I will grant that there is a question about whether today's nuclear plant designs can compete with natural gas at today's market price IN NORTH AMERICA. However, my memory is a little longer than most; I recall quite clearly the time when natural gas prices marched rather inexorably up from $1.60 per MMBTU to more than $13.00 per million BTU during the period from 1999-2008. The REAL reason those high prices disappeared - in North America - was that we experienced a severe economic recession that reduced the demand for gas by about 10-20%. The price fell to less than $4.00 per MMBTU within months and eventually dipped below $2 per MMBTU before starting on its way up to about $3.50 today.
In Japan, the landed price of natural gas delivered from distant suppliers via liquified natural gas tankers is $17.72 per MMBTU! Nuclear energy, even with all of the imposed overhead, can easily compete with that price - converting gas at that price leads to a COST per kilowatt hour of electricity in excess of $120 per MW-hr just for fuel (an efficient gas plant uses 7,000 BTU of heat per kilowatt hour), without considering any of the other costs of the power plant, the fuel delivery to the plant, or accounting for any of the waste that the gas produces along its lengthy production chain. No power plant operator can stay in business by selling its product to the customer at its cost of production, so the market PRICE is far higher.
You are wrong about there being no safe and secure storage for nuclear waste. We have been doing that job for more than 50 years. Can you point to a SINGLE instance anywhere in the world where someone has been injured because they were exposed to the waste material from a commercial nuclear power plant? In contrast, I can point to lists of of routine accidents in which hundreds of people each year are killed by exposure to carbon monoxide or other waste products that are associated with producing and burning natural gas. In fact, I can point to instances where there were thousands of people killed by a single accident involving natural gas extraction in areas where hydrogen sulfide is a natural component of the gas that is being pulled out of the ground.
Cost overruns are something that can be addressed through sound design, good project management and and aggressive response to regulatory ratcheting that imposes new requirements and forces design changes for NO gain in safety to the public.
Old, but well maintained nuclear plants do not need expensive rehabilitation in most cases. They are like the energizer bunny - they just keep on keeping on, producing massive quantities of electricity at a very low marginal fuel cost. The AVERAGE cost of nuclear fuel, including provisions for "purchasing of uranium, conversion, enrichment, and fabrication services along with storage and shipment costs, and inventory (including interest) charges less any expected salvage value" for US nuclear utilities in 2011 was just 0.68 cents per kilowatt hour. That equates to about 68 cents per million BTU since it takes about 10,000 BTU of heat to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity in a standard nuclear power plant.
That is probably enough right now, but I would be happy to engage in further discussion about the cost of nuclear energy versus the cost of natural gas. There are plenty of gas costs that are not factored into today's prices, which is why the rig count for natural gas drilling in the US has fallen by about 50% in the past 18 months. Few producers are interested in the expense and risk of drilling in order to sell their product for a loss making price.
One more thing - on my blog at atomicinsights.com (which is where the original of this post appears) - I have plenty of publicly available information about my vested interests in helping people to understand more about nuclear energy. I am a nuclear energy professional; I have been studying the subject for more than 30 years. I have a good paying job as an engineer/analyst at a company designing small modular reactors aimed at incorporating many of the lessons we have learned in the brief 70 years since we first demonstrated that fission is both possible and controllable. I have invested a fair amount of money in nuclear energy related companies because I believe that their product is so good that the market will eventually recognize that value.
I once spent a large portion of family and friend investment money over a period of more than 15 years working on a start-up company to market relatively small nuclear engines that were designed to use the same kind of Brayton cycle turbomachinery that helps to make gas so attractive - but our designs would not have produced ANY CO2, CO, or NOX.
Can you provide any information about your own interest in the discussion so that people can judge our arguments while understanding the biases of source of those arguments?
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights (http://atomicinsights.com)