Most commentary on energy is really a commentary on the cost of energy. For instance, stories about natural gas rave about its low price, which it has. Bloomberg reports, for instance, that the natural gas price on Jan 19 was $2.99/million BTUs. For comparison, the Brits pay about $8/million BTUs. Stories about hydrogen-powered electric generators in Japan report the refrigerator-sized units will cost about $16,700 per home. Many articles on gasoline report that the fuel costs less than $2/gallon at many locales. And wind critics loved to bash the now-expired Production Tax Credit because, they say, it was costly. (It was not. It was a tax credit.) They even calculate bogus million-dollar costs to show how much tax payers are supposedly losing.
In contrast, pick up an article about the promise of thorium nuclear reactors and you likely won’t see one dollar sign. What gives? Thorium reactors may well be the power source of the future but the technology will cost something. But how much?
One way to answer the question is to Google it. A recent search pulled up this edited Best Answer from Yahoo:
Japan thinks it can make a thorium prototype reactor for $300 million. The UK estimates that the first thorium production plant would cost £1 billion. France has invested € 1 million investigating corrosion problems found when a test reactor in the U.S. was shut down in 1969 after four years of operation. Generally, it’s believed that $300 million would be enough for small thorium power plant.
We assume a small plant means about 200 MW.
Another way to get a handle on thorium-reactor costs would be to examine the cost of current conventional reactors under construction, such as the Vogtle units in Georgia. From Wikipedia:
The expected cost for the two reactors is $14 billion. Georgia power’s share is around $6.1 billion, while “remaining ownership of the two reactors is split among Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power), and Dalton Utilities”.
The first two units are rated for a total of 2,400 MW. That is a large plant.
But during Vogtle’s construction, capital investment jumped from an estimated $660 million to $8.87 billion. Additional regulations and a redesign brought the jump in capital costs.
Unfortunately, the nuclear industry has a history and habit of building plants that cost much more than their original estimates. Even though lower construction costs are claimed as a thorium-reactor benefit, when the first cost figures for one make headlines multiply them by at least five for a better estimate. But you have awhile to wait.
For at least the next 10 years, natural gas and onshore wind-generated power will provide the least expensive, most reliable, and fastest-to-production source of power.