Nuclear: is it a heavily subsidised technology?

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Nuclear power has received significant public funding in the past, but how does this compare with the subsidies that support renewables today? By Steve Kidd

Those opposed to nuclear power frequently make the claim that it has always relied on a significant amount of public subsidies and doesn’t make sound economic sense, even considering any environmental and security of energy supply advantages. The industry counters by accepting that as a developing technology, nuclear received subsidies in the past, but as a mature technology today should be able to attract financial investors without any degree of governmental support.

There are three main areas where, broadly speaking, subsidies or other support for energy may apply: government research and development (R&D) for particular technologies; subsidies for power generation per unit of production (or conceivably per unit of capacity); and the allowance of external costs which are either paid by the community at large or picked up later by governments. Public policy has been driven by worries about energy security, as well as by the need to address environmental problems and social concerns. Reliable and affordable energy supplies are vital to any economy, while energy shortages or the threat of such have political and economic consequences. As concerns have evolved from oil shocks to climate change, each country’s energy provision and infrastructure needs to be restructured accordingly. We can examine each of the three main areas in turn.

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