Surprisingly, in some way anti-nuclear activism had also a positive long-range influence on nuclear energy. It forced energy companies and governments under much higher public scrutiny to make nuclear power plants even safer and more productive and reliable than almost any other industry. At the same time, in the United States, the average capacity factor of nuclear power plants increased from 58% in 1980 to 70% in 1990, and close to 90% in 2003. The increased capacity factor resulted in lower generation costs and an increased electricity production using nuclear power. The increase in electricity production from 1990 to 2003 was the equivalent of adding more than 20 new nuclear reactors to the U.S. capacity. The cost of producing electricity at U.S. nuclear power plants, including fuel, operation and maintenance, has been declining over the past decade, from more than $0.03 kWh-1 in 1990 to less than $0.02 kWh-1 in 2004 (Fig. 8.20). This is comparable to the cost of electricity production from coal, but much lower than that from oil and gas. Even including construction capital as well as the decommission cost of old power plants and the treatment and storage of nuclear waste, the cost of electricity from nuclear origin is estimated in France to be less than €0.03 kWh-1 (Fig. 8.21). This low generation cost, due in large part to the homogeneous and standardized nature of the French reactors, with all 59 reactors based on a PWR design, allows the country to be the largest electricity exporter in the World . Often-cited arguments against nuclear energy based on high costs have thus become baseless.
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