One Big Chart: how does the cost of nuclear power compare to renewables?

Electricity from nuclear power would cost Australia significantly more than generating it from solar and wind, according to the CSIRO.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has revived the idea of Australia lifting its restriction on nuclear power, but has yet to provide any details apart from suggesting large-scale nuclear reactors should be built on the sites of decommissioned coal power plants.

This chart draws from the CSIRO’s latest GenCost report, which estimates the cost of building new electricity generation and storage.

Nuclear power from either large-scale reactors or small modular reactors (SMR) is far more expensive than electricity generated with renewables, according to the report. This is true even when factoring in the the cost of building transmission and storage infrastructure to support large scale wind and solar.

Large-scale nuclear is estimated to cost between $141 and $233/MWh in 2030, with small modular reactors estimated to be $230 to $382/MWh.

Electricity from a combination of solar and wind would cost between $73 and $128 a megawatt hour, depending on how much renewable energy was already in the system. The chart uses the highest and lowest shares that the CSIRO modelled – 60% and 90% of the system, respectively.

This is the first time the GenCost report is estimating the cost of large scale nuclear reactors in Australia. One of the assumptions of the estimations is that an ongoing nuclear industry is established – the actual early costs are likely to be even higher than these estimates.

Other comparisons of electricity production costs also place nuclear as more expensive, including analysis from US financial group Lazard, as well as analysis from Australian energy researchers.