Nuclear Power

U.S. Statistics

  • In 2007, nuclear power accounted for 19 percent of the electricity generated and consumed in the United States [1].  This amount of power is comparable to the electricity used in California, Texas, and New York combined [2].  Behind coal, nuclear power and natural gas-fired generation each represent about 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States [3].
  • The United States’ 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states produced 807 billion kilowatt hours of nuclear electricity generation in 2007, more than any other nation in the world [4].
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that nuclear power generation will increase to 917 billion kilowatt hours by 2030, representing 18 percent of total electricity generation. EIA expects 16.6 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity to be built as a result of incentives in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) [5].  The EPACT subsidy is a production tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity beginning operation by 2020, subject to a $125 million annual limit per gigawatt (1,000 megawatts). The production tax credit applies to the first 8 years of the unit’s operation [6].
  • EIA lists 19 potential nuclear projects (29 commercial reactors) in the United States, of which 9 projects have applied for a license to build and operate a plant. The total capacity of all of these potential plants is about 39 gigawatts.  Projects included are those in which the applicant has met all of the following criteria: 1) publicly notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of interest in applying for a combined license to build and operate new commercial nuclear reactors; 2) issued one or more press releases or initiated a pre-application meeting at the NRC; 3) selected a specific site for the reactor; and 4) selected a specific reactor design for the project. There is no assurance that any of these plants will ultimately be built or operate commercially [7].
  • While operating and maintenance costs for nuclear power are less than conventional plants, they have taken longer to build and are more expensive to construct (see below). The average construction-to-operation time for the current fleet of reactors is over 9 years and about 11.5 years if only reactors constructed since 1970 are considered [8].  The Energy Information Administration assumes a new advanced nuclear unit would take six years to build, while new coal- and natural gas-fired plants would take 2 to 4 years, depending on the type of plant [9].
  • Accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl turned public opinion against nuclear power. Since then, advances in technology have offered the possibility that future reactors will be made inherently safe from meltdown. While the U.S. nuclear industry has taken steps to reduce the potential for accidents in existing reactors, the public may continue to harbor past fears [10].

Emissions and Nuclear Waste

  • Nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides. Fossil fuel emissions, however, are associated with the uranium mining and uranium enrichment process as well as the transport of the uranium fuel to the nuclear plant [11].  The plants are also concrete-intensive, creating incremental emissions.
  • The biggest potential concern with nuclear power relates to the management and disposal of radioactive byproducts. Nuclear power waste is highly toxic and can remain radioactive for anywhere from one to millions of years. While “geologic isolation” offers a long-term disposal solution, the transportation to and from the sites is a major issue. In addition, individuals and communities near nuclear waste storage sites are reluctant to have a nuclear waste dump near their homes [12].
  • Yucca Mountain is the nation’s planned geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel, which is currently stored at 126 sites around the nation. Yucca Mountain is located in a remote site on federally protected land within the secure boundaries of the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada. It is approximately 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. On July 23, 2002, President Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, allowing the Department of Energy (DOE) to take the next step in establishing a safe repository to store the nation’s nuclear waste. The DOE is currently preparing an application to obtain the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to proceed with construction of the repository. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 requires utilities which generate electricity using nuclear power to pay a fee of one tenth of one cent ($0.001) per kilowatt-hour into the Nuclear Waste Fund, which will be used to pay for Yucca Mountain [13].

What Does A Nuclear Plant Cost?

  • EIA assumes the total overnight capital cost of an advanced nuclear plant to be $2,583 per kilowatt (in 2008 dollars) [14].  These costs are below the estimated cost made by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) of $3,410 per kilowatt (in 2008 dollars) [15].
  • Recent estimates from power companies indicate that the cost could be even higher. Georgia Power Co., a unit of Atlanta-based Southern, said it expects to spend $6.4 billion for a 45.7 percent interest in two new reactors proposed for the Vogtle nuclear plant site near Augusta, Georgia. FPL Group, Juno Beach, Florida, estimates it will cost $6 billion to $9 billion to build each of two reactors at its Turkey Point nuclear site in southeast Florida. Exelon, the nation’s biggest nuclear operator, is considering building two reactors on an undeveloped site in Texas, with a cost between $5 billion and $6.5 billion each [16].


  • In 2005, world-wide nuclear generation totaled 2626 billion kilowatt hours, with the U.S. generating 30 percent (782 billion kilowatt hours), France generating 16 percent (429 billion kilowatt hours), Germany generating 6 percent (155 billion kilowatt hours), and Russia generating 5 percent (140 billion kilowatt hours) [17].  While France generated only 16 percent of the world’s total nuclear generation in 2005, nuclear power represented 79 percent of the country’s total electricity generation [18].
  • In 2005, world-wide nuclear capacity totaled 374 gigawatts, of which the U.S. had 27 percent (100 gigawatts), France had 17 percent (63 gigawatts), Japan had 13 percent (47 gigawatts), Russia had 6 percent (23 gigawatts), and Germany had 5 percent (21 gigawatts) [19].
  • International growth in commercial nuclear power has slowed, but several countries have ambitious nuclear construction programs. While no nuclear reactors have been ordered in the United States since 1978, China, India, Russia, and South Korea and other countries have brought new reactors into service during the latter part of the twentieth century [20].
  • EIA projects that world nuclear capacity will increase from 374 gigawatts in 2005 to 498 gigawatts in 2030, an increase of 33 percent. China is expected to add 45 gigawatts, India 17 gigawatts, Russia 18 gigawatts, and South Korea 13 gigawatts [21].
  • EIA projects that world-wide electricity production from nuclear power will increase by 43 percent by 2030, reaching 3,754 billion kilowatt hours. Increases of over 100 percent are expected to come from China (720 percent), India (831 percent), and Russia (118 percent). However, nuclear power’s share drops from 15% of total world generation in 2005 to 11 percent of total generation in 2030 [22].


1. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2007, Table 8.2a,
2. Energy Information Administration, Nuclear Basics 101,
3. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2007, Table 8.2a,
4. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2007, Table s 9.1 and 9.2, , and
5. EnergyInformation Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2008, Tables A8 and A9,
6. Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008, page 90,
7. Energy Information Administration, Status of Potential New Commercial Nuclear Reactors in the United States,
8. Energy Information Administration, .
9. Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008, Table 38, page 79,
10. Bradley, Robert, Energy: The Master Resource (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2004), p.27.
11. US Environmental Protection Agency, Electricity from Nuclear Energy,
12. Bradley, Robert, Energy: The Master Resource (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2004), p.27.
13. US Department of Energy, Office of Radioactive Waste Management,
14. Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008, Table 38, page 79,
15. ACCF/NAM Study of the Economic Impact of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act,
16. “New Wave of Nuclear Plants Faces High Costs”, Rebecca Smith, Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2008,
17. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Annual, Table 2.7,
18. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Annual, Tables 2.7 and 6.3,
19. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Annual, Table 6.4,
20. Energy Information Administration, Nuclear Power Generation,
21. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2008, Table H5,
22. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2008, Table H7 and H11,