The contribution of nuclear power to a sustainable energy future is a contested issue. This paper presents a critical review of an attempt to objectify this debate through the calculation of the external costs of a potential large-scale nuclear accident in the ExternE project. A careful dissection of the ExternE approach resulted in a list of 30 calculation steps and assumptions, from which the 6 most contentious ones were selected through a stakeholder internet survey. The policy robustness and relevance of these key assumptions were then assessed in a workshop using the concept of a ‘pedigree of knowledge’. Overall, the workshop outcomes revealed the stakeholder and expert panel's scepticism about the assumptions made: generally these were considered not very plausible, subjected to disagreement, and to a large extent inspired by contextual factors. Such criticism indicates a limited validity and useability of the calculated nuclear accident externality as a trustworthy sustainability indicator. Furthermore, it is our contention that the ExternE project could benefit greatly – in terms of gaining public trust – from employing highly visible procedures of extended peer review such as the pedigree assessment applied to our specific case of the external costs of a potential large-scale nuclear accident.