The Effects of Cheap Fuel
The discussion so far has been on two assumptionsfirst, that atomic energy will not be much cheaper than that from, at any rate, the best existing sources, and that an indefinite amount of power will continue to be available from the existing sources at no more than present costs. Both of these obviously require examination. How dear, in the first place, is atomic energy likely to be ? That is a question which it is impossible to answer with any precision on the basis of the published information, and to which only highly conjectural answers could, in all probability, be given even on the basis of all that is known in the best-informed quarters. Certain commonplace considerations, however, throw a good deal of light on it. In the first place, it must be remembered that the atomic pile is simply a substitute for the furnace of an ordinary coal-or oil-fuelled power plant ; there is no reason to suppose that any of the costs of producing power other than those of providing heat will be different in an atomic power station from what they are in a coal-fired one. Now,
in the United Kingdom before the war, the cost of electrical energy to the consumer was apparently made up, on the average, roughly as follows :
The cost of fuel was thus only a seventh of total cost-at post-war prices it may perhaps be in the neighbourhood of a fifth. This, of course, refers to all the electrical energy sold ; in cases where it is generated for industrial use on the spot, most of the cost of distribution and transmission is saved, including the capital cost associated with those functions which, to judge by the purposes for which money was borrowed by electricity undertakings in the United Kingdom before the war, may be about half the total capital cost. Thus, in this case of specially generated industrial power, the cost of fuel may before the war have been as much as a quarter of total cost, and might be as much as a third of it at post-war prices.