Economic Competitiveness

Future nuclear power plant operation will have to compete with coal and gas-fired power plants, certainly for large base-load operation (Hudson et al., 1999). Comparative cost estimates from the last OECD study were given in Chapter 2. Within the countries that provided data, nuclear power (at the time of the survey) was found, in about half the countries, to be the cheapest option at a 5% discount rate. However, not surprisingly, at higher discount rates the nuclear option becomes less attractive.

The main factors enhancing the competitiveness of evolutionary water-cooled reactors are summarised in Table 7.3. Simplification of plant design to minimise the number of systems, valves, pumps, etc. consistent with maintaining the plant’s safety envelope is a key objective. These, together with improved man-machine interfaces help to minimise operator demand and reduce risk. In the US, there has been considerable progress towards better co-operation between plant vendors and regulatory bodies in respect of the licensing process. The aim has been to develop the ‘one-step licensing process’. An important objective in achieving low costs is to use a standardised approach. Thus design and engineering costs can be amortised over many units, licensing costs can be reduced, construction methods can be optimised and operator training can be made more efficient.

Table 7.3. Evolutionary plants: economic viability

Objective

Achieved by:

Reduction of capital cost:

Simplification

Lessons learned now are embodied in international

Regulatory stability

utility design requirements, described in Section 7.4

Standardisation

Improved construction

Multiple units

High plant availability

See Table 7.1

Hudson et al. (1999).

Construction duration can be kept to a minimum by adherence to the above principles. A significant fraction of the design should be completed before construction starts. The EPRI URD has introduced a quantitative criterion that 90% of design drawings must be 100% complete. Modularisation whereby plant components can be assembled in a factory helps to ensure fabrication takes place in a controlled environment, also with more automation and higher productivity.

Another way to improve competitiveness is to aim for multiple unit sites. This can be more efficient by taking advantage of better construction scheduling and the use of common administrative buildings and facilities.

Thus much can be done to improve competitiveness by reducing capital cost, which contributes to over one half of the total generation cost of a nuclear plant.

Two countries whose programmes are characterised by standardisation and technology self-reliance are France and Korea. In the case of France, large series orders have characterised the French programme. A 2% productivity gain is claimed for each unit after the second one on a given site. Similarly in Korea, for the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP), the total cost of the fifth and sixth units is 15% less than that for the first and second units. For the Korean Next Generation Reactor (KNGR), a 1300-MWe PWR, there is expected to be a greater than 17% capital cost reduction compared with the KSNP.

Changes in the economic landscape associated with de-regulation of the electricity market pose particular challenges to capital intensive technologies such as nuclear energy. Flexibility in generating strategies is likely to be a requirement, e. g. building smaller size plants with relatively low investment costs and shorter pay back times. This would be coupled with a requirement for simplified technologies and infrastructure.

Concerning external costs or benefits related to electricity production costs (but not directly carried by producers or consumers), there are issues associated with job creation, resource management, sustainability and health and environmental impacts of emissions. Of these, environmental impacts are potentially the most significant. A European Commission study showed that external costs for nuclear power are lower than those for coal and gas due to the greater environmental emissions of fossil fuel plants.

For the French plants, the costs associated with health impacts were on average, 0.022 million per kWh for the current 1300 MWe plant design compared with 0.026 mill per kWh for the 900 MWe plant. For normal operation, the differences between the two types of PWR were not significant.

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