Nuclear power accounts for around 20% of total electricity consumption in the United States. What is more significant is that nuclear power provides more than half of all carbon-free electricity in the United States. As the government and the globe work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we believe nuclear power will remain an important element of the answer.
Nuclear Energy and the United States
Nuclear energy offers several advantages. It has the same carbon footprint as wind, less than solar, and orders of magnitude less than coal. Nuclear power facilities take up significantly less area than solar or wind farms, and they generate electricity even at night or on quiet days. They generated the same amount of power as renewables in the United States in 2020, accounting for one-fifth of the total.
However, disputes persist about whether nuclear power should play a significant role in addressing climate change in the United States. The bulk of nuclear facilities in the United States are nearing the end of their design lives, and just one has been built in the previous 20 years. Nuclear supporters are increasingly betting on next-generation designs such as compact, modular versions of conventional light-water reactors or advanced reactors that are safer, cheaper, and more adaptable.
The industry has had a tough time winning over the public. In 2017, a poll showed that more Americans favored solar (84%) and wind (79%) than nuclear power (52%). One big reason people are turned off by nuclear power is its cost. But the price of renewables has come down so much in recent years that nuclear power is now often competitive on price, especially when the costs of environmental damage from coal and gas are factored in.
Nuclear proponents also argue that plants can be safer than they were in the past. The last fatal accident at a U.S. nuclear plant was Three Mile Island in 1979, which led to improvements in safety and regulations. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011 prompted a review of U.S. nuclear plants, and many were upgraded as a result.
With stringent safety regulations being put in place, the U.S. nuclear industry is confident that its plants are safe and reliable. But with the public still largely opposed to nuclear power, whether next-generation reactors will ever be built in the United States remains to be seen.
Uranium & Nuclear Power
Uranium is a relatively common element that can be found all over the world. It is mined in many countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan. The United States has the fourth-largest uranium resource in the world, behind Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan.
Uranium is used as fuel for nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants generate electricity by using the heat produced when uranium is split, or “fissioned.” This heat is used to boil water, which creates steam. The steam turns turbines, which generate electricity.
More than 50% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S. comes from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants produce no air pollution or greenhouse gasses. As the country and the world take steps to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, we believe that nuclear power will continue to be a critical part of the solution.
Clearly, nuclear power is an important part of the solution to climate change. It produces no greenhouse gasses, and provides a significant amount of carbon-free electricity. The industry is confident that nuclear plants are safe and reliable, but the public remains largely opposed to nuclear power. It remains to be seen whether next-generation reactors will ever be built in the United States.
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