IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Optimal Lifetime of Nuclear Power Plants


  • John Rust

    (University of Wisconsin)

  • Geoffrey Rothwell

    (Stanford University)


This paper presents a dynamic programming (DP) model of optimal operation of a nuclear power plant (NPP). In each period the operator decides whether to run the reactor at a given capacity level, to shut it down for preventive maintenance or refueling, or permanently close the plant for decommissioning. The maximal lifespan of a NPP is determined by the length of the operating license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The optimal lifespan of a NPP (from the private perspective of the plant owner as opposed to the social perspective of the regulator) is the solution to a generalized optimal stopping problem: one closes a plant as soon as the expected discounted value of future operating profits (losses) falls below the costs of decommissioning. This model extends the DP model of NPP operations introduced in Rust and Rothwell (1995) by allowing for the occurrence of ``major problem spells''. The DP model predicts that under ordinary operating conditions it is highly unlikely that an NPP will be closed, but that the probability of decommissioning increases by orders of magnitude during a major problem spell. We compare the actual evolution of the nuclear power industry over the period 1984 to 1994 to stochastic simulations of our estimated DP model and show that our model provides accurate out-of-sample predictions of total nuclear power generation and early retirements of NPPs. We use the estimated DP model to forecast nuclear power generation and plant closures under two policy scenarios: 1) the current 40 year license span with no possibility of extension, and 2) a ``costless'' extension in operating licenses to 60 years. Our simulations show that an immediate, costless extension in operating licenses to 60 years would extend the life of the US nuclear power industry from 2030 to 2050 and double the expected present discounted value of profits of NPPs.

Suggested Citation

  • John Rust & Geoffrey Rothwell, 1995. "On the Optimal Lifetime of Nuclear Power Plants," Industrial Organization 9512002, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 19 Jan 1996.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpio:9512002
    Note: TeX file, Postscript version submitted, 34 pages

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rust, John, 1987. "Optimal Replacement of GMC Bus Engines: An Empirical Model of Harold Zurcher," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(5), pages 999-1033, September.
    2. Geoffrey Rothwell & John Rust, 1995. "A Dynamic Programming Model of U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operations," Microeconomics 9502001, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 06 Feb 1995.
    3. Rothwell, Geoffrey, 1990. "Utilization and service : Decomposing nuclear reactor capacity factors," Resources and Energy, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 215-229, September.
    4. Richard K. Lester & Mark J. McCabe, 1993. "The Effect of Industrial Structure on Learning by Doing in Nuclear Power Plant Operation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(3), pages 418-438, Autumn.
    5. Andrews, Donald W K, 1988. "Chi-Square Diagnostic Tests for Econometric Models: Theory," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(6), pages 1419-1453, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Jonathan A. Cook and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, 2020. "Wind Turbine Shutdowns and Upgrades in Denmark: Timing Decisions and the Impact of Government Policy," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3), pages 81-118.
    2. Le-Yu Chen, 2009. "Identification of structural dynamic discrete choice models," CeMMAP working papers CWP08/09, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    3. Lucija Muehlenbachs, 2015. "A Dynamic Model Of Cleanup: Estimating Sunk Costs In Oil And Gas Production," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 56(1), pages 155-185, February.
    4. Handayani, Kamia & Krozer, Yoram & Filatova, Tatiana, 2019. "From fossil fuels to renewables: An analysis of long-term scenarios considering technological learning," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 134-146.
    5. Hancevic, Pedro Ignacio, 2017. "A dynamic approach to environmental compliance decisions in U.S. Electricity Market: The Acid Rain Program revisited," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 129-137.
    6. George C. Bitros & Elias Flytzanis, 2003. "A Rehabilitation of Economic Replacement Theory," Macroeconomics 0303009, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Arcidiacono, Peter, 2004. "Ability sorting and the returns to college major," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 343-375.
    8. Lappi, Pauli & Lintunen, Jussi, 2021. "From cradle to grave? On optimal nuclear waste disposal," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C).
    9. Hiroyuki Kasahara & Katsumi Shimotsu, 2018. "Estimation of Discrete Choice Dynamic Programming Models," The Japanese Economic Review, Springer, vol. 69(1), pages 28-58, March.
    10. Hema Yoganarasimhan, 2013. "The Value of Reputation in an Online Freelance Marketplace," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(6), pages 860-891, November.
    11. Jensen, J. Bradford & Rothwell, Geoffrey S., 1998. "Transaction costs, regulation, and subcontracting at nuclear power plants," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 369-381, August.
    12. Sanghamitra Das & Ramprasad Sengupta, 2004. "Projection pursuit regression and disaggregate productivity effects: the case of the Indian blast furnaces," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(3), pages 397-418.
    13. Peter M. Schwarz & Joseph A. Cochran, 2013. "Renaissance Or Requiem: Is Nuclear Energy Cost Effective In A Post-Fukushima World?," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 31(4), pages 691-707, October.
    14. Handayani, Kamia & Anugrah, Pinto & Goembira, Fadjar & Overland, Indra & Suryadi, Beni & Swandaru, Akbar, 2022. "Moving beyond the NDCs: ASEAN pathways to a net-zero emissions power sector in 2050," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 311(C).
    15. Ramnath K. Chellappa & Shivendu Shivendu, 2010. "Mechanism Design for "Free" but "No Free Disposal" Services: The Economics of Personalization Under Privacy Concerns," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(10), pages 1766-1780, October.
    16. Rojas Valdes, Ruben I. & Lin Lawell, C.-Y. Cynthia & Taylor, J. Edward, 2017. "The Dynamic Migration Game: A Structural Econometric Model and Application to Rural Mexico," 2017 Annual Meeting, July 30-August 1, Chicago, Illinois 259184, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    17. Sears, Louis S. & Lin Lawell, C.-Y. Cynthia & Walter, M. Todd, 2020. "Groundwater Under Open Access: A Structural Model of the Dynamic Common Pool Extraction Game," 2020 Annual Meeting, July 26-28, Kansas City, Missouri 304276, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    18. Handayani, Kamia & Filatova, Tatiana & Krozer, Yoram & Anugrah, Pinto, 2020. "Seeking for a climate change mitigation and adaptation nexus: Analysis of a long-term power system expansion," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 262(C).
    19. Kasahara, Hiroyuki & Shimotsu, Katsumi, 2008. "Pseudo-likelihood estimation and bootstrap inference for structural discrete Markov decision models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 146(1), pages 92-106, September.
    20. Kheiravar, Khaled H, 2019. "Economic and Econometric Analyses of the World Petroleum Industry, Energy Subsidies, and Air Pollution," Institute of Transportation Studies, Working Paper Series qt3gj151w9, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Rust, John & Rothwell, Geoffrey, 1995. "Optimal Response to a Shift in Regulatory Regime: The Case of the US Nuclear Power Industry," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(S), pages 75-118, Suppl. De.
    2. John Rust & Christopher Phelan, 1997. "How Social Security and Medicare Affect Retirement Behavior in a World of Incomplete Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 781-832, July.
    3. Aguirregabiria, Victor & Mira, Pedro, 2010. "Dynamic discrete choice structural models: A survey," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 156(1), pages 38-67, May.
    4. David, Paul A. & Rothwell, Geoffrey S., 1996. "Measuring standardization: An application to the American and French nuclear power industries," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 291-308, September.
    5. Geoffrey Rothwell & John Rust, 1995. "A Dynamic Programming Model of U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operations," Microeconomics 9502001, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 06 Feb 1995.
    6. Koomey, Jonathan & Hultman, Nathan E., 2007. "A reactor-level analysis of busbar costs for US nuclear plants, 1970-2005," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(11), pages 5630-5642, November.
    7. Victor Aguirregabiria, 2006. "Another Look at the Identification of Dynamic Discrete Decision Processes: With an Application to Retirement Behavior," 2006 Meeting Papers 169, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    8. Yamaguchi, Shintaro, 2010. "The effect of match quality and specific experience on career decisions and wage growth," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 407-423, April.
    9. Kemptner, Daniel & Tolan, Songül, 2018. "The role of time preferences in educational decision making," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 25-39.
    10. Michelle Sheran Sylvester, 2007. "The Career and Family Choices of Women: A Dynamic Analysis of Labor Force Participation, Schooling, Marriage and Fertility Decisions," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(3), pages 367-399, July.
    11. Maria Casanova-Rivas, 2008. "Dynamic Complementarities: A Computational and Empirical Analysis of Couples' Retirement Decisions," 2008 Meeting Papers 1073, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    12. Jeremy T. Fox, 2010. "Estimating the Employer Switching Costs and Wage Responses of Forward-Looking Engineers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(2), pages 357-412, April.
    13. Babur De los Santos & Sergei Koulayev, 2017. "Optimizing Click-Through in Online Rankings with Endogenous Search Refinement," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(4), pages 542-564, July.
    14. Andreas Lanz & Gregor Reich & Ole Wilms, 2022. "Adaptive grids for the estimation of dynamic models," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 20(2), pages 179-238, June.
    15. Castilho, Rafael, 2018. "Can Switching Costs Reduce Prices?," Brazilian Review of Econometrics, Sociedade Brasileira de Econometria - SBE, vol. 38(1), May.
    16. John K. Dagsvik & Zhiyang Jia, 2016. "Labor Supply as a Choice Among Latent Jobs: Unobserved Heterogeneity and Identification," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 31(3), pages 487-506, April.
    17. John Bound & Breno Braga & Joseph M. Golden & Gaurav Khanna, 2015. "Recruitment of Foreigners in the Market for Computer Scientists in the United States," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(S1), pages 187-223.
    18. Aamir Rafique Hashmi & Johannes Van Biesebroeck, 2016. "The Relationship between Market Structure and Innovation in Industry Equilibrium: A Case Study of the Global Automobile Industry," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(1), pages 192-208, March.
    19. Paul Ellickson & Sanjog Misra, 2012. "Enriching interactions: Incorporating outcome data into static discrete games," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 10(1), pages 1-26, March.
    20. Otsu, Taisuke & Pesendorfer, Martin & Takahashi, Yuya, 2013. "Testing for Equilibrium Multiplicity in Dynamic Markov Games," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 423, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L - Industrial Organization


    This item is featured on the following reading lists, Wikipedia, or ReplicationWiki pages:
    1. नाभिकीय ऊर्जा in Wikipedia Hindi


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpio:9512002. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: EconWPA (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.