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Comparing the Costs

Due to factors such as energy supply, energy demand, regulatory requirements, technological advances, power plant size, capital investments over time, and many others, cost comparisons of electricity-generating options are exceptionally complex.

The most widely reported electricity-source cost comparison statistics are disseminated by the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and utilities. Cost comparisons made by these organizations are based on different assumptions and methodologies, and generally focus on nuclear power, coal,1 gas, and oil (with the comparison between nuclear and coal the most common).

Despite biases favorable to nuclear power through the use of plant cost estimates rather than actual plant cost data (DOE and utility studies), and in sampling methods (AIF surveys), cost comparison figures from these sources continue to influence public opinion and utility planners.2 Even so, AIF economic surveys from 1985 and 1986 state that nuclear-generated electricity is more costly per kilowatt hour than coal-generated electricity.3 (Click here to see examples of electricity-source cost comparisons and projections.)

At the national level, systematic studies which compare the costs of generating electricity from all energy sources (nuclear, coal, gas, oil, hydro, biomass, renewables, cogeneration, and others), along with the costs of implementing energy efficiency and conservation programs, do not exist.

1 Charles Komanoff, "The (Mal)practice of Nuclear Power Economics," op. cit.
2 Ibid.
3 Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc., "AIF Economic Survey," news release, September 25, 1986.