WASHINGTON - A study by the University of Chicago finds that advanced nuclear power plants could be cost-competitive with coal and natural gas as a source of electricity. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Whereas the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for coal is $33 to $41 per MWh and $35 to $45 per MWh for natural gas-fired production, new nuclear plants would have costs of $31 to $46 per MWh once early plant costs are absorbed, according to the report.

Currently, nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of the nation's energy mix, second to coal at 50 percent. Natural gas is third at 17 percent. The LCOE is the amount invested to cover operating costs plus annualized capital costs of operating a generating facility.

"This study shows that nuclear power can be a competitive source of energy production in the future and will help meet our environmental goals," said Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow. "We appreciate the University of Chicago's exhaustive analyses."

Expansion of nuclear power in the United States is a major objective of the Bush administration's National Energy Policy.

The study notes that the principal economic barrier to nuclear power will be the ability to address the elevated costs associated with building and operating the first few nuclear plants. Those early plant costs, which can include "first-of-a-kind" engineering costs and the elevated construction and financing expenses expected for the first U.S. nuclear plants initiated since the 1970s, would be reduced by the time a third or fourth plant comes online, says the report.

The study is available at http://nuclear.gov.

Publication date: 10/11/2004