple reactor builds (with attendant efficiencies in manufacturing and construction).
Additional findings from this report include the following:
In 2022, European Union nuclear and hydro generation dropped by 118 terawatt-hours (TWh) and 71 TWh, respectively, preventing gas-fired generation from dropping and contributing to the gas crisis....
Nuclear is critical to achieving US climate goals, but its potential is hindered by challenges within the nuclear licensing process.
Poland’s nascent nuclear energy program is advancing: in late September, Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ), the utility tasked with constructing the country’s first nuclear plant by the Polish Ministry...