A scanty press release has announced further delays in the construction of the Olkiluoto nuclear plant, in Finland. It should have been a flagship for the international launch of the French EPR reactor, which is the model Enel is supposed to install in Italy as well. Still, delays and extra-costs keep coming one after another, so much so that, if everything goes smoothly, the reactor will start to work in 2013 – four years later than expected.
Even the American scenario looks rather grim, despite the incentives offered by Bush and confirmed by Obama. The recently published Annual Energy Outlook for 2010 outlines the possible role of U.S. nuclear power in the next decades, assuming a sharp drop in the share of nuclear electricity. There would be a fall from today’s 20% to 13% in 2035, if the life of all reactor systems was prolonged to 60 years (see image below: Usa Nuclear plants who will reach an age of 60 years by 2035 – Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration / Annual Energy Outlook 2010).
The drop would be smaller, with a nuclear share of 17%, if the reactors were given more than sixty years of operation. Therefore, the few new reactors would under no circumstances manage to hold the current share.
In fact, such a prolongation of life is very unlikely for various reasons, including high operating costs. Just think that between 1974 and 1998 a good 14 nuclear reactors were closed earlier than expected due to their expensiveness. After all, the costs of adaptation to increase the life of a plant are enormous, so much so that for the time being French energy producer EDF gave up requesting the prolongation of life to the supervisory authority.
But there is another interesting information in EIA’s 2010 Outlook and it concerns the assessment of costs. According to the report, in 2020 producing electricity from a new nuclear plant would be the most expensive solution, followed by coal, wind and gas.
In 2035 the cost list would still see nuclear power on top, followed by coal, gas and wind, which would be the best technology choice by then (chart: Electricity production costs – c$/kWh – of new plants built in the USA in 2020 and 2035, expressed in $ 2008).
Gianni Silvestrini (chief scientist of QualEnergia)