Nuclear costs too big for small utilities


Bill Radke: Rising oil prices go up, it can boost investment in other types of energy, including nuclear. But besides environmental concerns, the cost of nuclear energy is a problem. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton tells us about a company trying to make nuclear reactors smaller and cheaper.

Sam Eaton: If you're in the market for a nuclear reactor these days, you're pretty much stuck with a thousand megawatt model that'll run you about $10 billion. That's because building bigger typically brings the cost per watt down.

But Cristofer Mowry with the nuclear energy company Babcock and Wilcox says the high price has kept all but the largest utilities out of the market.

Cristofer Mowry: You're basically betting the company when you make that type of investment. So we're creating an option here that is affordable by a broader nuclear, utility and industrial base.

The key here is that Mowry's reactors are modular. Utilities can start small, then plug in additional modules as demand rises. Each unit is a self-contained reactor, like those used on nuclear submarines.

Harvard energy policy expert Matthew Bunn says the idea holds promise, but:

Matthew Bunn: The history of the nuclear age is littered with promising reactor projects that didn't pan out.

And Bunn says until this new technology is officially approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it's too early to say whether this time will be any different.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.


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