The Journal of Economic History


Nuclear Power Reactors: A Study in Technological Lock-in

Robin Cowana1

a1 Assistant Professor of Economics, New York University, 269 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10003.


Recent theory has predicted that if competing technologies operate under dynamic increasing returns, one, possibly inferior, technology will dominate the market. The history of nuclear power technology is used to illustrate these results. Light water is considered inferior to other technologies, yet it dominates the market for power reactors. This is largely due to the early adoption and heavy development by the U.S. Navy of light water for submarine propulsion. When a market for civilian power emerged, light water had a large head start, and by the time other technologies were ready to enter the market, light water was entrenched.