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Nuclear power in the United States: Map

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NRC regions and locations of nuclear reactors, 2008
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 104 (69 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 nuclear power.

History



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 Atomic Energy Commission, created by the 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.

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 USS Nautilusmarker. 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 plantmarker 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 Statesmarker.

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 Independent Commission in 1975. 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 Commission 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 cancelled.

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.


The Three Mile Island accidentmarker has been the most serious accident experienced by the U.S. nuclear industry. Other accidents include those at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plantmarker, which has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United Statesmarker since 1979, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

To compare the historical safety record of civilian nuclear energy with the historical record of other forms of electrical generation, Ball, Roberts, and Simpson, the IAEAmarker, 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. In particular, coal power plants are 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 ash.

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.

Several US nuclear power plants closed well before their design lifetimes, including Rancho Secomarker in 1989 in California, San Onofre Unit 1marker in 1992 in California (units 2 and 3 are still operating), Zionmarker in 1998 in Illinois and Trojanmarker in 1992 in Oregon. Humboldt Baymarker in California closed in 1976, 13 years after geologists discovered it was built on a fault (the Little Salmon Fault). Shoreham Nuclear Power Plantmarker never operated commercially as an authorised Emergency Evacuation Plan could not be agreed on due the political climate after the Three Mile Island and Chernobylmarker accidents.The last permanent closure of a US nuclear power plant was in 1997.

Resurgence



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 which makes 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 Bellefontemarker. 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.

On August 26, 2008, it was reported that The Shaw Group and Westinghouse would construct a factory at the Port of Lake Charles at Lake Charles, Louisianamarker 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, Virginiamarker to build nuclear reactors.

As of July 2009, the proposed Victoria County Nuclear Power Plantmarker has been delayed, as the project proved difficult to finance. 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. 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.

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 reactors.

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 concerns. There 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.

Safety

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

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.

Worker safety

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.

Fuel cycle

Uranium mining

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 Statesmarker mined only 5% of the uranium consumed by its nuclear power plants. The remainder was imported, principally from Russiamarker and Australia. After 2001, however, uranium prices steadily increased, which prompted increased production and revived mines.

Uranium enrichment

The United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) performs all enrichment activities for U.S. commercial nuclear plants, using 11.3 million SWUs per year at its Paducah, Kentuckymarker site. 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.

Reprocessing

US policy forbade nuclear reprocessing inside the country from 1976 to 1981. Since the GNEP was proposed, several reprocessing proposals have been made. Most recently an environmental review initiated under the terms of the GNEP was cancelled, maintaining the status quo in the US for the time being.

Disposal

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 on site.

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.

Since 1987, Yucca Mountainmarker, in Nevada, had been the proposed site for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repositorymarker, 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 the allowable 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.

Nuclear organizations

Fuel vendors

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 fabrication facilities, though Duke Energy has expressed intent of building one of a relatively small capacity.

:Areva (formerly Areva NP) runs fabrication facilities in Lynchburg, Virginiamarker and Richland, Washingtonmarker. It also has a Generation III+ plant design, EPR (formerly the Evolutionary Power Reactor), which it plans to market in the US.
:Westinghouse operates a fuel fabrication facility in Columbia, South Carolinamarker, which processes 1,600 metric tons Uranium (MTU) per year. It previously operated a nuclear fuel plant in Hematite, Missourimarker 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 Carolinamarker, with a capacity of 1,200 MTU per year.


Industry and academic

The American Nuclear Society (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 (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

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.

See also



References

  1. Nuclear Energy Review, US Energy Information Administration, June 26, 2009.
  2. Nuclear Power: Outlook for New U.S. Reactors p. 3.
  3. Al Gore (2009). Our Choice, Bloomsbury, p. 157.
  4. and
  5. Hirschberg et al, Paul Scherrer Institut, 1996; in: IAEA, Sustainable Development and Nuclear Power, 1997
  6. Severe Accidents in the Energy Sector, Paul Scherrer Institut, 2001.
  7. "Nuclear power plant operations since 1957", US Energy Information Administration, 2007. :File:Fig 9-2 Nuclear Power Plant Operations.jpg
  8. Findings: Energy Lessons by John Tierney, New York Times, published October 6, 2008.
  9. "The Daily Sentinel." Commission, City support NuStart. Retrieved on December 1, 2006
  10. Combined License Applications for New Reactors
  11. Map of new nuclear units
  12. Shaw, Westinghouse sign nuke deal
  13. Louisiana goes nuclear, cnn.com, August 26, 2008
  14. Joint venture will build nuclear reactors in Newport News, The Virginian-Pilot, October 23, 2008
  15. Exelon delays plan for Texas nuclear plant
  16. A key energy industry nervously awaits its 'rebirth'
  17. MidAmerican drops Idaho nuclear project due to cost
  18. US nuclear industry tries to hijack Obama's climate change bill
  19. US Nuclear-Power Projects Court New Partners
  20. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7252/full/460152b.html
  21. Al Gore (2009). Our Choice, Bloomsbury, pp. 165-166.
  22. Is the Nuclear Renaissance Fizzling?
  23. Reactor Rule Made With 9/11 in Mind
  24. Reuters. Nuclear Industry's Safety, Operating Performance Remained Top-Notch in '08, WANO Indicators Show. March 27, 2009.
  25. Charles Fergus. Research Penn State. Are today's nuclear power plants safe?
  26. [1]
  27. Warren I Finch (2003) Uranium-fuel for nuclear energy 2002, US Geological Survey, Bulletin 2179-A.
  28. http://www.nei.org/filefolder/Water_Consumption_at_Nuclear_Power_Plants_0708_2.pdf
  29. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22804065//
  30. Uranium Ash at Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Plant Draws Fine | Environment News Service | Find Articles at BNET.com


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