Country profile: United States
Summary figures for 2016
The following information is from the NEA publication Nuclear Energy Data, the annual compilation of official statistics and country reports on nuclear energy in OECD member countries.
Number of nuclear power plants connected to the grid
Nuclear electricity generation (net TWh) 2016
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
* Preliminary data
The United States nuclear power industry represents one-quarter of the world's nuclear power capacity.
As of 31 December 2016, the United States operated 99 light water reactors (one less than in 2015) with a current combined net capacity of 99.3 gigawatts electric (GWe). Data are preliminary and include the
electric power sector only. In 2016, US reactors generated 20.4% of total utility-scale electricity while comprising 9.5% of total US electric capacity.
In 2016, US nuclear power plants generated 797.9 net terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity of the total electricity generation of 3 911 TWh based on preliminary US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. Data include only the electric power sector. For more than a decade, the nuclear share of total generation has remained relatively constant, as recent permanent shutdowns have been offset by increased performance (capacity factors) and uprates.
The following paragraphs describe current conditions in the United States related to nuclear power and uranium.
- New builds – Four Westinghouse AP1000 pressurised water reactors are under construction (Vogtle 3 and 4 and VC Summer 2 and 3) in Georgia and South Carolina, respectively. Both projects have experienced cost and schedule overruns plus additional construction uncertainties as a result of the bankruptcy filing by the reactor designer and builder, Westinghouse. Owners of the projects are evaluating options for completing the projects, including full or partial cancellations. Currently, construction continues at both sites.
- Combined licences (COLs) – As of 31 December 2016, of the 18 COL applications submitted to the
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), six have been issued licences for construction and
operation. Eight have been withdrawn, two suspended and two are under review. The Vogtle 3 and 4
and VC Summer 2 and 3 projects currently under construction were issued COLs in 2012. The Fermi 3
project (ESBWR design) was issued a COL in 2015. In 2016, three COLs were issued for the South Texas
Project units 3 and 4 (ABWR), Levy Nuclear Plant 1 and 2 (AP1000), and William States Lee 1 and 2
(AP1000). However, no construction announcements have been made for these four licences.
- Licence renewals – The NRC is authorised to issue operating licences for commercial nuclear power
plants for an initial operating period of 40 years and subsequent operating periods of 20 years. As
of 31 December 2016, the NRC had granted licence renewals to 84 of the 99 operating reactors in
the United States. The NRC is currently reviewing licence renewal applications for ten reactors and
expects to receive five additional applications through to 2022. The nuclear power industry is also
preparing applications for subsequent licence renewals (SLRs) that would allow continued operation
for an additional 20 years beyond the expiration date of the initial licence renewal, making it possible
for a reactor to operate for up to 80 years. The NRC has developed the pre-final guidance documents
for SLRs and two plant owners will be piloting the SLR process starting in early 2019.
- State-level price support legislation – In response to local electricity market conditions, the state
governments of Illinois and New York have passed price support legislation in the form of zeroemission
credits (ZECs) for nuclear power plants experiencing unprofitable electricity market
conditions. These market conditions are primarily a result of historical low local electricity prices
due to a significant increase in the availability of natural gas, flat demand growth, grid congestion
and the increased use of renewables, namely PV solar and wind. In Illinois, the nuclear power plant
owner Exelon cancelled its plan to close the Quad Cities and Clinton NPPs following the signing of
this state legislation. Together, these state supports impact approximately 6.4 GWe of US nuclear
- Production tax credits – The first 6 000 MWe of deployed nuclear power capacity is eligible for
a USD 18/MWh production tax credit (PTC). To be eligible for the PTC, construction of a nuclear
power plant must commence by 1 January 2014, and commercial operations must commence before
1 January 2021. The PTC is available during the first eight years of reactor operation. The PTC will be
applied on a pro rata basis to those reactors qualifying for the credit.
- Plant closings – Eight NPPs, totalling 7.7 GWe, have announced plans to permanently shut down
their reactors because of economic and environmental issues. Six of which, totalling 4.4 GWe, are
scheduled to go offline by the end of 2020. Additional NPPs in several deregulated markets have also
stated that they are unable to recoup operating expenses at current electricity prices and are at risk
of closing without higher wholesale electricity prices or capacity payments, or government support.
- Power uprates – As of 31 December 2016, the US nuclear power fleet has increased its capacity by
7.3 GWe through 157 power uprates approved through the NRC since the first uprate was approved
in 1977. Power uprates are implemented to increase reactor capacity by increasing the maximum
power level at which a nuclear reactor may operate. The three types of uprates are measurement
uncertainty recapture (improved power measurement), stretch (within design power increases) and
extended (modifications to operate above initial design conditions). In 2016, the NRC authorised one
uprate (19 MWe) and expects to authorise six in 2017, representing 557 MWe. The NRC anticipates
receiving seven power uprate applications in 2017.
- Spent fuel and high-level waste (HLW) management – The new US administration is re-evaluating its path forward for spent fuel and HLW management, including resuming the Yucca Mountain licence application process and the development of interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. Initially approved by Congress in 2002, the US Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a licence application in 2008 to the NRC for authorisation to construct an HLW geological repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Yucca Mountain geological repository programme was cancelled in 2011. On a parallel path, the DOE has begun to implement a consent-based process to select and evaluate sites and licence facilities, reversing previous efforts to select an HLW repository based predominantly on engineering studies. As of October 2016, the NRC reported 77 licensed Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSI) in 34 of the 50 US states. Another five sites are currently pursuing an ISFSI licence. Of the 77 sites, 62 are located at NPPs. Spent nuclear fuel (SNF) continues to be stored at nuclear power plants in both wet and dry cask storage.
- Uranium transfers – In April 2017, the US administration issued a determination that reduced
the amount of uranium the US DOE can transfer in 2017 and beyond, lowering the limit for both
transferred natural uranium and low-enriched uranium. The determination permits the US DOE to
continue making uranium transfers to support ongoing clean-up work at the Portsmouth Gaseous
Diffusion Plant in Ohio, while also reducing the total amount of those transfers per year from
1 600 metric tonnes of uranium (tU) to 1 200 tU. In May 2015, the determination set transfer limits at
2 500 tU in 2015 and 2 100 tU in subsequent years.
- Uranium requirements – Annual uranium requirements for the United States for the period 2016
to 2035 are projected to decrease from 21 068 tU in 2016 to 18 057 tU in 2035 (high nuclear case).
This projected decrease is based on the possibility that market conditions may continue to become
unfavourable for existing nuclear power plants with fixed and growing operating costs including
capital investments for major replacement items such as steam generators, making the plants
unprofitable without higher electricity prices or price support.
- Uranium production – According to the EIA's 2016 Domestic Uranium Production Report, US uranium
concentrate production totalled 1 322 tU in 2016. This amount was 13% lower than the 1 516 tU
produced in 2015 and the lowest annual US production since the 1 220 tU produced in 2005. Eight in
situ leach (ISL) mining operations produced uranium in 2016. Three fully permitted ISL mines and
a number of conventional underground mines on the Colorado Plateau were on standby status. One
underground mine in Arizona (Canyon) was under construction. By the end of 2016, only two ISL
mines, Lost Creek and Nichols Ranch in Wyoming, were actively developing new well fields. The
other ISL mines had suspended development, and the PineNut mine that produced until the end of
2015 was in the closure/remediation process. The White Mesa mill in Utah was the only operating
conventional mill in the United States. Two additional conventional mills, the Shootaring Canyon
mill in Colorado and Sweetwater mill in Wyoming, are on standby status. Production from White
Mesa during 2016 was from stockpiled ore, some from the PineNut mine and other sources. The
slowdown in uranium production in the United States during 2016 can be attributed to prolonged low
uranium prices and the relatively high cost of producing uranium from developed mines.
- Uranium conversion – The United States has one uranium conversion plant operated by ConverDyn,
Inc., located at Metropolis, Illinois. The ConverDyn facility has a nameplate production capacity of
approximately 15 000 metric tonnes per year of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). In addition to domestic
capability, Canada, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Uzbekistan are major sources of
US concentrate imports.
- Uranium enrichment – The URENCO USA centrifuge facility in New Mexico commenced operations
in June 2010 and was operating at a capacity of 4.6 million separative work units (SWU) as of
31 December 2016. URENCO USA is the only operational enrichment facility in the United States.
The facility is expected to achieve a capacity of 5.7 million SWU by 2020. In November 2012, URENCO
USA submitted a licence amendment request to the NRC to increase its enrichment capacity to
10 million SWU; in March 2015, the NRC approved the request. Although the NRC has licensed
facilities with an aggregated capacity of 23.6 million SWU, the future of additional enrichment
capacity remains uncertain and is expected to progress at a pace consistent with enrichment market
conditions and uranium pricing. In the interim, in addition to those provided in the United States,
enrichment services will continue to be imported from facilities in the United Kingdom, Germany,
the Netherlands, Russia and elsewhere. While new US enrichment facilities are licensed, constructed
and operated to produce US-origin, low-enriched uranium, secondary sources of enrichment, such
as the Centrus Energy Corporation (Centrus) contract with Techsnabexport (TENEX), will play an
important role in the United States. The 2011 Centrus-TENEX contract that was extended in 2015
will provide low-enriched uranium through to 2026. Centrus exchanges low-enriched uranium for
high-enriched uranium that is down blended to fabricate fuel.
- Re-enriched tails – The US DOE and the Bonneville Power Administration initiated a pilot project to
re-enrich a portion of the DOE's tails inventory. This project produced approximately 1 940 tonnes of
low-enriched uranium between 2005 and 2006 for use by Energy Northwest's 1 190 MWe Columbia
Generating Station between 2007 and 2015. In mid-2012, Energy Northwest and USEC Inc., in
conjunction with the DOE, developed a new plan to re-enrich a portion of the DOE's high-assay tails.
In 2013, the project produced approximately 3 738 tonnes of natural uranium, which will be used
over the next ten years to fuel Energy Northwest and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reactors.
- Fuel fabrication – Three companies fabricate nuclear fuel in the United States for light water reactors:
Westinghouse Electric Co. in Columbia, South Carolina; Global Nuclear Fuels-Americas, Ltd in
Wilmington, North Carolina; and Areva NP Inc. in Richland, Washington. All three fabricators supply
fuel for US boiling water reactors (BWR); Areva NP Inc. and Westinghouse Electric Co. also supply
fuel for US pressurised water reactors (PWR).
Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2017
Last reviewed: 6 November 2017