Feature

THE TRUE COSTS OF NUCLEAR AND RENEWABLES

By Mathijs Beckers

(The following article was published in redacted form in the Dutch Newspaper Algemeen Dagblad—AD—on December 6th, 2018.  The article was entitled, in Dutch, “Nuclear Energy should be part of Dutch Climate Talks”.)

Following statements made by VVD-Leader Klaas Dijkhoff, nuclear energy has become subject of public discourse in the Netherlands. Nieuwsuur (A Dutch informative program on National Television) and Satirist Arjen Lubach were the first to correctly inform the Dutch people about nuclear energy. Their message: “We won’t make it without nuclear energy.” With we, they meant “Humanity.”

Several Dutch political leaders want to make you believe that the Netherlands can change the tide in the climate change problem without having to build new nuclear reactors. This is contrary to the findings of the IPCC and several other organizations who sound the alarm bell on Climate Change. The logic is simple. If it is impossible to mitigate the damage from our carbon emissions without nuclear energy, then we, as a technologically-advanced and relatively rich country, should take responsibility and take the nuclear path. We can’t expect others to do it.

At the so-called Climate Tables—gatherings of companies, NGOs and government agencies—policy suggestions were made which were meant to help The Netherlands reduce carbon emissions by 95% by 2050. Nuclear Energy was a taboo. Too expensive, according to some.

The Climate Tables suggest generating 84 TWh of so-called Green Electricity, mainly using wind and solar energy.

People are fooled into believing that renewable energy is cheap, even though this notion is based on incomplete information. Initial costs are considered in one chunk, and are never distributed over the lifespan of the technology one wishes to build. For wind and solar energy, this technical lifespan is between 20 and 25 years; Nuclear energy on the other hand, has a technical lifespan of 60 to 80 years.

Below you see two tables, one with renewable energy sources and one with nuclear energy sources.

(including interest – Figures normalized to Euro 30-11-2018 — inflation has been taken into account)

Nuclear energy becomes the cheapest option once we put the construction costs in perspective. Even if you consider the most expensive nuclear power station in Europe, Hinkley Point C, and compare it with Wind and Solar power plants. We omit the higher operational costs for the nuclear power plant as they are an economic benefit as well. These costs are recycled back into the economy through wages and taxes. On the renewable side, higher system costs are almost always omitted. Consider for instance, the cost of transmission lines, substations, storage, etc.

Nuclear power station construction costs will only escalate if you begin such a project unprepared. We’ve seen this in Great Britain. But we could build a cheap APR1400 if we would solicit the expertise of the South Koreans. Hinkley Point C-like problems could be avoided even if the Dutch Government would choose to build a French EPR because there’s enough know-how present in England, France, Finland and China to complete such a project within a timeframe of seven years. It’s a matter of good preparation and working together with the right partners. We are being fooled into believing that nuclear energy is expensive based on first-of-a-kind projects. Omitted are the ubiquitous reactor technologies that can be built at a lower price because of years of experience and learning.

It is paramount to correctly inform the Dutch people and their representatives. Choosing renewables exclusively would be a great mistake because the Netherlands would be shirking its responsibility. We can contribute to making nuclear technologies more affordable and thus help reduce carbon emissions and air pollution – not just for the Netherlands, but for the rest of the world. After all, Climate Change does not have borders.

Mathijs Beckers is an author and vlogger with a degree in Information Technology. He wrote Climate Zero Hour, The Non-Solutions Project, Science a la Carte and Highway to Dystopia; and runs the Nuclear Humanist YouTube channel. He lives in Geleen, The Netherlands.

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