The New York Times had a nice article on Monday examining the costs of energy production for these two low-carbon options of energy generation. If you’re looking for a brief discussion of the state of nuclear reactor financing this is a good place to start.
In essence, capital markets refuse to fund the creation of new nuclear reactors for a plethora of reasons, but this hasn’t stopped many members of Congress and the White House from pushing for astonishingly large subsidy packages and loan guarantees to try and kick-start a new generation of reactors.
I’m not coming down one way or the other on this here, except to say that the goal of powering our economy in as low-carbon a manner as possible is a laudable one, and our efforts to decide where our public investments should go need to take on board all of the relevant information. The full cost of nuclear can only be fairly calculated when all of these subsidies, loan guarantees and potential environmental consequences are included and according to at least a few researchers this amount means that nuclear energy is already far more expensive than solar per kilowatt hour.
Of course, on the other hand, there aren’t enough solar panels in existence (or the materials to make the needed number using current production technologies) to meet our current demands. I never said I had the answer, just that the information was interesting and important…