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Key Findings

The high cost alone of new nuclear plants makes the case for cheaper renewable energy generation, backed up by more flexible technologies than nuclear, including hydro, gas, batteries, other forms of storage, wider interconnection and demandresponse.

SCANA spent a decade trying to build the Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina. Originally slated to cost US$10bn, the cost estimate blew out to US$25bn. In July 2017, SCANA decided to stop construction of the half-built reactors.

Progress in bringing small modular reactors (SMRs) to market has been exceptionally slow.

Executive Summary

Nuclear is one of the most expensive sources of new energy generation.

The construction of nuclear power plants has proven to be an ongoing financial disaster for the corporates involved and a massive waste of public monies, given the plants are all entirely reliant on government financial subsidies.

Governments have repeatedly failed to comprehend that nuclear construction timelines and cost estimates put forward by many corporates (with vested interests) have proven disastrously flawed and wrong.

New nuclear power plant construction provides a litany of financial disasters.

This submission details the massive wealth destruction evident in the U.S. at the Summer Nuclear project in South Carolina and the Vogtle nuclear facility in Georgia; Areva of France’s Olkiluoto 3 reactor in Finland; Toshiba of Japan’s crippling acquisition of Westinghouse Electric U.S.; and the U.K.’s government-sponsored 3.2GW Hinkley Point C which is a white elephant.

Nuclear plants are entirely reliant on long dated government financial and environmental subsidies.

Japan will take decades to overcome the environmental and financial costs of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Almost a decade later, the majority of nuclear facilities in Japan remain idle, forcing a continued reliance on massive fossil fuel imports only now being reduced again through a sustained US$20bn annual investment in renewable energy efficiency, including solar and offshore wind.

While traditionally strong pro-nuclear countries like Germany, France and America are increasingly moving away from a reliance on existing nuclear power, there is discussion building on the merits of delaying closure of such facilities in light of the critical imperative of delivering on Paris Agreement commitments, particularly with the rising frequency of ever more costly extreme weather disasters globally.

For all the hype in certain quarters, commercial deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) have to-date been as successful as hypothesized cold fusion – that is, not at all. Even assuming massive ongoing taxpayer subsidies, SMR proponents do not expect to make a commercial deployment at scale any time soon, if at all, and more likely in a decade from now if historic delays to proposed timetables are acknowledged.

IEEFA notes Australia does not have the technical skillsets required, so even if SMR technologies are eventually proven commercially viable overseas, Australia would be relying on both imported technologies and technicians.

IEEFA notes the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has put forward an excellent Integrated System Plan (ISP) that has been widely endorsed as providing a cost effective and technologically viable roadmap to solve the Australian energy system crisis over the coming decade, and which does not include nuclear energy.

Australia’s energy crisis has been brought about by self-serving export investment programs of the largely foreign gas cartel now controlling the Australian gas industry. The outcome has been a trebling of domestic gas prices in the last decade, even as global gas prices have hit a multi-decade low across the U.S., Europe and Asia. This has been compounded by a doubling of domestic thermal coal prices over the last decade, again driven by the move to export price parity. Both have had a crippling impact on Australia’s manufacturing industry and Australian residential consumers.

Australian and global investors are entirely ready and willing to invest $5-10bn annually in new renewable energy fully firmed with pumped hydro storage and batteries that can be delivered at less than A$70/MWh, 20% below current Australian wholesale electricity prices.

AEMO’s ISP for accelerated deployment of expanded interstate grid connectivity and demand response management technologies is ready to be implemented immediately. All of these technologies are commercially proven in the Australian context, can be deployed at scale now, and are entirely aligned with Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments to reduce the world’s carbon emissions.

As one of the world’s three largest fossil fuel exporters today, the financial, environmental and economic risks of global warming for the Australian economy are huge and growing. It is critical Australia invest in zero emissions industry and technology development so as to build our knowledge and capacity. As has been well documented by Australia’s chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, IEEFA sees it as an economic imperative that we seek export opportunities for products like green hydrogen as a replacement for fossil fuels given the potentially long term terminal outlook for Australia’s current reliance on $120bn per annum of fossil fuel exports.

IEEFA concludes that although nuclear options might open up in future decades, the Australian economy needs to agree on and implement a domestic energy plan now, relying on safe technologies already commercially proven, today.

Press release: IEEFA Australia: Nuclear is too expensive, takes too long to build, and is banned by law in Australia

Please view full report PDF for references and sources.

Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley, Director, Climate Energy Finance (CEF) has 30 years of financial market experience covering the Australian, Asian and global equity markets from both a buy and sell side perspective. Tim was formerly Director Energy Finance Studies, Australia/South Asia, IEEFA, and was a Managing Director, Head of Equity Research at Citigroup for 17 years until 2008.

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