A nuclear power plant in Arkansas
Nuclear reactors within the Contiguous United States as of October 2021; marker colors indicate respective administrative Regions of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Net electrical generation from US nuclear power plants 1957–2019
Nuclear power compared to other sources of electricity in the US, 1949–2011

In the United States, nuclear power is provided by 92 commercial reactors with a net capacity of 94.7 gigawatts (GW), with 61 pressurized water reactors and 31 boiling water reactors.[1] In 2019, they produced a total of 809.41 terawatt-hours of electricity,[2] which accounted for 20% of the nation's total electric energy generation.[3] In 2018, nuclear comprised nearly 50 percent of US emission-free energy generation.[4][5]

As of September 2017, there are two new reactors under construction with a gross electrical capacity of 2,500 MW, while 39 reactors have been permanently shut down.[6][7] The United States is the world's largest producer of commercial nuclear power, and in 2013 generated 33% of the world's nuclear electricity.[8] With the past and future scheduled plant closings, China and Russia could surpass the United States in nuclear energy production.[9]

As of October 2014, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has granted license renewals providing 20-year extensions to a total of 74 reactors. In early 2014, the NRC prepared to receive the first applications of license renewal beyond 60 years of reactor life as early as 2017, a process which by law requires public involvement.[10] Licenses for 22 reactors are due to expire before the end of 2029 if no renewals are granted.[11] Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts was the most recent nuclear power plant to be decommissioned, on June 1, 2019. Another five aging reactors were permanently closed in 2013 and 2014 before their licenses expired because of high maintenance and repair costs at a time when natural gas prices had fallen: San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, and Kewaunee in Wisconsin.[12][13] In April 2021, New York State permanently closed Indian Point in Buchanan, 30 miles from New York City.[13][14]

Most reactors began construction by 1974; following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and changing economics, many planned projects were canceled. More than 100 orders for nuclear power reactors, many already under construction, were canceled in the 1970s and 1980s, bankrupting some companies.

In 2006, the Brookings Institution, a public policy organization, stated that new nuclear units had not been built in the United States because of soft demand for electricity, the potential cost overruns on nuclear reactors due to regulatory issues and resulting construction delays.[15]

There was a revival of interest in nuclear power in the 2000s, with talk of a "nuclear renaissance", supported particularly by the Nuclear Power 2010 Program. A number of applications were made, but facing economic challenges, and later in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, most of these projects have been canceled. Up until 2013, there had also been no ground-breaking on new nuclear reactors at existing power plants since 1977. Then in 2012, the NRC approved construction of four new reactors at existing nuclear plants. Construction of the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station Units 2 and 3 began on March 9, 2013, but was abandoned on July 31, 2017, after the reactor supplier Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2017.[16] On March 12, 2013, construction began on the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant Units 3 and 4. The target in-service date for Unit 3 was originally November 2021.[17] In March 2023, the Vogtle reached "initial criticality" and started service on July 31, 2023.[18][19] On October 19, 2016, TVA's Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Generating Station became the first US reactor to enter commercial operation since 1996.[20]



See also: Atomic Age

The Shippingport reactor was the first full-scale PWR nuclear power plant in the United States.
President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station for Middletown, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1979

Research into the peaceful uses of nuclear materials began in the United States under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission, created by the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Medical scientists were interested in the effect of radiation upon the fast-growing cells of cancer, and materials were given to them, while the military services led research into other peaceful uses.

Power reactor research

Argonne National Laboratory was assigned by the United States Atomic Energy Commission the lead role in developing commercial nuclear energy beginning in the 1940s. Between then and the turn of the 21st century, Argonne designed, built, and operated fourteen reactors[21] at its site southwest of Chicago, and another fourteen reactors[21] at the National Reactors Testing Station in Idaho.[22] These reactors included initial experiments and test reactors that were the progenitors of today's pressurized water reactors (including naval reactors), boiling water reactors, heavy water reactors, graphite-moderated reactors, and liquid-metal cooled fast reactors, one of which[23] was the first reactor in the world to generate electricity. Argonne and a number of other AEC contractors built a total of 52 reactors at the National Reactor Testing Station. Two were never operated; except for the Neutron Radiography Facility, all the other reactors were shut down by 2000.

In the early afternoon of December 20, 1951, Argonne director Walter Zinn and fifteen other Argonne staff members witnessed a row of four light bulbs light up in a nondescript brick building in the eastern Idaho desert. Electricity from a generator connected to Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) flowed through them. This was the first time that a usable amount of electrical power had ever been generated from nuclear fission. Only days afterward, the reactor produced all the electricity needed for the entire EBR complex.[24] One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 gigawatt-hours of electricity — this is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.[25] More central to EBR-I's purpose than just generating electricity, however, was its role in proving that a reactor could create more nuclear fuel as a byproduct than it consumed during operation. In 1953, tests verified that this was the case.[26]

The US Navy took the lead, seeing the opportunity to have ships that could steam around the world at high speeds for several decades without needing to refuel, and the possibility of turning submarines into true full-time underwater vehicles. So, the Navy sent their "man in Engineering", then Captain Hyman Rickover, well known for his great technical talents in electrical engineering and propulsion systems in addition to his skill in project management, to the AEC to start the Naval Reactors project. Rickover's work with the AEC led to the development of the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), the first naval model of which was installed in the submarine USS Nautilus. This made the boat capable of operating under water full-time – demonstrating this ability by reaching the North Pole and surfacing through the Polar ice cap.

Start of commercial nuclear power

From the successful naval reactor program, plans were quickly developed for the use of reactors to generate steam to drive turbines turning generators. In April 1957, the SM-1 Nuclear Reactor in Fort Belvoir, Virginia was the first atomic power generator to go online and produce electrical energy to the U.S. power grid. On May 26, 1958, the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States, Shippingport Atomic Power Station, was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of his Atoms for Peace program. As nuclear power continued to grow throughout the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission anticipated that more than 1,000 reactors would be operating in the United States by 2000.[27] As the industry continued to expand, the Atomic Energy Commission's development and regulatory functions were separated in 1974; the Department of Energy absorbed research and development, while the regulatory branch was spun off and turned into an independent commission known as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC or simply NRC).

Pro-nuclear power stance

Safest forms of energy

As of February 2020, Our World In Data stated that "nuclear energy and renewables are far, far safer than fossil fuels as regards human health, safety and carbon footprint," with nuclear energy resulting in 99.8% fewer deaths than brown coal; 99.7% fewer than coal; 99.6% fewer than oil; and 97.5% fewer than gas.[28]

Under President Obama, the Office of Nuclear Energy stated in January 2012 that "Nuclear power has safely, reliably, and economically contributed almost 20% of electrical generation in the United States over the past two decades. It remains the single largest contributor (more than 70%) of non-greenhouse-gas- emitting electric power generation in the United States. Domestic demand for electrical energy is expected to grow by more than 30% from 2009 to 2035. At the same time, most of the currently operating nuclear power plants will begin reaching the end of their initial 20-year extension to their original 40-year operating license, for a total of 60 years of operation." It warned that if new plants do not replace those which are retired then the total fraction of generated electrical energy from nuclear power will begin to decline.[29]

The United States Department of Energy web site states that "nuclear power is the most reliable energy source", and to a great degree "has the highest capacity factor. Natural gas and coal capacity factors are generally lower due to routine maintenance and/or refueling at these facilities while renewable plants are considered intermittent or variable sources and are mostly limited by a lack of fuel (i.e. wind, sun, or water)."[30] Nuclear is the largest source of clean power in the United States, generating more than 800 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and producing more than half of the nation's emissions-free electricity. This avoids more than 470 million metric tons of carbon each year, which is the equivalent of removing 100 million cars off of the road. In 2019, nuclear plants operated at full power more than 93% of the time, making it the most reliable energy source on the power grid. The Department of Energy and its national labs are working with industry to develop new reactors and fuels that will increase the overall performance of nuclear technologies and reduce the amount of nuclear waste that is produced.[31]

Advanced nuclear reactors "that are smaller, safer, and more efficient at half the construction cost of today’s reactors" are part of President Biden's clean energy proposals.[32]

Opposition to nuclear power

Main article: Anti-nuclear movement in the United States

Anti-nuclear protest at Harrisburg in 1979, following the Three Mile Island accident

There has been considerable opposition to the use of nuclear power in the United States. The first U.S. reactor to face public opposition was Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station in 1957. It was built approximately 30 miles from Detroit and there was opposition from the United Auto Workers Union.[33] Pacific Gas & Electric planned to build the first commercially viable nuclear power plant in the US at Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco. The proposal was controversial and conflict with local citizens began in 1958.[34] The conflict ended in 1964, with the forced abandonment of plans for the power plant. Historian Thomas Wellock traces the birth of the anti-nuclear movement to the controversy over Bodega Bay.[34] Attempts to build a nuclear power plant in Malibu were similar to those at Bodega Bay and were also abandoned.[34]

Nuclear accidents continued into the 1960s with a small test reactor exploding at the Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One in Idaho Falls in January 1961 and a partial meltdown at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station in Michigan in 1966.[35] In his 1963 book Change, Hope and the Bomb, David Lilienthal criticized nuclear developments, particularly the nuclear industry's failure to address the nuclear waste question.[36] J. Samuel Walker, in his book Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, explains that the growth of the nuclear industry in the U.S. occurred in the 1970s as the environmental movement was being formed. Environmentalists saw the advantages of nuclear power in reducing air pollution, but were critical of nuclear technology on other grounds.[37] They were concerned about nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation, high cost of nuclear power plants, nuclear terrorism and radioactive waste disposal.[38]

There were many anti-nuclear protests in the United States which captured national public attention during the 1970s and 1980s. These included the well-known Clamshell Alliance protests at Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant and the Abalone Alliance protests at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, where thousands of protesters were arrested. Other large protests followed the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.[39]

In New York City on September 23, 1979, almost 200,000 people attended a protest against nuclear power.[40] Anti-nuclear power protests preceded the shutdown of the Shoreham, Yankee Rowe, Rancho Seco, Maine Yankee, and about a dozen other nuclear power plants.[41]

Historical use of Native land in nuclear energy

Nuclear Energy in the United States has greatly affected Native Americans due to the large amount of mining for uranium, and disposal of nuclear waste done on Native lands over the past century.[42][43][44][45] Environmental Sociologists Chad L. Smith and Gregory Hooks have deemed these areas and tribal lands as a whole "sacrifice zones",[43] due to the prevalence of mishandled nuclear materials. Uranium as a resource has largely been located in the southwestern USA, and large amounts have been found on Native lands, with the estimates being anywhere from 25% to 65% of Uranium being located on Native land.[42] Due to this many mines have been placed on Native land and have been abandoned without proper closing of these mines.[45] Some of these mines have led to large amounts of pollution on Native land which has contaminated the water and ground.[42] This has led to a large uptick in cancer cases.[45] On the Navajo reservation in particular, there has been three separate cleanup efforts done by the EPA, all unsuccessful.[45]

Nuclear waste has been an issue that Native Americans have had to deal with for decades ranging from improper disposal of waste during active mining to the government trying and succeeding to place waste disposal sites on various native lands.[46] In 1986 the US government tried to put a permanent nuclear waste repository on the White Earth Reservation, but the Anishinaabe people who lived there commissioned the Minnesota legislature to prevent it, which worked.[46] However, because there was no permanent place found, the government placed a temporary facility on Yucca Mountain to contain the waste.[46] Yucca Mountain is also on Native Land and is considered a sacred site that the government did not have consent to place nuclear waste on.[46][47] Yucca Mountain still houses this temporary facility to this day and is being debated over if it should become a permanent facility.[46]

Over-commitment and cancellations

See also: List of canceled nuclear plants in the United States

Net summer electrical generation capacity of US nuclear power plants, 1949–2011
Average capacity factor of US nuclear power plants, 1957–2011

By the mid-1970s, it became clear that nuclear power would not grow nearly as quickly as once believed. Cost overruns were sometimes a factor of ten above original industry estimates, and became a major problem. For the 75 nuclear power reactors built from 1966 to 1977, cost overruns averaged 207 percent. Opposition and problems were galvanized by the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.[48]

Over-commitment to nuclear power brought about the financial collapse of the Washington Public Power Supply System, a public agency which undertook to build five large nuclear power plants in the 1970s. By 1983, cost overruns and delays, along with a slowing of electricity demand growth, led to cancellation of two WPPSS plants and a construction halt on two others. Moreover, WPPSS defaulted on $2.25 billion of municipal bonds, which is one of the largest municipal bond defaults in U.S. history. The court case that followed took nearly a decade to resolve.[49][50][51]

Eventually, more than 120 reactor orders were canceled,[52] and the construction of new reactors ground to a halt. Al Gore has commented on the historical record and reliability of nuclear power in the United States:

Of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were canceled, 11 percent were prematurely shut down, 14 percent experienced at least a one-year-or-more outage, and 27 percent are operating without having a year-plus outage. Thus, only about one fourth of those ordered, or about half of those completed, are still operating and have proved relatively reliable.[53]

A cover story in the February 11, 1985, issue of Forbes magazine commented on the overall management of the nuclear power program in the United States:

The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale … only the blind, or the biased, can now think that the money has been well spent. It is a defeat for the U.S. consumer and for the competitiveness of U.S. industry, for the utilities that undertook the program and for the private enterprise system that made it possible.[54]

Three Mile Island and after

Anti-nuclear rally at Harrisburg in April 1979

The NRC reported "(...the Three Mile Island accident...) was the most serious in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, even though it led to no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community."[55] The World Nuclear Association reports that "...more than a dozen major, independent studies have assessed the radiation releases and possible effects on the people and the environment around TMI since the 1979 accident at TMI-2. The most recent was a 13-year study on 32,000 people. None has found any adverse health effects such as cancers which might be linked to the accident."[56] Other nuclear power incidents within the US (defined as safety-related events in civil nuclear power facilities between INES Levels 1 and 3[57] include those at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, which was the source of two of the top five highest conditional core damage frequency nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[58]

Despite the concerns which arose among the public after the Three Mile Island incident, the accident highlights the success of the reactor's safety systems. The radioactivity released as a result of the accident was almost entirely confined within the reinforced concrete containment structure. These containment structures, found at all nuclear power plants, were designed to successfully trap radioactive material in the event of a melt down or accident. At Three Mile Island, the containment structures operated exactly as it was designed to do, emerging successful in containing any radioactive energy. The low levels of radioactivity released post incident is considered harmless, resulting in zero injuries and deaths of residents living in proximity to the plant.

Despite many technical studies which asserted that the probability of a severe nuclear accident was low, numerous surveys showed that the public remained "very deeply distrustful and uneasy about nuclear power".[59] Some commentators have suggested that the public's consistently negative ratings of nuclear power are reflective of the industry's unique connection with nuclear weapons:[60]

[One] reason why nuclear power is seen differently to other technologies lies in its parentage and birth. Nuclear energy was conceived in secrecy, born of war, and first revealed to the world in horror. No matter how many proponents try to separate the peaceful atom from the weapon's atom, the connection is firmly embedded in the mind of the public.[60]

Several US nuclear power plants closed well before their design lifetimes, due to successful campaigns by anti-nuclear activist groups.[61] These include Rancho Seco in 1989 in California and Trojan in 1992 in Oregon. Humboldt Bay in California closed in 1976, 13 years after geologists discovered it was built on the Little Salmon Fault. Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was completed but never operated commercially as an authorized Emergency Evacuation Plan could not be agreed on due to the political climate after the Three Mile Island accident and Chernobyl disaster. The last permanent closure of a US nuclear power plant was in 1997.[62]

US nuclear reactors were originally licensed to operate for 40-year periods. In the 1980s, the NRC determined that there were no technical issues that would preclude longer service.[63] Over half of US nuclear reactors are over 30 years old and almost all are over twenty years old.[64] As of 2011, more than 60 reactors have received 20-year extensions to their licensed lifetimes.[65] The average capacity factor for all US reactors has improved from below 60% in the 1970s and 1980s, to 92% in 2007.[66][67]

After the Three Mile Island accident, NRC-issued reactor construction permits, which had averaged more than 12 per year from 1967 through 1978, came to an abrupt halt; no permits were issued between 1979 and 2012 (in 2012, four planned new reactors received construction permits). Many permitted reactors were never built, or the projects were abandoned. Those that were completed after Three Mile island experienced a much longer time lag from construction permit to starting of operations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself described its regulatory oversight of the long-delayed Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant as "a paradigm of fragmented and uncoordinated government decision making," and "a system strangling itself and the economy in red tape."[68] The number of operating power reactors in the US peaked at 112 in 1991, far fewer than the 177 that received construction permits. By 1998 the number of working reactors declined to 104, where it remains as of 2013. The loss of electrical generation from the eight fewer reactors since 1991 has been offset by power uprates of generating capacity at existing reactors.[69]

Despite the problems following Three Mile Island, output of nuclear-generated electricity in the US grew steadily, more than tripling over the next three decades: from 255 billion kilowatt-hours in 1979 (the year of the Three Mile Island accident), to 806 billion kilowatt-hours in 2007.[70] Part of the increase was due to the greater number of operating reactors, which increased by 51%: from 69 reactors in 1979, to 104 in 2007. Another cause was a large increase in the capacity factor over that period. In 1978, nuclear power plants generated electricity at only 64% of their rated output capacity. Performance suffered even further during and after Three Mile Island, as a series of new safety regulations from 1979 through the mid-1980s forced operators to repeatedly shut down reactors for required retrofits.[71] It was not until 1990 that the average capacity factor of US nuclear plants returned to the level of 1978. The capacity factor continued to rise, until 2001. Since 2001, US nuclear power plants have consistently delivered electric power at about 90% of their rated capacity.[72] In 2016, the number of power plants was at 100 with 4 under construction.

Effects of Fukushima

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was shut down in 2013. There is about 1,700 tons of spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre.[73]

Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it would launch a comprehensive safety review of the 104 nuclear power reactors across the United States, at the request of President Obama. A total of 45 groups and individuals had formally asked the NRC to suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until the NRC had completed a thorough post-Fukushima reactor crisis examination. The petitioners also asked the NRC to supplement its own investigation by establishing an independent commission comparable to that set up in the wake of the serious, though less severe, 1979 Three Mile Island accident.[74] The Obama administration continued "to support the expansion of nuclear power in the United States, despite the crisis in Japan".[75]

An industry observer noted that post-Fukushima costs were likely to go up for both current and new nuclear power plants, due to increased requirements for on-site spent fuel management and elevated design basis threats.[76][77] License extensions for existing reactors will face additional scrutiny, with outcomes depending on plants meeting new requirements, and some extensions already granted for more than 60 of the 100 operating U.S. reactors could be revisited. On-site storage, consolidated long-term storage, and geological disposal of spent fuel is "likely to be reevaluated in a new light because of the Fukushima storage pool experience".[76] Mark Cooper suggested that the cost of nuclear power, which already had risen sharply in 2010 and 2011, could "climb another 50 percent due to tighter safety oversight and regulatory delays in the wake of the reactor calamity in Japan".[78]

In 2011, London-based bank HSBC said: "With Three Mile Island and Fukushima as a backdrop, the US public may find it difficult to support major nuclear new build and we expect that no new plant extensions will be granted either. Thus we expect the clean energy standard under discussion in US legislative chambers will see a far greater emphasis on gas and renewables plus efficiency".[79]

Competitiveness problems

In May 2015, a senior vice president of General Atomics stated that the U.S. nuclear industry was struggling because of comparatively low U.S. fossil fuel production costs, partly due to the rapid development of shale gas, and high financing costs for nuclear plants.[80]

In July 2016, Toshiba withdrew the U.S. design certification renewal for its Advanced Boiling Water Reactor because "it has become increasingly clear that energy price declines in the US prevent Toshiba from expecting additional opportunities for ABWR construction projects".[81]

In 2016, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo directed the New York Public Service Commission to consider ratepayer-financed subsidies similar to those for renewable sources to keep nuclear power stations profitable in the competition against natural gas.[82][83]

In March 2018, FirstEnergy announced plans to deactivate the Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse, and Perry nuclear power plants, which are in the Ohio and Pennsylvania deregulated electricity market, for economic reasons during the next three years.[84]

In 2019, the Energy Information Administration revised the levelized cost of electricity from new advanced nuclear power plants to be $0.0775/kWh before government subsidies, using a 4.3% cost of capital (WACC) over a 30-year cost recovery period.[85] Financial firm Lazard also updated its levelized cost of electricity report costing new nuclear at between $0.118/kWh and $0.192/kWh using a commercial 7.7% cost of capital (WACC) (pre-tax 12% cost for the higher-risk 40% equity finance and 8% cost for the 60% loan finance) over a 40-year lifetime, making it the most expensive privately financed non-peaking generation technology other than residential solar PV.[86]

In August 2020, Exelon decided to close the Byron and Dresden plants in 2021 for economic reasons, despite the plants having licenses to operate for another 20 and 10 years respectively. On September 13, 2021, the Illinois Senate approved a bill containing nearly $700 million in subsidies for the state's nuclear plants, including Byron, causing Exelon to reverse the shutdown order.[87][88]

Westinghouse Chapter 11 bankruptcy

See also: Nukegate scandal

On March 29, 2017, parent company Toshiba placed Westinghouse Electric Company in Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of $9 billion of losses from its nuclear reactor construction projects. The projects responsible for this loss are mostly the construction of four AP1000 reactors at Vogtle in Georgia and V. C. Summer in South Carolina.[89] The U.S. government had given $8.3 billion of loan guarantees for the financing of the Vogtle nuclear reactors being built in the U.S., which are delayed but remain under construction.[90] In July 2017, the V.C. Summer plant owners, the two largest utilities in South Carolina, terminated the project.[90] Peter A. Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, commented "They placed a big bet on this hallucination of a nuclear renaissance".[91]

The other U.S. new nuclear supplier, General Electric, had already scaled back its nuclear operations as it was concerned about the economic viability of new nuclear.[92]

In the 2000s, interest in nuclear power renewed in the US, spurred by anticipated government curbs on carbon emissions, and a belief that fossil fuels would become more costly.[93] Ultimately however, following Westinghouse's bankruptcy, only two new nuclear reactors were under construction. In addition Watts Bar unit 2, whose construction was started in 1973 but suspended in the 1980s, was completed and commissioned in 2016.

Possible renaissance

See also: Nuclear renaissance in the United States

US reactor construction permits issued and operating nuclear power reactors, 1955–2011 (data from US EIA)

In 2008, it was reported that The Shaw Group and Westinghouse would construct a factory at the Port of Lake Charles at Lake Charles, Louisiana to build components for the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor.[citation needed] On October 23, 2008, it was reported that Northrop Grumman and Areva were planning to construct a factory in Newport News, Virginia to build nuclear reactors.[94]

As of March 2009, the NRC had received applications to construct 26 new reactors[95] with applications for another 7 expected.[96][97] Six of these reactors were ordered.[98] Some applications were made to reserve places in a queue for government incentives available for the first three plants based on each innovative reactor design.[96]

In May 2009, John Rowe, chairman of Exelon, which operates 17 nuclear reactors, stated that he would cancel or delay construction of two new reactors in Texas without federal loan guarantees.[99] Amory Lovins added that "market forces had killed it years earlier".[100] It must be said that Lovins has been an active opponent of nuclear energy and fought against it in the 1970s, which contributed to increased costs [101]

In July 2009, the proposed Victoria County Nuclear Power Plant was delayed, as the project proved difficult to finance.[102] As of April 2009, AmerenUE has suspended plans to build its proposed plant in Missouri because the state Legislature would not allow it to charge consumers for some of the project's costs before the plant's completion. The New York Times has reported that without that "financial and regulatory certainty" the company has said it could not proceed.[103] Previously, MidAmerican Energy Company decided to "end its pursuit of a nuclear power plant in Payette County, Idaho." MidAmerican cited cost as the primary factor in their decision.[104]

The federal government encouraged development through the Nuclear Power 2010 Program, which coordinates efforts for building new plants,[105] and the Energy Policy Act.[106][107] In February 2010, President Barack Obama announced loan guarantees for two new reactors at Georgia Power's Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.[108][109] The reactors are "just the first of what we hope will be many new nuclear projects," said Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 to block operation of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant after 2012, citing radioactive tritium leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials, a cooling tower collapse in 2007, and other problems. By state law, the renewal of the operating license must be approved by both houses of the legislature for the nuclear power plant to continue operation.[110]

In 2010, some companies withdrew their applications.[111][112] In September 2010, Matthew Wald from the New York Times reported that "the nuclear renaissance is looking small and slow at the moment".[113]

In the first quarter of 2011, renewable energy contributed 11.7 percent of total U.S. energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTUs of energy), surpassing energy production from nuclear power (2.125 quadrillion BTUs).[114] 2011 was the first year since 1997 that renewables exceeded nuclear in US total energy production.[115]

In August 2011, the TVA board of directors voted to move forward with the construction of the unit one reactor at the Bellefonte Nuclear Generating Station.[116] In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority petitioned to restart construction on the first two units at Bellefonte. As of March 2012, many contractors had been laid off and the ultimate cost and timing for Bellefonte 1 will depend on work at another reactor TVA is completing – Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee. In February 2012, TVA said the Watts Bar 2 project was running over budget and behind schedule.[117]

The first two of the newly approved units were Units 3 and 4 at the existing Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. As of December 2011, construction by Southern Company on the two new nuclear units had begun. They were expected to be delivering commercial power by 2016 and 2017, respectively.[118][119] One week after Southern received its license to begin major construction, a dozen groups sued to stop the expansion project, stating "public safety and environmental problems since Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor accident have not been taken into account".[120] The lawsuit was dismissed in July 2012.

In 2012, The NRC approved construction permits for four new nuclear reactor units at two existing plants, the first permits in 34 years.[121] The first new permits, for two proposed reactors at the Vogtle plant, were approved in February 2012.[122] NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko cast the lone dissenting vote, citing safety concerns stemming from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster: "I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened".[123]

Global status of commercial nuclear deployment as of 2017
  Operating reactors, building new reactors
  Operating reactors, planning new build
  No reactors, building new reactors
  No reactors, new in planning
  Operating reactors, stable
  Operating reactors, decided on phase-out
  Civil nuclear power is illegal
  No commercial reactors

Also in 2012, Units 2 and 3 at the SCANA Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina were approved, and were scheduled to come online in 2017 and 2018, respectively.[121] After several reforecasted completion dates the project was abandoned in July 2017.[124]

Other reactors were under consideration – a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland, a third and fourth reactor at South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, together with two other reactors in Texas, four in Florida, and one in Missouri. However, these have all been postponed or canceled.[113]

In August 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the NRC's rules for the temporary storage and permanent disposal of nuclear waste stood in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, rendering the NRC legally unable to grant final licenses.[125] This ruling was founded on the absence of a final waste repository plan.

In March 2013, the concrete for the basemat of Block 2 of the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station was poured. First concrete for Unit 3 was completed on November 4, 2013. Construction on unit 3 of Vogtle Electric Generating Plant started that month. Unit 4 was begun in November 2013. However, following Westinghouse's bankruptcy, the project was abandoned.

In 2015, the Energy Information Administration estimated that nuclear power's share of U.S. generation would fall from 19% to 15% by 2040 in its central estimate (High Oil and Gas Resource case). However, as total generation increases 24% by 2040 in the central estimate, the absolute amount of nuclear generation remains fairly flat.[126]

In 2017, the US Energy Information Administration projected that US nuclear generating capacity would decline 23 percent from its 2016 level of 99.1 GW, to 76.5 GW in 2050, and the nuclear share of electrical generation to go from 20% in 2016 down to 11% in 2050. Driving the decline will be retirements of existing units, to be partially offset by additional units currently under construction and expected capacity expansions of existing reactors.[127]

The Blue Castle Project is set to begin construction near Green River, Utah in 2023.[128] The plant will use 53,500 acre-feet (66 million cubic meters) of water annually from the Green River once both reactors are commissioned.[129] The first reactor is scheduled to come online in 2028, with the second reactor coming online in 2030.[128]

On June 4, 2018, World Nuclear News reported, "President Donald Trump has directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to take immediate action to stop the loss of 'fuel-secure power facilities' from the country's power grid, including nuclear power plants that are facing premature retirement."[130]

On August 23, 2020, Forbes reported, that "[the 2020 Democratic Party platform] marks the first time since 1972 that the Democratic Party has said anything positive in its platform about nuclear energy".[131]

In April 2022, the Federal government announced a $6 billion subsidy program targeting the seven plants scheduled for closure as well as others at-risk of closure, to attempt to encourage them to continue operating.[132] It will be funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November 2021.[132]

In November 2023, the first small modular reactor (SMR) deployment project in the U.S., the Carbon Free Power Project in Idaho using six NuScale reactors, was cancelled because of cost increases. This raised concerns about the commercial prospects in the U.S. of the other SMR designs.[133][134]

In January of 2024 it was announced that Holtec International was receiving a $1.5 billion dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy to restart the Palisades nuclear plant.[135] The goal is to have the 800 megawatt plant up and running by 2025. This move has precedent as the Biden administration has given a previous loan of $1.1 billion to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California running.

Nuclear power plants

See also: List of canceled nuclear reactors in the United States, List of nuclear power stations, and List of United States Naval reactors

Nuclear power plants in United States
  Active plants   Canceled plants   Closed plants   Under construction   Planned plants

As of 2020, a total of 88 nuclear power plants have been built in the United States, 86 of which have had at least one operational reactor.

Type Model Status Capacity
Arkansas Nuclear One 1 PWR B & W (DRY-Cont) Operational 836 1 Oct 1968 21 May 1974
2 PWR CE (DRY) Operational 988 6 Dec 1968 1 Sep 1978
Beaver Valley 1 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 908 26 Jun 1970 2 Jul 1976
2 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 905 3 May 1974 14 Aug 1987
Big Rock Point[136] 1 BWR BWR-1 Dismantled 67 1 May 1960 29 Mar 1963 29 Aug 1997
Braidwood 1[137] PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1194 1 Aug 1975 29 Jul 1988
2[138] PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1160 1 Aug 1975 17 Oct 1988
Browns Ferry 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1200 1 May 1967 1 Aug 1974
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1200 1 May 1967 1 Mar 1975
3 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1210 1 Jul 1968 1 Mar 1977
Brunswick 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 938 7 Feb 1970 18 Mar 1977[139]
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 932 7 Feb 1970 3 Nov 1975[140]
Byron 1 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1164 1 Apr 1975 16 Sep 1985
2 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1136 1 Apr 1975 2 Aug 1987
Callaway 1 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1215 1 Sep 1975 19 Dec 1984
Calvert Cliffs 1 PWR CE 2-loop (DRY) Operational 877 1 Jun 1968 8 May 1977
2 PWR CE 2-loop (DRY) Operational 855 1 Jun 1968 1 Apr 1977
Carbon Free Power Project[141][142] 1 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
2 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
3 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
4 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
5 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
6 PWR NuScale Cancelled 77
Catawba 1 PWR WH 4-loop (ICECOND) Operational 1160 1 May 1974 29 Jun 1985
2 PWR WH 4-loop (ICECOND) Operational 1150 1 May 1974 19 Aug 1986
Clinch River 1 BWR BWRX-300 Planned 300
2 BWR BWRX-300 Planned 300
3 BWR BWRX-300 Planned 300
4 BWR BWRX-300 Planned 300
Clinton 1 BWR BWR-6 (WET) Operational 1062 1 Oct 1975 24 Nov 1987
Columbia 1 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1131 1 Aug 1972 13 Dec 1984
Comanche Peak 1 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1205 19 Dec 1974 13 Aug 1990
2 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1195 19 Dec 1974 3 Aug 1993
Connecticut Yankee 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 582 1 May 1964 1 Jan 1968 5 Dec 1996
Cooper 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 769 1 Jun 1968 1 Jul 1974
Crystal River 3 1 PWR B & W (DRY) Shut down/in decommissioning 860 25 Sep 1968 13 Mar 1977 5 Feb 2013
Davis-Besse 1 PWR B & W (DRY) Operational 894 1 Sep 1970 31 Jul 1978
Diablo Canyon 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1138 23 Apr 1968 7 May 1985
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1118 9 Dec 1970 13 Mar 1986
Donald C. Cook 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1020 25 Mar 1969 27 Aug 1975
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1090 25 Mar 1969 1 Jul 1978
Dresden 1 BWR BWR-1 Shut down 197 1 May 1956 4 Jul 1960 31 Oct 1978
2 BWR BWR-3 (WET) Operational 894 10 Jan 1966 9 Jun 1970
3 BWR BWR-3 (WET) Operational 879 14 Oct 1966 16 Nov 1971
Duane Arnold 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Shut down 601 22 May 1970 1 Feb 1975 10 Aug 2020
Edwin I. Hatch 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 924 30 Sep 1968 31 Dec 1975
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 924 1 Feb 1972 5 Sep 1979
Elk River 1 BWR Dismantled 22 1 Jan 1959 1 Jul 1964 1 Feb 1968
Fermi 1 FBR Prototype Shut down 61 8 Aug 1956 7 Aug 1966 29 Nov 1972
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1115 26 Sep 1972 23 Jan 1988
Fort Calhoun 1 PWR CE 2-loop (WET) Shut down 482 7 Jun 1968 9 Aug 1973 24 Oct 2016
Fort St. Vrain 1 HTGR General Atomics Shut down 330 1 Sep 1968 1 Jul 1979 29 Aug 1989
Ginna 1 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Operational 560 25 Apr 1966 1 Jun 1970
Grand Gulf 1 BWR BWR-6 (WET) Operational 1401 4 May 1974 1 Jul 1985
H. B. Robinson 1 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 735 13 Apr 1967 7 Mar 1971
Hallam 1 SGR Atomics International Dismantled 75 1 Jan 1959 1 Nov 1963 1 Sep 1969
Hartsville A1[143] BWR BWR-6 Unfinished 1285 23 May 1975[144] 29 Aug 1984[144]
A2[143] BWR BWR-6 Unfinished 1285 23 May 1975[144] 29 Aug 1984[144]
B1[143] BWR BWR-6 Unfinished 1285 23 May 1975[144] 22 Mar 1983[144]
B2[143] BWR BWR-6 Unfinished 1285 23 May 1975[144] 22 Mar 1983[144]
Hope Creek 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1172 1 Mar 1976 20 Dec 1986
Humboldt Bay 1 BWR BWR-1 Dismantled 63 1 Nov 1960 1 Aug 1963 2 Jul 1976
Indian Point 1 PWR Shut down 257 1 May 1956 1 Oct 1962 31 Oct 1974
2 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Shut down 998 14 Oct 1966 1 Aug 1974 30 Apr 2020[145]
3 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Shut down 1030 1 Nov 1968 30 Aug 1976 30 Apr 2021[145]
James A. FitzPatrick 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 813 1 Sep 1968 28 Jul 1975
Joseph M. Farley 1 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 874 1 Oct 1970 1 Dec 1977
2 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 883 1 Oct 1970 30 Jul 1981
Kemmerer 1 SFR Natrium Planned 345
Kewaunee 1 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Shut down 566 6 Aug 1968 16 Jun 1974 7 May 2013
La Crosse 1 BWR BWR-1 Dismantled 48 1 Mar 1963 7 Nov 1969 30 Apr 1987
LaSalle County 1 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1137 10 Sep 1973 1 Jan 1984
2 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1140 10 Sep 1973 19 Oct 1984
Limerick 1 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1134 19 Jun 1974 1 Feb 1986
2 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1134 19 Jun 1974 8 Jan 1990
Maine Yankee 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 860 1 Oct 1968 28 Dec 1972 1 Aug 1997
Marble Hill 1 PWR WH (DRY) Unfinished 1130 1 Aug 1977 10 Jan 1984
McGuire 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1158 1 Apr 1971 1 Dec 1981
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1158 1 Apr 1971 1 Mar 1984
Millstone 1 BWR BWR-3 (WET) Shut down 641 1 May 1966 28 Dec 1970 21 Jul 1998
2 PWR CE 2-loop (DRY) Operational 869 1 Nov 1969 26 Dec 1975
3 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1210 9 Aug 1974 23 Apr 1986
Monticello 1 BWR BWR-3 (WET) Operational 628 19 Jun 1967 30 Jun 1971
Nine Mile Point 1 BWR BWR-2 (WET) Operational 613 12 Apr 1965 1 Dec 1969
2 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1277 1 Aug 1975 11 Mar 1988
North Anna 1 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 948 19 Feb 1971 6 Jun 1978
2 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 944 19 Feb 1971 14 Dec 1980
Oconee 1 PWR B & W (DRY) Operational 847 6 Nov 1967 15 Jul 1973
2 PWR B & W (DRY) Operational 848 6 Nov 1967 9 Sep 1974
3 PWR B & W (DRY) Operational 859 6 Nov 1967 16 Dec 1974
Oyster Creek 1 BWR BWR-2 (WET) Shut down 619 15 Dec 1964 23 Dec 1969 17 Sep 2018
Palisades 1 PWR CE 2-loop (DRY) Shut down 805 14 Mar 1967 31 Dec 1971 20 May 2022
Palo Verde 1 PWR CE80 2-loop (DRY) Operational 1311 25 May 1976 28 Jan 1986
2 PWR CE80 2-loop (DRY) Operational 1314 1 Jun 1976 19 Sep 1986
3 PWR CE80 2-loop (DRY) Operational 1312 1 Jun 1976 8 Jan 1988
Parr 1 PHWR CVTR Dismantled 17 1 Jan 1960 18 Dec 1963 10 Jan 1967
Pathfinder 1 BWR BWR-1 Dismantled 59 1 Jan 1959 1 Aug 1966 1 Oct 1967
Peach Bottom 1 GCR Prototype Shut down 40 1 Feb 1962 1 Jun 1966 1 Nov 1974
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1300 31 Jan 1968 5 Jul 1974
3 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 1331 31 Jan 1968 23 Dec 1974
Perry 1 BWR BWR-6 (WET) Operational 1240 1 Oct 1974 18 Nov 1987
Pilgrim 1 BWR BWR-3 (WET) Shut down 677 26 Aug 1968 9 Dec 1972 31 May 2019
Piqua 1 OCR Atomics International Decommissioned 12 1 Jan 1960 1 Nov 1963 1 Jan 1966
Point Beach 1 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Operational 591 19 Jul 1967 21 Dec 1970
2 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Operational 591 25 Jul 1968 1 Oct 1972
Prairie Island 1 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Operational 522 25 Jun 1968 16 Dec 1973
2 PWR WH 2-loop (DRY) Operational 519 25 Jun 1969 21 Dec 1974
Quad Cities 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 908 15 Feb 1967 18 Feb 1973
2 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Operational 911 15 Feb 1967 10 Mar 1973
Rancho Seco 1 PWR WH (DRY) Decommissioned 873 1 Apr 1969 17 Apr 1975 23 Jun 1989
River Bend 1 BWR BWR-6 (WET) Operational 967 25 Mar 1977 16 Jun 1986
Salem 1 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1169 25 Sep 1968 30 Jun 1977
2 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1158 25 Sep 1968 31 Oct 1981
San Onofre 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 436 16 Jul 1964 1 Jan 1968 30 Nov 1992
2 PWR CE (DRY) Shut down/in decommissioning 1070 1 Mar 1974 8 Aug 1983 7 Jun 2013
3 PWR CE (DRY) Shut down/in decommissioning 1180 1 Mar 1974 1 Apr 1984 7 Jun 2013
Saxton 1 PWR Decommissioned 3 1 Jan 1960 Nov 1961 May 1972
Seabrook 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1246 7 Jul 1976 15 Mar 1990
Seadrift 1 HTGR Xe-100 Planned 80
2 HTGR Xe-100 Planned 80
3 HTGR Xe-100 Planned 80
4 HTGR Xe-100 Planned 80
Sequoyah 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1152 27 May 1970 1 Jul 1981
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1139 27 May 1970 1 Jun 1982
Shearon Harris 1 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 964 28 Jan 1978 2 May 1987
Shippingport 1 PWR WH Dismantled 60 6 Sep 1954 26 May 1958 Dec 1989
Shoreham 1 BWR GE Shut down 820 1 Nov 1972 1 Aug 1986 1 May 1989
SRE 1 FBR Decommissioned 6.5 1954 12 Jul 1957 15 Feb 1964
South Texas 1 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1280 22 Dec 1975 25 Aug 1988
2 PWR WH 4-loop (DRY) Operational 1280 22 Dec 1975 19 Jun 1989
St. Lucie 1 PWR CE (DRY) Operational 981 1 Jul 1970 1 Mar 1976
2 PWR CE (DRY) Operational 987 2 Jun 1977 10 Jun 1983
Surry 1 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 838 25 Jun 1968 22 Dec 1972
2 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 838 25 Jun 1968 1 May 1973
Susquehanna 1 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1257 2 Nov 1973 12 Nov 1982
2 BWR BWR-5 (WET) Operational 1257 2 Nov 1973 27 Jun 1984
Three Mile Island 1 PWR B & W (DRY) Shut down 819 18 May 1968 2 Sep 1974 20 Sep 2019
2 PWR B & W (DRY) Core melt 880 1 Nov 1969 30 Dec 1978 28 Mar 1979
Trojan 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 1095 1 Feb 1970 20 May 1976 9 Nov 1992
Turkey Point 1 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 837 27 Apr 1967 14 Dec 1972
2 PWR WH 3-loop (DRY) Operational 821 27 Apr 1967 7 Sep 1973
3 PWR AP1000 Planned 1100
4 PWR AP1000 Planned 1100
Vallecitos 1 BWR BWR-1 Shut down 25 1 Jan 1956 19 Oct 1957 9 Dec 1963
Vermont Yankee 1 BWR BWR-4 (WET) Shut down 605[146] 11 Dec 1967 30 Nov 1972 29 Dec 2014[147]
Virgil C. Summer 1 PWR WH 3-Loop (DRY) Operational 1000 21 Mar 1973 1 Jan 1984
Vogtle 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1150 1 Aug 1976 1 Jun 1987
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1152 1 Aug 1976 20 May 1989
3 PWR AP1000 Operational 1117 12 Mar 2013 31 Jul 2023[148]
4 PWR AP1000 Under commissioning 1117 19 Nov 2013 (2024)[149]
Waterford 1 PWR CE 2-loop (DRY) Operational 1168 14 Nov 1974 24 Sep 1985
Watts Bar 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1157 20 Jul 1973 27 May 1996
2 PWR WH 4-Loop (ICECOND) Operational 1164 1 Sep 1973 4 Jun 2016
Wolf Creek 1 PWR WH 4-Loop (DRY) Operational 1200 31 May 1977 3 Sep 1985
Yankee Rowe 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 167 1 Nov 1957 1 Jul 1961 1 Oct 1991
Zion 1 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 1040 1 Dec 1968 31 Dec 1973 13 Feb 1998
2 PWR WH (DRY) Dismantled 1040 1 Dec 1968 17 Sep 1974 13 Feb 1998

In 2019 the NRC approved a second 20-year license extension for Turkey Point units 3 and 4, the first time NRC had extended licenses to 80 years total lifetime. Similar extensions for about 20 reactors are planned or intended, with more expected in the future.[150]

Safety and accidents

Main articles: Nuclear safety in the U.S. and Nuclear power plant accidents in the United States

A cleanup crew working to remove radioactive contamination after the Three Mile Island accident
Erosion of the 6-inch-thick (150 mm) carbon steel reactor head at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant in 2002, caused by a persistent leak of borated water.

Regulation of nuclear power plants in the United States is conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which divides the nation into 4 administrative divisions.

Three Mile Island

On March 28, 1979, equipment failures and operator error contributed to loss of coolant and a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant's user interface.[151] The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Met Ed, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis. The NRC's authorization of the release of 40,000 gallons of radioactive waste water directly in the Susquehanna River led to a loss of credibility with the press and community.[151]

The Three Mile Island accident inspired Perrow's book Normal Accidents, where a nuclear accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. TMI was an example of a normal accident because it was "unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable".[152] The World Nuclear Association has stated that cleanup of the damaged nuclear reactor system at TMI-2 took nearly 12 years and cost approximately US$973 million.[153] Benjamin K. Sovacool, in his 2007 preliminary assessment of major energy accidents, estimated that the TMI accident caused a total of $2.4 billion in property damages.[154] The health effects of the Three Mile Island accident are widely, but not universally, agreed to be very low level.[153][155] The accident triggered protests around the world.[156]

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident was a pivotal event that led to questions about U.S. nuclear safety.[157] Earlier events had a similar effect, including a 1975 fire at Browns Ferry and the 1976 testimonials of three concerned GE nuclear engineers, the GE Three. In 1981, workers inadvertently reversed pipe restraints at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant reactors, compromising seismic protection systems, which further undermined confidence in nuclear safety. All of these well-publicised events undermined public support for the U.S. nuclear industry in the 1970s and the 1980s.[157]

Other incidents

On March 5, 2002, maintenance workers discovered that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole into the reactor vessel head of the Davis-Besse plant. Although the corrosion did not lead to an accident, this was considered to be a serious nuclear safety incident.[158][159] The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis-Besse shut down until March 2004, so that FirstEnergy was able to perform all the necessary maintenance for safe operations. The NRC imposed its largest fine ever—more than $5 million—against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion. The company paid an additional $28 million in fines under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.[158]

In 2013 the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was permanently retired when premature wear was found in the Steam Generators which had been replaced in 2010–2011.

The nuclear industry in the United States has maintained one of the best industrial safety records in the world with respect to all kinds of accidents. For 2008, the industry hit a new low of 0.13 industrial accidents per 200,000 worker-hours.[160] This is improved over 0.24 in 2005, which was still a factor of 14.6 less than the 3.5 number for all manufacturing industries.[161] However, more than a quarter of U.S. nuclear plant operators "have failed to properly tell regulators about equipment defects that could imperil reactor safety", according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.[162]

As of February 2009, the NRC requires that the design of new power plants ensures that the reactor containment would remain intact, cooling systems would continue to operate, and spent fuel pools would be protected, in the event of an aircraft crash. This is an issue that has gained attention since the September 11 attacks. The regulation does not apply to the 100 commercial reactors now operating.[163] However, the containment structures of nuclear power plants are among the strongest structures ever built by mankind; independent studies have shown that existing plants would easily survive the impact of a large commercial jetliner without loss of structural integrity.[164]

Recent concerns have been expressed about safety issues affecting a large part of the nuclear fleet of reactors. In 2012, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which tracks ongoing safety issues at operating nuclear plants, found that "leakage of radioactive materials is a pervasive problem at almost 90 percent of all reactors, as are issues that pose a risk of nuclear accidents".[165] The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that radioactive tritium has leaked from 48 of the 65 nuclear sites in the United States.[166]

Post-Fukushima concerns

Following the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, according to Black & Veatch’s annual utility survey that took place after the disaster, of the 700 executives from the US electric utility industry that were surveyed, nuclear safety was the top concern.[167] There are likely to be increased requirements for on-site spent fuel management and elevated design basis threats at nuclear power plants.[76][77] License extensions for existing reactors will face additional scrutiny, with outcomes depending on the degree to which plants can meet new requirements, and some extensions already granted for more than 60 of the 104 operating U.S. reactors could be revisited. On-site storage, consolidated long-term storage, and geological disposal of spent fuel is "likely to be reevaluated in a new light because of the Fukushima storage pool experience".[76] In March 2011, nuclear experts told Congress that spent-fuel pools at US nuclear power plants are too full. They say the entire US spent-fuel policy should be overhauled in light of the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.[168]

David Lochbaum, chief nuclear safety officer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has repeatedly questioned the safety of the Fukushima I Plant's General Electric Mark 1 reactor design, which is used in almost a quarter of the United States' nuclear fleet.[169]

About one third of reactors in the US are boiling water reactors, the same technology which was involved in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. There are also eight nuclear power plants located along the seismically active West coast. Twelve of the American reactors that are of the same vintage as the Fukushima Daiichi plant are in seismically active areas.[170] Earthquake risk is often measured by "Peak Ground Acceleration", or PGA, and the following nuclear power plants have a two percent or greater chance of having PGA over 0.15g in the next 50 years: Diablo Canyon, Calif.; San Onofre, Calif.; Sequoyah, Tenn.; H.B. Robinson, SC.; Watts Bar, Tenn.; Virgil C. Summer, SC.; Vogtle, GA.; Indian Point, NY.; Oconee, SC.; and Seabrook, NH. Most nuclear plants are designed to keep operating up to 0.2g, but can withstand PGA much higher than 0.2.[170]

Nuclear power plant accidents in the U.S. with more than US$140 million in property damage[171][172]
Date Plant Location Description Cost
(in millions
$2006 )
March 28, 1979 Three Mile Island Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania Loss of coolant and partial core meltdown, see Three Mile Island accident and Three Mile Island accident health effects US$2,400
March 9, 1985 Browns Ferry Athens, Alabama Instrumentation systems malfunction during startup, which led to suspension of operations at all three Units US$1,830
April 11, 1986 Pilgrim Plymouth, Massachusetts Recurring equipment problems force emergency shutdown of Boston Edison's plant US$1,001
March 31, 1987 Peach Bottom Delta, Pennsylvania Units 2 and 3 shutdown due to cooling malfunctions and unexplained equipment problems US$400
December 19, 1987 Nine Mile Point Scriba, New York Malfunctions force Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation to shut down Unit 1 US$150
February 20, 1996 Millstone Waterford, Connecticut Leaking valve forces shutdown of Units 1 and 2, multiple equipment failures found US$254
September 2, 1996 Crystal River Crystal River, Florida Balance-of-plant equipment malfunction forces shutdown and extensive repairs US$384
February 1, 2010 Vermont Yankee Vernon, Vermont Deteriorating underground pipes leak radioactive tritium into groundwater supplies US$700

Security and deliberate attacks

Main article: Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack

The United States 9/11 Commission has said that nuclear power plants were potential targets originally considered for the September 11 attacks. If terrorist groups could sufficiently damage safety systems to cause a core meltdown at a nuclear power plant, and/or sufficiently damage spent fuel pools, such an attack could lead to widespread radioactive contamination. The research scientist Harold Feiveson has written that nuclear facilities should be made extremely safe from attacks that could release massive quantities of radioactivity into the community. New reactor designs have features of passive nuclear safety, which may help. In the United States, the NRC carries out "Force on Force" (FOF) exercises at all Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) sites at least once every three years.[48]

Uranium supply

Sources of uranium fuel for the US commercial nuclear power industry in 2012 (US Energy Information Administration)

A 2012 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded: “The currently defined uranium resource base is more than adequate to meet high-case requirements through 2035 and well into the foreseeable future.”[173]

At the start of 2013, the identified remaining worldwide uranium resources stood at 5.90 million tons, enough to supply the world's reactors at current consumption rates for more than 120 years, even if no additional uranium deposits are discovered in the meantime. Undiscovered uranium resources as of 2013 were estimated to be 7.7 million tons. Doubling the price of uranium would increase the identified reserves as of 2013 to 7.64 million tons.[174] Over the decade 2003–2013, the identified reserves of uranium (at the same price of US$130/kg) rose from 4.59 million tons in 2003 to 5.90 million tons in 2013, an increase of 28%.[175]

Fuel cycle

Uranium mining

Main article: Uranium mining in the United States

The United States has the 4th largest uranium reserves in the world.[176] The U.S. has its most prominent uranium reserves in New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming. The U.S. Department of Energy has approximated there to be at least 300 million pounds of uranium in these areas.[177] Domestic production increased until 1980, after which it declined sharply due to low uranium prices. In 2012, the United States mined 17% of the uranium consumed by its nuclear power plants. The remainder was imported, principally from Canada, Russia and Australia.[176] Uranium is mined using several methods including open-pit mining, underground mining, and in-situ leaching.[178] As of 2017, there are more than 4000 abandoned uranium mines in the western USA, with 520 to over 1000 on Navajo land, and many others being located on other tribal lands.[44][179]

Uranium enrichment

Main article: Uranium enrichment

Location of nuclear reactor fuel processing facilities in the United States (US NRC)

There is one gas centrifuge enrichment plant currently in commercial operation in the US. The National Enrichment Facility, operated by URENCO east of Eunice, New Mexico, was the first uranium enrichment plant in 30 years to be built in the US. The plant started enriching uranium in 2010.[180] Two additional gas centrifuge plants have been licensed by the NRC, but are not operating. The American Centrifuge Plant in Piketown, Ohio broke ground in 2007, but stopped construction in 2009. The Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in Bonneville County, Idaho was licensed in 2011, but construction is on hold.[181]

Previously (2008), demonstration activities were underway in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for a future centrifugal enrichment plant. The new plant would have been called the American Centrifuge Plant, at an estimated cost of US$2.3 billion.[182]

As of September 30, 2015, the DOE is ending its contract with the American Centrifuge Project and has stopped funding the project.[183]


Nuclear reprocessing has been politically controversial because of the alleged potential to contribute to nuclear proliferation, the alleged vulnerability to nuclear terrorism, the debate over whether and where to dispose of spent fuel in a deep geological repository, and because of disputes about its economics compared to the once-through fuel cycle.[184] The Obama administration has disallowed reprocessing of spent fuel, citing nuclear proliferation concerns.[185] Opponents of reprocessing contend that the recycled materials could be used for weapons. However, it is unlikely that reprocessed plutonium or other material extracted from commercial spent fuel would be used for nuclear weapons, because it is not weapons-grade material.[186] Nonetheless, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is possible that terrorists could steal these materials, because the reprocessed plutonium is less radiotoxic than spent fuel and therefore much easier to handle.[187] Additionally, it has been argued that reprocessing is more expensive when compared with spent fuel storage. One study by the Boston Consulting Group estimated that reprocessing is six percent more expensive than spent fuel storage while another study by the Kennedy School of Government stated that reprocessing is 100 percent more expensive.[188] Those two data points alone can serve to indicate that calculations as to the cost of nuclear reprocessing and the production of MOX-fuel compared to the "once thru fuel cycle" and disposal in deep geological repository are extremely difficult and results tend to vary widely even among dispassionate expert observers - let alone those whose results are colored by a political or economic agenda. Furthermore, fluctuations on the uranium market can make usage of MOX-fuel or even re-enrichment of reprocessed uranium more or less economical depending on long term price trends.

Waste disposal

The locations across the U.S. where nuclear waste is stored

Recently, as plants continue to age, many on-site spent fuel pools have come near capacity, prompting creation of dry cask storage facilities as well. Several lawsuits between utilities and the government have transpired over the cost of these facilities, because by law the government is required to foot the bill for actions that go beyond the spent fuel pool.

There are some 65,000 tons of nuclear waste now in temporary storage throughout the U.S.[189] Since 1987, Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, had been the proposed site for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, but the project was shelved in 2009 following years of controversy and legal wrangling.[189][190] Yucca Mountain is on Native American land and is considered sacred. Native Americans have not consented to having any nuclear waste plants placed in this area.[47] An alternative plan has not been proffered.[191] In June 2018, the Trump administration and some members of Congress again began proposing using Yucca Mountain, with Nevada Senators raising opposition.[192]

At places like Maine Yankee, Connecticut Yankee and Rancho Seco, reactors no longer operate, but the spent fuel remains in small concrete-and-steel silos that require maintenance and monitoring by a guard force. Sometimes the presence of nuclear waste prevents re-use of the sites by industry.[193]

Without a long-term solution to store nuclear waste, a nuclear renaissance in the U.S. remains unlikely. Nine states have "explicit moratoria on new nuclear power until a storage solution emerges".[194][195]

Some nuclear power advocates argue that the United States should develop factories and reactors that will recycle some spent fuel. But the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future said in 2012 that "no existing technology was adequate for that purpose, given cost considerations and the risk of nuclear proliferation".[195] A major recommendation was that "the United States should undertake...one or more permanent deep geological facilities for the safe disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste".[196]

There is an "international consensus on the advisability of storing nuclear waste in deep underground repositories",[197] but no country in the world has yet opened such a site.[197][99][198][199][200][201] The Obama administration has disallowed reprocessing of nuclear waste, citing nuclear proliferation concerns.[185]

The U.S Nuclear Waste Policy Act, a fund which previously received $750 million in fee revenues each year from the nation's combined nuclear electric utilities, had an unspent balance of $44.5 billion as of the end of FY2017, when a court ordered the federal government to cease withdrawing the fund, until it provides a destination for the utilities commercial spent fuel.[202]

Horizontal drillhole disposal describes proposals to drill over one kilometer vertically, and two kilometers horizontally in the earth's crust, for the purpose of disposing of high-level waste forms such as spent nuclear fuel, Caesium-137, or Strontium-90. After the emplacement and the retrievability period,[clarification needed] drillholes would be backfilled and sealed. A series of tests of the technology were carried out in November 2018 and then again publicly in January 2019 by a U.S. based private company.[203] The test demonstrated the emplacement of a test-canister in a horizontal drillhole and retrieval of the same canister. There was no actual high-level waste used in this test.[204][205]

Water use in nuclear power production

U.S. 2014 Electricity Generation By Type.[206]

A 2011 NREL study of water use in electricity generation concluded that the median nuclear plant with cooling towers consumed 672 gallons per megawatt-hour (gal/MWh), a usage similar to that of coal plants, but more than other generating technologies, except hydroelectricity (median reservoir evaporation loss of 4,491 gal/MWh) and concentrating solar power (786 gal/MWh for power tower designs, and 865 for trough). Nuclear plants with once-through cooling systems consume only 269 gal/MWh, but require withdrawal of 44,350 gal/MWh. This makes nuclear plants with once-through cooling susceptible to drought.[207]

A 2008 study by the Associated Press found that of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S., "... 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought. All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants’ turbines,"[208] much like all Rankine cycle power plants. During the 2008 southeast drought, reactor output was reduced to lower operating power or forced to shut down for safety.[208]

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is located in a desert and purchases reclaimed wastewater for cooling.[209]

Plant decommissioning

Nuclear Power plants that have been decommissioned or have announced plans to decommission. The size of the circles indicates the amount of electricity generated
Timeline and operating capacity of plants planned to be decommissioned from 2018 to 2025

The price of energy inputs and the environmental costs of every nuclear power plant continue long after the facility has finished generating its last useful electricity. Both nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment facilities must be decommissioned, returning the facility and its parts to a safe enough level to be entrusted for other uses. After a cooling-off period that may last as long as a century, reactors must be dismantled and cut into small pieces to be packed in containers for final disposal. The process is very expensive, time-consuming, dangerous for workers, hazardous to the natural environment, and presents new opportunities for human error, accidents or sabotage.[210]

The total energy required for decommissioning can be as much as 50% more than the energy needed for the original construction. In most cases, the decommissioning process costs between US$300 million to US$5.6 billion. Decommissioning at nuclear sites which have experienced a serious accident are the most expensive and time-consuming. In the U.S. there are 13 reactors that have permanently shut down and are in some phase of decommissioning, but none of them have completed the process.[210]

New methods for decommissioning have been developed in order to minimize the usual high decommissioning costs. One of these methods is in situ decommissioning (ISD), which was implemented at the U.S. Department of Energy Savannah River Site in South Carolina for the closures of the P and R Reactors. With this tactic, the cost of decommissioning both reactors was $73 million. In comparison, the decommissioning of each reactor using traditional methods would have been an estimated $250 million. This results in a 71% decrease in cost by using ISD.[211]

In the United States a Nuclear Waste Policy Act and Nuclear Decommissioning Trust Fund is legally required, with utilities banking 0.1 to 0.2 cents/kWh during operations to fund future decommissioning. They must report regularly to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the status of their decommissioning funds. About 70% of the total estimated cost of decommissioning all U.S. nuclear power reactors has already been collected (on the basis of the average cost of $320 million per reactor-steam turbine unit).[212]

As of 2011, there are 13 reactors that had permanently shut down and are in some phase of decommissioning.[210] With Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Plant and Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station having completed the process in 2006–2007, after ceasing commercial electricity production circa 1992. The majority of the 15 years, was used to allow the station to naturally cool-down on its own, which makes the manual disassembly process both safer and cheaper.

The number of nuclear power reactors are shrinking as they near the end of their life. It is expected that by 2025 many of the reactors will have been shut down due to their age. Because the costs associated with the constructions of nuclear reactors are also continuously increasing, this is expected to be problematic for the provision of energy in the country.[213] When reactors are shut down, stakeholders in the energy sector have often not replaced them with renewable energy resources but rather with coal or natural gas. This is because unlike renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, coal and natural gas can be used to generate electricity on a 24-hour basis.[214]


Fuel vendors

The following companies have active Nuclear fuel fabrication facilities in the United States.[215] These are all light water fuel fabrication facilities because only LWRs are operating in the US. The US currently has no MOX fuel fabrication facilities, though Duke Energy has expressed intent of building one of a relatively small capacity.[216]

Framatome (formerly Areva) runs fabrication facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia and Richland, Washington. It also has a Generation III+ plant design, EPR (formerly the Evolutionary Power Reactor), which it plans to market in the US.[217]
Westinghouse operates a fuel fabrication facility in Columbia, South Carolina,[218] which processes 1,600 metric tons Uranium (MTU) per year. It previously operated a nuclear fuel plant in Hematite, Missouri but has since closed it down.
GE pioneered the BWR technology that has become widely used throughout the world. It formed the Global Nuclear Fuel joint venture in 1999 with Hitachi and Toshiba and later restructured into GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy. It operates the fuel fabrication facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a capacity of 1,200 MTU per year.
KazAtomProm and the US company Centrus Energy have a partnership on competitive supplies of Kazakhstan's uranium to the US market.[219]

Industry and academic

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) scientific and educational organization has both academic and industry members. The organization publishes a large amount of literature on nuclear technology in several journals. The ANS also has some offshoot organizations such as North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN).

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is an industry group whose activities include lobbying, experience sharing between companies and plants, and provides data on the industry to a number of outfits.

Anti-nuclear power groups

Anti-nuclear protest, Boston, MA, 1977

Some sixty anti-nuclear power groups are operating, or have operated, in the United States. These include: Abalone Alliance, Clamshell Alliance, Greenpeace USA, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Musicians United for Safe Energy, Nuclear Control Institute, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Public Citizen Energy Program, Shad Alliance, and the Sierra Club.

In 1992, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that "his agency had been pushed in the right direction on safety issues because of the pleas and protests of nuclear watchdog groups".[220]

Pro-nuclear power groups

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See also: Nuclear power debate

There has been considerable public and scientific debate about the use of nuclear power in the United States, mainly from the 1960s to the late 1980s, but also since about 2001 when talk of a nuclear renaissance began. There has been debate about issues such as nuclear accidents, radioactive waste disposal, nuclear proliferation, nuclear economics, and nuclear terrorism.[38]

Some scientists and engineers have expressed reservations about nuclear power, including Barry Commoner, S. David Freeman, John Gofman, Arnold Gundersen, Mark Z. Jacobson, Amory Lovins, Arjun Makhijani, Gregory Minor, and Joseph Romm. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has said: "If our nation wants to reduce global warming, air pollution and energy instability, we should invest only in the best energy options. Nuclear energy isn't one of them".[221] Arnold Gundersen, chief engineer of Fairewinds Associates and a former nuclear power industry executive, has questioned the safety of the Westinghouse AP1000, a proposed third-generation nuclear reactor.[222] John Gofman, a nuclear chemist and doctor, raised concerns about exposure to low-level radiation in the 1960s and argued against commercial nuclear power in the U.S.[223] In "Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly", Amory Lovins, a physicist with the Rocky Mountain Institute, argued that expanded nuclear power "does not represent a cost-effective solution to global warming and that investors would shun it were it not for generous government subsidies lubricated by intensive lobbying efforts".[224]

Patrick Moore (an early Greenpeace member and former president of Greenpeace Canada) spoke out against nuclear power in 1976,[225] but today he supports it, along with renewable energy sources.[226][227][228] In Australian newspaper The Age, he writes "Greenpeace is wrong — we must consider nuclear power".[229] He argues that any realistic plan to reduce reliance on fossil fuels or greenhouse gas emissions requires increased use of nuclear energy.[226] Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace US responded that nuclear energy is too risky, takes too long to build to address climate change, and by showing that the can U.S. shift to nearly 100% renewable energy while phasing out nuclear power by 2050.[230][231]

Environmentalist Stewart Brand wrote the book Whole Earth Discipline, which examines how nuclear power and some other technologies can be used as tools to address global warming.[232] Bernard Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Pittsburgh, calculates that nuclear power is many times safer than other forms of power generation.[233]

Infographic about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository

President Obama early on included nuclear power as part of his "all of the above" energy strategy.[234] In a speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 2010, he demonstrated his commitment to nuclear power by announcing his approval of an $8 billion loan guarantee to pave the way for construction of the first new US nuclear power plant in nearly 30 years.[235][236] Then in 2012, his first post-Fukishima state-of-the-union address, Barack Obama said that America needs "an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy," yet pointedly omitted any mention of nuclear power.[237] But in February 2014, Energy secretary Ernest Moniz announced $6.5 billion in federal loan guarantees to enable construction of two new nuclear reactors, the first in the US since 1996.[238]

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in March 2013 over one-third of U.S. nuclear power plants suffered safety-related incidents over the past three years, and nuclear regulators and plant operators need to improve inspections to prevent such events.[239]

Pandora's Promise is a 2013 documentary film, directed by Robert Stone. It presents an argument that nuclear energy, typically feared by environmentalists, is in fact the only feasible way of meeting humanity's growing need for energy while also addressing the serious problem of climate change. The movie features several notable individuals (some of whom were once vehemently opposed to nuclear power, but who now speak in support of it), including: Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Richard Rhodes and Michael Shellenberger.[240] Anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott appears briefly.[241]

As of 2014, the U.S. nuclear industry has begun a new lobbying effort, hiring three former senators — Evan Bayh, a Democrat; Judd Gregg, a Republican; and Spencer Abraham, a Republican — as well as William M. Daley, a former staffer to President Obama. The initiative is called Nuclear Matters, and it has begun a newspaper advertising campaign.[242]

Founder of the Energy Impact Center, a research institute analyzing solutions towards net negative carbon by 2040, Bret Kugelmass believes that “even if we achieved net zero new emissions globally, we’d continue to add extra heat at the same rate we are adding it today,” explaining that we need to remove the already existent carbon dioxide in our atmosphere in order to reverse climate change, not just stop the generation of new emissions.[243] Research efforts conducted by the Energy Impact Center have concluded that nuclear energy is the only energy source that is capable of becoming net-negative and effectively solving global warming.[244]

Public opinion

The Gallup organization, which has periodically polled US opinion on nuclear power since 1994, found in March 2016 that, for the first time, a majority (54%) opposed nuclear power, versus 44% in favor. In polls from 2004 through 2015, a majority had supported nuclear power. support peaked at 62% in 2010, and has been in decline since.[245]

According to a CBS News poll, what had been growing acceptance of nuclear power in the United States was eroded sharply following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, with support for building nuclear power plants in the U.S. dropping slightly lower than it was immediately after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.[246] Only 43 percent of those polled after the Fukushima nuclear emergency said they would approve building new power plants in the United States.[246] A Washington Post-ABC poll conducted in April 2011 found that 64 percent of Americans opposed the construction of new nuclear reactors.[247] A survey sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, conducted in September 2011, found that "62 percent of respondents said they favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States, with 35 percent opposed".[248]

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 44 percent of Americans favored and 49 percent opposed the promotion of increased use of nuclear power.[249]

A January 2014 Rasmussen poll found likely US voters split nearly evenly on whether to build more nuclear power plants, 39 percent in favor, versus 37 percent opposed, with an error margin of 3 percent.[250]

Knowledge and familiarity to nuclear power are generally associated with higher support for the technology. A study conducted by Ann Bisconti shows that those who feel more educated about nuclear power also have a more positive opinion towards it; in addition, people who live near nuclear power plants also tend to be largely more in support of nuclear power than the general public.[251]

Decreasing public support is seen as one of the causes for the premature closure of many plants in the United States.[252]


George W. Bush signing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was designed to promote US nuclear reactor construction, through incentives and subsidies, including cost-overrun support up to a total of $2 billion for six new nuclear plants.[253]
US nuclear power plants, highlighting recently and soon-to-be retired plants, as of 2018 (US EIA).

The low price of natural gas in the US since 2008 has spurred construction of gas-fired power plants as an alternative to nuclear plants. In August 2011, the head of America's largest nuclear utility said that this was not the time to build new nuclear plants, not because of political opposition or the threat of cost overruns, but because of the low price of natural gas. John Rowe, head of Exelon, said “Shale [gas] is good for the country, bad for new nuclear development".[237]

In 2013, four older reactors were permanently closed: San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, and Kewaunee in Wisconsin.[12][13] The state of Vermont tried to shut Vermont Yankee, in Vermont, but the plant was closed by the parent corporation for economic reasons in December 2014. New York State is seeking to close Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, in Buchanan, 30 miles from New York City, despite this reactor being the primary contributor to Vermont's green energy fund.[13][254]

The additional cancellation of five large reactor upgrades (Prairie Island, 1 reactor, LaSalle, 2 reactors, and Limerick, 2 reactors), four by the largest nuclear company in the U.S., suggest that the nuclear industry faces "a broad range of operational and economic problems".[255]

In July 2013, economist Mark Cooper named some nuclear power plants that face particularly intense challenges to their continued operation.[255] Cooper said that the lesson for policy makers and economists is clear: "nuclear reactors are simply not competitive".[255]

In December 2010, The Economist reported that the demand for nuclear power was softening in America.[112] In recent years,[when?] utilities have shown an interest in about 30 new reactors, but the number with any serious prospect of being built as of the end of 2010 was about a dozen, as some companies had withdrawn their applications for licenses to build.[111][256] Exelon has withdrawn its application for a license for a twin-unit nuclear plant in Victoria County, Texas, citing lower electricity demand projections. The decision has left the country's largest nuclear operator without a direct role in what the nuclear industry hopes is a nuclear renaissance.[257] Ground has been broken on two new nuclear plants with a total of four reactors. The Obama administration was seeking the expansion of a loan guarantee program but as of December 2010 had been unable to commit all the loan guarantee money already approved by Congress. Since talk a few years ago[when?] of a “nuclear renaissance”, gas prices have fallen and old reactors are getting license extensions. The only reactor to finish construction after 1996 was at Watts Bar, Tennessee, is an old unit, begun in 1973, whose construction was suspended in 1988, and was resumed in 2007.[258] It became operational in October 2016. Of the 100 reactors operating in the U.S., ground was broken on all of them in 1974 or earlier.[111][112]

In August 2012, Exelon stated that economic and market conditions, especially low natural gas prices, made the "construction of new merchant nuclear power plants in competitive markets uneconomical now and for the foreseeable future".[259] In early 2013, UBS noted that some smaller reactors operating in deregulated markets may become uneconomic to operate and maintain, due to competition from generators using low priced natural gas, and may be retired early.[260] The 556 MWe Kewaunee Power Station is being closed 20 years before license expiry for these economic reasons.[254][261][262] In February 2014, the Financial Times identified Pilgrim, Indian Point, Clinton, and Quad Cities power stations as potentially at risk of premature closure for economic reasons.[263]

Timeline of state subsidies for nuclear power as of 2019

As of 2017, the U.S. shale gas boom has lowered electricity generation costs placing severe pressure on the economics of operating older existing nuclear power plants.[264] Analysis by Bloomberg shows that over half of U.S. nuclear plants are running at a loss.[265] The Nuclear Energy Institute has estimated that 15 to 20 reactors are at risk of early closure for economic reasons.[266] Nuclear operators in Illinois and New York have obtained financial support from regulators, and operators in Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania are seeking similar support.[264] Some non-nuclear power generating companies have filed unfair competition lawsuits against these subsidies, and have raised the issue with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.[265]


United States nuclear generation (GWh)[267][268]
Year Total % of total Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2001 768,826 20.58% 68,707 61,272 62,141 56,003 61,512 68,023 69,166 68,389 63,378 60,461 62,342 67,431
2002 780,064 20.22% 70,926 61,658 63,041 58,437 63,032 66,372 70,421 70,778 64,481 60,493 61,520 68,905
2003 763,733 19.67% 69,211 60,942 59,933 56,776 62,202 64,181 69,653 69,024 63,584 60,016 59,600 68,612
2004 788,528 19.86% 70,806 64,102 63,285 58,620 64,917 67,734 71,975 71,068 65,932 62,530 58,941 68,617
2005 781,986 19.28% 69,828 60,947 61,539 55,484 62,970 66,144 71,070 71,382 66,739 61,236 62,913 71,735
2006 787,219 19.37% 71,912 62,616 63,721 57,567 62,776 68,391 72,186 72,016 66,642 57,509 61,392 70,490
2007 806,425 19.4% 74,006 65,225 64,305 57,301 65,025 68,923 72,739 72,751 67,579 61,690 64,899 71,983
2008 806,208 19.57% 70,735 65,130 64,716 57,333 64,826 70,319 74,318 72,617 67,054 62,820 63,408 72,931
2009 798,855 20.22% 74,102 64,227 67,241 59,408 65,395 69,735 72,949 72,245 65,752 58,021 59,069 70,710
2010 806,968 19.56% 72,569 65,245 64,635 57,611 66,658 68,301 71,913 71,574 69,371 62,751 62,655 73,683
2011 790,204 19.27% 72,743 64,789 65,662 54,547 57,013 65,270 72,345 71,339 66,849 63,337 64,474 71,837
2012 769,331 19.01% 72,381 63,847 61,729 55,871 62,081 65,140 69,129 69,602 64,511 59,743 56,713 68,584
2013 789,016 19.41% 71,406 61,483 62,947 56,767 62,848 66,430 70,539 71,344 65,799 63,184 64,975 71,294
2014 797,166 19.47% 73,163 62,639 62,397 56,385 62,947 68,138 71,940 71,129 67,535 62,391 65,140 73,363
2015 797,178 19.54% 74,270 63,461 64,547 59,784 65,827 68,516 71,412 72,415 66,476 60,571 60,264 69,634
2016 805,694 19.76% 72,525 65,638 66,149 62,732 66,576 67,175 70,349 71,526 65,448 60,733 65,179 71,662
2017 804,950 19.95% 73,121 63,560 65,093 56,743 61,313 67,011 71,314 72,384 68,098 65,995 66,618 73,700
2018 807,084 19.3% 74,649 64,790 67,033 59,133 67,320 69,688 72,456 72,282 64,725 59,397 63,954 71,657
2019 809,409 19.6% 73,701 64,715 65,080 60,581 67,124 68,805 72,199 71,911 66,064 62,033 64,125 73,074
2020 789,879 19.7% 74,170 65,911 63,997 59,170 64,338 67,205 69,385 68,982 65,727 59,362 61,760 69,871
2021 779,645 18.97% 71,732 62,954 63,708 57,092 63,394 66,070 68,832 69,471 64,484 56,945 62,749 70,720
2022 771,537 18.24% 70,577 61,852 63,154 55,290 63,382 65,663 68,857 68,897 63,733 58,945 62,041 69,094
2023 775,347 18.56% 70,870 60,807 62,820 56,662 61,473 64,965 69,888 69,744 65,560 61,403 62,258 68,898
Last entry, % of total 20.38% 19.67% 19.05% 18.91% 18.77% 18.21% 16.42% 16.45% 18.31% 18.64% 19.35% 19.89%

See also


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