Comparing Cost Benefit Analyses of Commercial Nuclear Power Plants

In an often-cited paper from 1971, Donald E. Watson, M.D. of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory’s Biomedical Division summarized the fundamental challenge of conducting cost-benefit analyses of commercial nuclear power as follows: “Since the major benefits of electrical power generation are the same regardless of the ultimate source, comparison of cost-benefit considerations of nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants reduces to a problem of cost comparisons alone. In fact, if there were only one source of energy, cost-benefit analysis would not even be necessary, since the benefits of electrical power production so far outweigh the costs of production, including environmental costs.” While Dr. Watson’s elegant reduction does indeed distill the issue down to the barest economic elements, nuclear power is such a complex social, economic and technical phenomena that it remains incredibly difficult to conduct such cost-benefit analyses. The article at the link below provides a “meta-analysis” of this phenomenon, comparing and contrasting three formal cost-benefit analyses, in the hopes of gleaning higher insights and perspectives by assessing the areas where they support each others’ conclusions, as well as the areas where they vary. It’s probably no surprise that there are more of the latter than there are of the former.

Comparing Cost Benefit Analyses of Commercial Nuclear Power Plants