Nuclear is dead – never bet against the experience curve


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This is next in my “x is dead” series of articles that comment on the effect of change over the past few years.

I started my working life in Nuclear Fusion research but for much of the last 20 years I have been working in business. Business is very different from research and development because in the long term your success or failure is determined by your ability to reduce costs. The key insight in this regard is the Experience Curve.

The first time you produce and sell a good it is always very expensive but as production volume increases costs fall. The experience curve is described by a power law function sometimes referred to as Henderson’s Law


The cost of production of industrial goods falls exponentially. This is typically expressed by saying that it falls by a fixed percentage each time cumulative production doubles. For example, in the original 1936 study it was found that the cost of aircraft fell by ~15% every time cumulative production doubled.

This brings us to the title of my post. The developing world needs cheap electricity and fusion and nuclear will not be relevant because too few standardised units have been produced and will ever be produced to start experiencing the benefits of the experience curve.  Solar claims a 21% experience curve and Wind Power 17%. These intermittent technologies must be supported by Energy Storage which claims a 15% experience curve. The key point is not that these number are exactly right, only that for these technologies costs per Watt are going down relentlessly due to the benefits of standardisation and mass production.

If you want to save the world today work in solar, wind or energy storage not fusion or nuclear.