The Current Energy Situation

This page is somewhat peripheral to the main theme of these pages - the long term sustainability of progress. However, the page on nuclear energy has generated a lot of email with questions, and I have been able to find answers to some of them. However, I cannot undertake to keep this page completely up-to-date as the energy situation changes.

1993 Costs of electricity from various sources.

The cost of generating electricity has three components - the capital cost of the facility (how much it took to build and finance the plant), the operating and maintenance cost of the facility, and the cost of the fuel itself.

Capital cost figures because are highly dependent upon each electric generating station and the manner in which it was financed and constructed. Generally, nuclear plants have the highest capital costs while natural gas turbines have the lowest. The capital cost is commonly expressed as the cash required per kilowatt of installed capacity. Recently completed nuclear plants have anomalously high capital costs, ranging up to $3000 to $5000/kw. The nuclear industry has a goal to be able to build the new generation of plants at around $2000 to $3000/kw, which can be done with sufficient discipline on the part of many parties.

For 1993, the following figures are from "U.S. Steam-Electric Plants: Five-Year Production Costs 1989-1993" which was published by the Utility Data Institute of Washington, DC. They are for nuclear, coal oil and natural gas fuelled plants and are "bus-bar costs"; that is, the cost at the power plant and they do not account for transmission and distribution to the ultimate customers.

1993 Costs of Electricity at Power Plant
Fuel Operating Maintenance Total
Coal 1.531 .172 .262 1.967
Gas 2.833 .236 .332 3.402
Oil 2.609 .347 .451 3.408
Nuclear .602 .962 .587 2.152

The units on the above figures are cents per kwh of generated electricity.

Nuclear fuel costs include a charge of $1/MW-hr to cover high-level waste disposal. Presently a fund of $11 billion has been accumulated, (roughly one-third of this amount being from the nuclear weapons program).

It would be interesting to have the current generating costs for Canada, France and Japan, which have been the most active and successful countries in nuclear power. If anyone will supply some of that information, I'll include it or (even better) link to it.

I owe thanks to B. Alan Guthrie of Westinghouse for this material. He emphasizes that any opinions are his own.

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Send comments to I sometimes make changes suggested in them. - John McCarthy

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