I have complained before about how opaque costs are one of the biggest problems with the nuclear industry. There are subsidies and guarantees, both implicit and explicit, there are health and cleanup costs associated with radionucleotide releases and site contamination, and there are the opportunity costs associated with directing capital, skill, and research towards nuclear energy rather than other projects. There are also the intimate linkages between civilian nuclear power and the military, which further muddy the picture when it comes to financial, environmental, and health costs.
In her 2009 book, Stephanie Cooke includes some cost estimates of note. She estimates that the United States spent about $5.5 trillion on their nuclear weapons program between 1940 and 1996: about 11% of total federal spending. By contrast, health, education, and transport were each about 3% of spending. She estimates that the Pantex plant, where the United States assembles its bombs, involved a capital investment of nearly $9 billion by the mid-1950s. By comparison, that was greater than the capital investment in General Motors, U.S. Steel, DuPont, Bethlehem Steel, Alcoa, and Goodyear.
Cooke also cites a 2008 Department of Energy estimate that the Yucca Mountain waste dump would cost $96 billion. Now that the plan has been killed by the Obama administration, it is not clear where the wastes will go, or how much it will cost. The Hanford Site, in Washington, which produced plutonium for American weapons is probably the most contaminated site in North America, with unknown eventual cleanup costs (both in lives and dollars). Other sites with serious contamination include the Savannah River site, which produced fissile materials, Rocky Flats, the Nevada Test Site, and the Marshall Islands.
All these costs are matters that need to be considered when making the decision to extend the lives of nuclear power plants, or construct more. While many of the worst abuses were military, there are plenty of costs associated purely with civilian production, and the intimate intertwining of the two areas of practice make it impossible to decisively associate other costs with one or the other activity. Nuclear energy is certainly a power source with a great many serious costs and risks to consider, over and above the basic expenses of building and operating plants and producing fuel for them.