How Many Nuclear Power Plants Are In The US
The nuclear fleet in the US is a major contributor to the nation’s electricity supply. Approximately 30 power companies in 30 states operate nuclear plants. Since 2001, the average capacity factor of US nuclear plants has been over 90%. This is an increase from around 50% in the early 1970s. In 1992, the US nuclear fleet was only about half that large. By 2002, the US nuclear fleet was running at 90% capacity and remained there for many years. Today, US nuclear plants have passed the 90% capacity factor mark and even reached 94% in 2019. Despite its age, nuclear power continues to be more efficient than alternative energy sources like wind and solar PV.
In the US, there are nearly ten thousand megawatts (MW) of nuclear capacity. Almost all of this is generated from reactors that were built between 1967 and 1990. Since 1977, no new nuclear plant construction has been started in the US. This was due to opposition to nuclear power, which favored fossil fuels, and safety fears following the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster. However, in 2007, TVA decided to complete construction of Watts Bar 2, and the plant went online in 2016.
The Tennessee Valley Authority also plans to build nuclear power plants in Oak Ridge and Nashville. The TVA plans to build two 1213 MWe PWR reactors at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Bellefonte 1 and 2 were abandoned in 1988 but had largely finished construction. The NRC reissued their construction permits in February 2009, and these reactors will now be 55% complete. However, they will need major upgrades to operate safely.
There are currently 61 nuclear power centres in the US, and the number is continuing to grow. However, there have been some major setbacks in the development of these centres. For one, the cost of Vogtle is much higher than expected, with Westinghouse estimating that the project would cost $1.5 billion. Other estimates are much higher.
Following the March 2011 nuclear accident in Japan, the US nuclear industry has developed a ‘FLEX’ accident response strategy to ensure that it is ready to respond to an accident at a nuclear power plant within 24 hours. It has also established two national centres to facilitate rapid response in nuclear emergencies.
Two national centres
Two national nuclear power centres in the US are moving forward with research into advanced reactor designs and technology demonstration projects. In the past four years, Congress has passed bills providing billions of dollars for such projects. These bills include the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which directs the DOE to build two reactor testbed facilities. These testbed facilities will be used to test and demonstrate advanced reactor designs and technologies before commercial production begins.
The US government also has a financial incentive to export advanced nuclear reactors to foreign countries. The Export-Import Bank of the US and the International Development Finance Corporation are two examples of government agencies that can provide financing assistance for the export of advanced nuclear reactors. However, these agencies have not provided such support in recent decades.
Currently, almost all of the nuclear generating capacity in the United States is coming from reactors built between 1967 and 1990. There have been no new construction starts since 1977, and there were many political, environmental, and economic factors that delayed the development of new nuclear reactors. The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 further increased concerns about the safety of nuclear reactors. As a result, new reactor construction was slowed and construction schedules were extended. However, the TVA decided in 2007 to restart Watts Bar 2, which is now up and running.
Today, nuclear power is an important part of the US electricity supply. There are about 30 US nuclear power plants, and they are operated by different power companies in 30 states. The US nuclear fleet has a capacity factor of more than 90%. This figure is up from 50% in the 1970s, when there were few nuclear power plants, to 70% by 1991. In 2002, the capacity factor increased to 90%, where it has remained for the last four years. As of 2019, nuclear power was the most efficient form of electricity generation in the US, outpacing solar and wind.
Need for new nuclear capacity
The United States has one of the largest nuclear fleets in the world. These plants help prevent the emission of 320 to 578 million tons of carbon dioxide each year and provide steady, reliable power for the electricity grid. Additionally, maintaining a robust nuclear fleet will lay the groundwork for the next generation of advanced reactors, which promise to be smaller and cheaper. Lastly, maintaining a robust nuclear industry contributes to our national security. Nuclear reactor technologies imported from other countries carry U.S. safety standards and non-proliferation safeguards, which means that they are less likely to be a threat to the US.
The United States currently has 103 licensed and operable nuclear power reactors located at 65 plant sites across 31 states. Together, these plants produce one-fifth of the country’s electricity. Since 1996, the total nuclear electricity capacity in the United States has increased by 20%, largely because of reduced downtime and shorter refueling outages. In 2006, Licensed commercial reactors in the United States produced an average of 89.8% of the total electricity needed.