America’s Nuclear Energy’s Future

After World War II, most scientists thought nuclear power would become the energy of the future. In 1945, the book The Atomic Age predicted homes, cars and planes of the future would be powered by nuclear energy. Nuclear power revolutionized the U.S. Navy.

The majority of the nuclear power plants in the United States were built between 1970 and 1990. U.S. nuclear plants are licensed for an initial operating life of 40 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Nuclear power plants can apply for a license renewal, extending license expiration by 20 years. The decision to apply for a renewal is based on the economics of the capital investments required to extend the operating lifetime and estimated future revenues.

Nuclear power provides the United States with approximately 20% of the country’s electrical power. Nuclear power doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. However, the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979, changed public perception on the safety of nuclear power. Nuclear reactor additions began to slow in the 1980s due to slowing growth in electricity demand, high capital and construction costs, and public opposition.  Most of the nuclear reactors in the United States are east of the Mississippi River.

Construction of nuclear reactors began to slow in the 1980s due to modest growth in electricity demand, increasing construction costs, and mounting opposition by the public. The United States Atomic Energy Commission implemented stringent new safety measures following the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. The new safety measure significantly increased construction costs for all new nuclear power plants. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident also increased growing anti-nuclear sentiment among the general public.

Nuclear power capacity has slowly declined as plants have been closed or retired. In 1990, there were 132 operating nuclear reactors. Today, there are 99 operating nuclear reactors. Seven additional nuclear reactors are scheduled to be retired by 2025.

The US nuclear industry had anticipated a revival of the industry because of recent concerns about climate change and global warming. However, nuclear power is significantly more expensive than power plants fueled by natural gas, hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, oil, or coal. Additionally, the Fukushima nuclear disaster created more concern about the safety of nuclear energy. In my opinion, I expect the number of nuclear power plants in the United States and Europe to continue to decline over the coming decades.


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