World Bank Arguments Against Nuclear Lending

Excerps from World Bank Technical Paper #154: Environmental Assessment Sourcebook Volume III: Guidelines for Environmental Assessment of Energy and Industry Projects by the World Bank Environment Department, April 94, p 83-89

"[Nuclear] Costs typically had come in at two to three times the original estimates, delays had been substantial and production problems had resulted in output well below capacity."

"[T]he accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), and the difficulties in safe disposal of radioactive wastes, have heightened public concern for the safety of the technology and have generated strong opposition to investments in nuclear plants. Bank lending for energy, even if the connection with nuclear power is indirect, will be subject to public scrutiny."

"The lowest developed country estimates are from France where published information suggests capacity costs of between US$1,500 and US$2,000 per kW. These costs may include capital and other subsidies that are difficult to quantify. In the Untied States, costs range between US$3,000 and US$5,000 per kW. In Argentina and Brazil, costs are between US$5,000 and US$8,000 per kW. Costs for conventional technologies range from US$500-600 per kW for combined cycle gas plants to US$1,300-$1,600 for coal gasification, combined cycle plants and slightly less for fluidized bed coal technology. Coal or steam turbines have costs between US$800 and US$1300 per kW. Operating costs must be added to capital costs to obtain final electricity costs. Even with low operating costs, the high capital costs of nuclear preclude their being selected as the least cost alternative under any reasonable assumptions concerning prices of coal and oil. "

"Nuclear plants are thus uneconomic because at present and projected costs they are unlikely to be the least-cost alternative. There is also evidence that the cost figures usually cited by suppliers are substantially underestimated and often fail to take adequately into account waste disposal, decommissioning and other environmental costs. Furthermore, the large size of many nuclear plants relative to developing country systems leads to risk of substantial excess capacity should demand fail to increase as predicted. A nuclear investment strategy lacks flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. The higher costs would require large increases in tariffs and could threaten the financial viability of the systems if nuclear power were a significant part of the total..."

"Catastrophic Failures: Both nuclear and hydro plants have only a small probability of catastrophic failure, but some experts point to experience of systems failure in nuclear plants, where the exposure is much greater than in hydro dams (where the safety issue is a structural one). The worst case catastrophe for a nuclear plant is much worse than for a hydro plant because of the long-run health impacts (as at Chernobyl). In both cases, the consequences are borne by involuntary population."

"The environmental community is therefore strongly anti-nuclear. It emphasizes that the risk is one of involuntary exposure and that the environmental costs are high enough to rule out nuclear power even if it were otherwise economic."

"Further complicating the issue is a perception of secrecy and lack of candor that characterizes the operation of nuclear power plans. In recent years, a number of accidents have raised doubts in the public mind about the competence of the industry and the safety of the process. Many doubt the credibility of the industry."

This text is part of the Dangerous Deceptions paper.