Study Shows High U.S. Nuclear Power Costs Are Due to Excessive Regulations

Published April 26, 2016


The high and continually rising costs associated with building nuclear power plants in the United States were not inevitable, say the authors of a new study in Energy Policy.

The authors say the high costs were largely the result of government regulations.

The study compared construction costs of plants built in Canada, France, India, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and West Germany over the past 50 years. The study’s authors determined other countries build nuclear reactors cheaper than companies in the United States. Construction costs in some countries even declined over the examined period. 

Standardized Design Is Key

Jessica Lovering, director of Energy at The Breakthrough Institute and one of the authors of the report, says one of the things other countries do differently than the United States is they use a standardized design, which is important because producing large numbers of identical units is cheaper than producing one-off nuclear plants, each with individualized designs.

“The French fleet of 58 reactors falls into four major designs, whereas the U.S. fleet of 100 reactors falls into 50-plus designs,” Lovering said. “Regulatory designs spurred by the Three-Mile Island accident caused delays and cost overruns, as new safety features were retrofitted into under-construction plants. [The] lack of standard designs exacerbated this problem; every plant had to meet the new safety regulations in a different way, as they were all different designs.”

Many Reactors Built at Each Site

The study’s authors say other countries also build multiple reactors at a single site, spreading the overhead costs, such as costs for a control room, security, transmission, and mergency planning, across multiple power-generating units.

“Many sites in the United States only have one reactor,” Lovering said. “By contrast, Korea and China are building six to eight at each site.

“Building the same reactor [repeatedly], in close pairs or quadruplets, also helps to keep costs down, as the workforce gains experience with the same design and benefits from using the same equipment.”

The United States is moving towards standardized reactor designs, but it is still behind the curve. While four Westinghouse standardized AP1000 reactors are under construction at two sites—with two units each being built in Georgia and South Carolina—South Korea and France have each built dozens of standardized reactors.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.

Internet Info

Jessica R. Lovering, et al., “Historical Construction Costs of Global Nuclear Power Reactors,” Energy Policy, January 13, 2016: