What is meant by “externalized costs”?
Externalized costs are real costs that are not quantified within the levelized cost calculations presented in the internalized cost articles. These costs are directly or indirectly paid by various sectors of the economy in forms such as pollution-related health costs, grid integration costs of intermittent renewables, and a reduction in the free services rendered by the biosphere.
Externalized costs of nuclear
Nuclear power is one of the best climate change mitigation options since it involves almost no greenhouse gas emissions and can directly displace baseload coal power plants. On the other hand, nuclear power does involve other externalized costs such as radiation health impacts, nuclear waste issues and accidents. The costs associated with a onset of strong anti-nuclear public opinion – even though it may be irrational – are also significant (e.g. the German Energiewende).
Good peer-reviewed studies on nuclear externalities are hard to find. A few reports from European Commission are available, but here we will use a paper in the journal “Energy Policy” as a baseline. This paper finds a central value of €7.9/MWh with a lower bound of €1.9/MWh and an upper bound of €32.2/MWh. Similar values are presented in the aforementioned European Commission reports. The €7.9/MWh central value is split in half between accidents and normal operating externalized costs (health impacts and waste).
Inefficiencies associated with the polarizing effect that nuclear power has on the general public are generally not considered in such analyses, but could merit further investigation. For example, the Energiewende is primarily a shift away from nuclear power and already has a pricetag approaching €200 billion, rising to €520 billion by 2025. Assigning a €200 billion pricetag to the 5250 TWh of nuclear power that Germany has generated over the past 4 decades returns an average cost of €38/MWh. This number is definitely not proposed as a reasonable global estimate for this effect, but serves as an illustration of this non-negligible nuclear externality.
From these considerations, $10/MWh appears to be a reasonable estimate for the external costs of nuclear power. For perspective, the internalized cost of nuclear electricity amounted to $62/MWh.
Heat and transport
A $10/MWh electricity externality would translate to a cost of $2.8/GJ for heat and $0.12/litre for transport fuel (assuming 70% conversion efficiency). These numbers will be proportional to the electricity price for investigation of costs other than the $10/MWh used here.
For perspective, the internalized costs for heat and transport fuel derived from nuclear electricity was found to be $17.2/GJ and $1.18/litre.
If you have a number that differs significantly from the $10/MWh estimate given above, please add it in the comments section below. Please start your comment with the keyword “DATA”, followed by a brief explanation and preferably a linked reference. Each DATA comment will be weighted by the number of “likes” when the data is ultimately processed.
Many comments are welcome. More data = greater accuracy.