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Guide to UK nuclear power
Graph shows comparison between costs of nuclear, gas and wind power, breaking figures down into cost categories such as capital expenditure, fuel costs, C02 emissions and maintenance.

Cost

Estimates of the cost of nuclear power vary considerably. Several organisations have tried to put a price on a kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated by nuclear power, taking into account the cost of building, running and decommissioning the power stations.

The Royal Academy of Engineers' figures shown above are some of the most optimistic, and are similar to estimates quoted by the nuclear industry for a new generation of reactors.

A 2002 UK government report said power from Sizewell B, the most recently-built reactor, cost 6p/kWH.

It estimated that by 2020 the cost would have dropped to 3-4p/kWh - although the anti-nuclear New Economics Foundation has said such costs are dramatically underestimated and could mount to twice as much.

British Energy estimates that the overall cost of operating its power stations in the six months from April to September 2007 was 2.6p/KWH.

Behind these variations lie a series of costs which are difficult to quantify. Nuclear construction costs have a history of spiralling over budget and past decommissioning bills have been large - although proponents say better technology will bring financial improvements in both areas.

Insurance and the cost of potential accidents are complicated concerns to factor in, as is long-term disposal of waste, which is difficult to budget for when no definite solution has yet been established.

As the examples of current and recent developments on the right show, a nuclear power station needs a sizeable capital outlay but produces electricity on a large scale, in comparison to the smaller costs and output of a wind farm.

But there are many other costs to take into consideration as well as construction.

What is certain is that the capital costs, including decommissioning, are a much larger proportion of the total than for other technologies, and that fuel costs are a relatively small fraction.

This means that while initial costs are high, the cost of nuclear energy does not fluctuate with uranium prices in the way that electricity from fossil fuels does as gas, oil or coal prices go up and down.

For the last few decades, nuclear power has been seen as a prohibitively expensive option and no new power stations have been built.

But it has begun to look more favourable as oil and gas prices have risen.

Nuclear power also looks more cost effective when a financial value is put on carbon dioxide emissions, as assumed in the Royal Academy of Engineers' estimates.

A nuclear reactor itself does not emit any greenhouse gases, and even if the emissions from the mining of uranium, building of power stations and treatment of waste are taken into account they are still much less than from the burning of fossil fuels.

Power station costs: Nuclear: 2bn GBP, 1600MW, under construction in Finland; gas 400m GBP, 800MW, proposed in Newport, Wales; Wind 75m GBP, 60MW. opened 2005 in Norfolk

* Costs of developments under construction may rise above proposed budgets. Scroby Sands is offshore windpower, which is more expensive than onshore windpower.

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