NRC regions and locations of nuclear
The Shippingport reactor was the first
full-scale PWR nuclear power plant in the United States
As of 2008
in the United States, there are
pressurised water reactors
and 35 boiling water reactors
commercial nuclear generating units licensed to operate, producing
a total of 806.2 billion kilowatt-hours
of electricity, which was
19.6% of the nation's total electric energy consumption in 2008.
The United States is the world's largest supplier of commercial
Research into the peaceful uses of nuclear materials in the US
began shortly after the end of the Second World War
under the auspices of the
, created by the Atomic
. 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.
In particular, the US Navy
took the lead,
seeing the opportunity to have ships that could steam around the
world at high speeds without refueling being necessary for several
decades, 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, power on board, 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 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR),
the first naval model of which was installed in the submarine
This made the boat capable of
operating under water full time - demonstrating this principle by
reaching the North Pole and surfacing through the Polar ice cap
From the successful Naval Reactors program, ideas were formed for
the use of reactor steam to drive turbines turning generators. And,
so, President Dwight D.
Eisenhower opened the Shippingport
power plant nuclear power
plant on May 26, 1958
as part of his Atoms for Peace
program. Shippingport was the first commercial nuclear
power plant built in the United States.
The Atomic Energy Commission is now part of the Department of Energy
with the exception
of its regulatory branch, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(USNRC or simply NRC), which was spun off, and turned into an
. The NRC performs
important regulation for safety of the peaceful uses of nuclear
science in the US.
After the growth of nuclear power in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy
anticipated that more than 1,000 reactors would be
operating in the United States by 2000. But by the end of the
1970s, it became clear that nuclear power would not grow nearly so
dramatically, and more than 120 reactor orders were ultimately
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.
Island accident has been the most serious accident experienced by
the U.S. nuclear industry. Other accidents include those at the
Nuclear Power Plant, which has been the source of two of the top five
most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979, according to the Nuclear Regulatory
the historical safety record of civilian nuclear energy with the
historical record of other forms of electrical generation, Ball,
Roberts, and Simpson, the IAEA, and the
Paul Scherrer Institut found in separate studies that during the
period from 1970 - 1992,
there were just 39 on-the-job deaths of nuclear power plant
workers, while during the same time period, there were 6,400
on-the-job deaths of coal power
plant workers, 1,200 on-the-job deaths of natural gas power plant workers
and members of the general public caused by natural gas power plants, and
4,000 deaths of members of the general public caused by hydroelectric power plants.
particular, coal power plants
estimated to kill 24,000 Americans per year, due to lung disease as
well as causing 40,000 heart attacks per year in the United States.
According to esteemed journal Scientific American
, the average
coal power plant
emits more than
100 times as much radiation per year than a comparatively sized
nuclear power plant does, in the form of toxic coal waste
known as fly
A large number of plants have recently received 20-year extensions
to their licensed lifetimes. The average capacity factor
for all US plants has
improved from below 60% in the 1970s and 1980s, to 92% in 2007,
more than compensating for the retirement of older reactors.
nuclear power plants closed well before their design lifetimes,
including Rancho Seco in 1989 in California, San Onofre Unit
1 in 1992 in California (units 2 and 3 are still
operating), Zion in 1998 in Illinois and Trojan in 1992 in Oregon. Humboldt
Bay in California closed in 1976, 13 years after
geologists discovered it was built on a fault (the Little Salmon
Fault). Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant never operated commercially as an authorised
Emergency Evacuation Plan could not be agreed on due the political
climate after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents.
The last permanent closure of a US
nuclear power plant was in 1997.
In recent years,there has been a renewed interest in nuclear power
in the US. This has been facilitated in part by the federal
government with the Nuclear
Power 2010 Program
, which coordinates efforts for building new
nuclear power plants, and the Energy Policy Act
provisions for nuclear and oil industries.
As of March 9, 2009, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had
received applications for permission to construct 26 new nuclear
power reactors with applications for another 7 expected. Six of
these reactors have actually been ordered. In addition, the
Tennessee Valley Authority petitioned to restart construction on
the first two units at Bellefonte.
However not all of this new capacity will
necessarily be built, with some applications being made to keep
future options open and reserving places in a queue for government
incentives available for up to the first three plants based on each
innovative reactor design.
26, 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. 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.
July 2009, the proposed Victoria County Nuclear Power
Plant has been delayed, as the project proved difficult
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
has reported that without that "financial and regulatory
certainty," the company has said it could not proceed. Previously,
decided to "end its pursuit of a nuclear power plant in
Payette County, Idaho." MidAmerican cited cost as the primary
factor in their decision.
In May 2009, John Rowe, chairman of Exelon
which operates 17 nuclear reactors, said he would cancel or delay
construction of two new reactors in Texas without federal loan
guarantees. U.S. nuclear power developers are increasingly looking
for new partners to share the high costs and risks of building new
The prospect of a "nuclear renaissance" has also revived debate
about the nuclear waste
issue. On June
29, the Obama administration ended an environmental review which
would have allowed reprocessing
of nuclear waste, a process which has the potential to reduce the
stored volume of waste, citing nuclear proliferation
is an "international consensus on the advisability of storing
nuclear waste in deep underground repositories", but no country in
the world has yet opened such a site.
Regulation of nuclear power plants in the United States is done by
the Nuclear Regulatory
, which divides the nation into 4 administrative
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 Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks. The regulation does not apply to the 104 commercial
reactors now operating.
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. 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. Private industry has
an accident rate of 1.3 per 200,000 worker hours.
The United States has the 4th greatest uranium reserves in the
world. Domestic production increased until 1980, after which it
declined sharply due to low uranium prices. In 2001 the United States mined only 5% of the uranium
consumed by its nuclear power plants. The remainder was
imported, principally from Russia and Australia.
After 2001, however, uranium
prices steadily increased, which prompted increased production and
Enrichment Corporation (USEC) performs all enrichment
activities for U.S. commercial nuclear plants, using
11.3 million SWUs per year at its
The USEC plant still uses gaseous
diffusion enrichment, which has now been proved to be inferior to
centrifuge enrichment. However, the capital cost of such a plant is
so high that the plant will go through a few more years of
operation before being replaced by a modern centrifuge plant.
Currently, demonstration activities are underway in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee for a future centrifugal enrichment plant. The new plant
will be called the American Centrifuge Plant
which has an estimate cost of 2.3 billion USD.
US policy forbade nuclear
inside the country from 1976 to 1981. Since the
several reprocessing proposals have been made. Most recently an
environmental review initiated under the terms of the GNEP
maintaining the status quo in the US for the time being.
In the United States, all power produced by nuclear energy pays a
tax of 0.1 cents per kWh sold, in exchange for which the United
States government takes responsibility for the high level nuclear
waste. This tax has been collected since the beginning of the
industry, but action by the government towards creation of a
national geological repository was not taken until the 1990s and
2000s since all spent fuel is immediately stored in the spent fuel pools
Recently, as plants continue to age, many of these pools have come
near capacity, prompting creation of dry cask storage
facilities as well.
Several lawsuits between utilities and the government have also
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.
Mountain, in Nevada,
had been the proposed site for the Yucca
Mountain nuclear waste repository, but the project was shelved in 2009.
Water use in nuclear power production
Nuclear power plants have a number of uses for water: to create
steam to turn the turbines, to cool the steam
, and to store
spent nuclear fuel. The two different ways of cooling steam are
once through cooling and cooling towers. Once through cooling
involves drawing water from a nearby source and running it past the
steam. The steam condenses into water which is then pumped back to
the reactor to be heated again; meanwhile, the once through water
that has absorbed the heat from the steam is then dumped back into
the original source, but at a higher temperature. A cooling tower
can be used in conjunction with once through cooling or alone. A
cooling tower is a large structure that allows the water to adjust
to the ambient air temperature. The water can then be pumped back
into the plant to cool the steam down again, or dumped into a lake
or river. Cooling the water prevents damage to fish and plants
living in the body of water in which the waste water is being
dumped. The US EPA regulates
volume and temperature of this thermal discharge, usually in
conjunction with state and local authorities.
On average 6,027,397,253 gallons of water are used per year to cool
the steam from nuclear power plants. Citing the USGS
, the Nuclear Energy
Institute reports that this accounts for 3.3 percent of all the
freshwater consumed in the United States.
A recent study completed 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." In this type of
severe drought reactors are reduced to lower operating powers or
forced to shutdown for safety.
The following companies are those which have active Nuclear fuel
fabrication facilities in the
United States. These are all light water fuel fabrication
facilities because only LWRs are operating in the US. The US
currently has no MOX fuel
facilities, though Duke Energy
expressed intent of building one of a relatively small
- :Areva (formerly Areva NP) runs fabrication
facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia and Richland, Washington. It also has a Generation III+ plant design,
EPR (formerly the
Reactor), which it plans to market in the US.
- :Westinghouse operates a fuel fabrication
facility in Columbia, South Carolina, which processes 1,600 metric tons Uranium (MTU)
per year. It previously operated a nuclear fuel plant
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
North Carolina, with a capacity of 1,200 MTU per year.
Industry and academic
The American Nuclear
(ANS) scientific and educational organisation that has
academic and industry members. The organisation publishes a large
amount of literature on nuclear technology in several journals. The
ANS also has some offshoot organisations such as North American Young
Generation in Nuclear
The Nuclear Energy
(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
Some sixty anti-nuclear
are operating, or have operated, in the United
States. These include: Abalone
, Clamshell Alliance
, Institute for
Energy and Environmental Research
, Musicians United for Safe
, Nuclear Control
, Nuclear Information and
, Public Citizen
, Shad Alliance
the Sierra Club
- Nuclear Energy Review, US Energy Information
Administration, June 26, 2009.
- Nuclear Power: Outlook for New U.S. Reactors p.
- Al Gore (2009). Our Choice, Bloomsbury, p. 157.
- Hirschberg et al, Paul Scherrer Institut, 1996; in: IAEA,
Sustainable Development and Nuclear Power, 1997
- Severe Accidents in the Energy Sector, Paul Scherrer Institut,
- "Nuclear power plant operations since 1957", US Energy
Information Administration, 2007. :File:Fig 9-2
Nuclear Power Plant Operations.jpg
- Findings: Energy Lessons by John Tierney, New York
Times, published October 6, 2008.
- "The Daily Sentinel." Commission, City support NuStart. Retrieved on
- Combined License Applications for New
- Map of new nuclear units
- Shaw, Westinghouse sign nuke deal
- Louisiana goes nuclear, cnn.com, August 26,
- Joint venture will build nuclear reactors in
Newport News, The Virginian-Pilot, October 23, 2008
- Exelon delays plan for Texas nuclear plant
- A key energy industry nervously awaits its
- MidAmerican drops Idaho nuclear project due to
- US nuclear industry tries to hijack Obama's climate
- US Nuclear-Power Projects Court New Partners
- Al Gore (2009). Our Choice, Bloomsbury, pp. 165-166.
- Is the Nuclear Renaissance Fizzling?
- Reactor Rule Made With 9/11 in Mind
- Reuters. Nuclear Industry's Safety, Operating Performance
Remained Top-Notch in '08, WANO Indicators Show. March 27,
- Charles Fergus. Research Penn State. Are today's nuclear power plants safe?
- Warren I Finch (2003) Uranium-fuel for nuclear energy
2002, US Geological Survey, Bulletin 2179-A.
- Uranium Ash at Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Plant
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