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) 2014
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
* Provisional data
The nuclear power industry in the United States is the largest in the world, with 99 operating commercial nuclear reactors. Many services and supplies to the US nuclear power industry are imported. As of 31 December 2014, installed nuclear capacity in the United States totalled 97.9 gigawatts-electric (GWe) (net). Data are preliminary and include the electric power sector only. The nuclear share of total capacity in the United States was 9.4% in 2014.
In 2014, total electricity generation in the United States was 3 936 net terawatt-hours (TWh), with nuclear power plants generating 797 net TWh, according to preliminary US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. Data include only the electric power sector. Nuclear generation comprised approximately 20% of total power sector generation in the United States. The nuclear share of total generation has remained relatively constant over the years despite a decrease in the total number of reactors; this is largely the result of performance improvements and uprates.
The following sections describe progress made during 2014 in the US nuclear power programme.
Independent of an application for a construction permit (10 CFR Part 50) or a combined licence (10 CFR Part 52), the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may approve one or more sites for a nuclear power plant. An ESP remains in effect for 10 to 20 years and can be renewed for an additional 10 to 20 years. As of 31 December 2014, the NRC had issued ESPs for four sites. The NRC did not issue any new ESPs in 2014 or receive any new applications. During 2014, one ESP application was under review.
Under current licensing regulations, the NRC may issue a combined licence (COL) for construction and operation. In the past, separate construction permits and operating licences were issued. When the applicant uses an NRC-certified design, safety issues related to the design have already been resolved, and the focus of the licensing review is the quality of reactor construction. A COL is valid for 40 years and may be extended for an additional 20 years. A total of 18 COL applications were filed between 2007 and 2009; no applications for COLs have been filed since 2009. As of 31 December 2014: two COLs were withdrawn (Victoria County Station, units 1 and 2, and Nine Mile Point, unit 3), six COLs were suspended, eight COLs were under active review and no COLs were issued. On 9 February 2012, the NRC voted to approve Southern Nuclear Operating Company's COL to build two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Vogtle units 3 and 4, near Augusta, Georgia. On 30 March 2012, the NRC voted to approve South Carolina Electric & Gas Company's COL to build two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Virgil C. Summer units 2 and 3, near Columbia, South Carolina. The Vogtle and Virgil C. Summer units are the first to be constructed in the United States in over 30 years. As of 31 December 2014, all four units were under construction.
Under current licensing regulations, an applicant who seeks to build a new reactor can use an off-the-shelf reactor design that has been previously approved and certified by NRC. The streamlined process encourages standard or pre-approved reactor designs. Issuance of a design certification is independent of applications for a construction permit or an operating licence. Design certifications are valid for 15 years and can be renewed for an additional 10 to 15 years. As of 31 December 2014, NRC had issued design certifications for four designs, including the Westinghouse AP1000, the General Electric nuclear energy advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR) and the GE-Hitachi economic simplified boiling water reactor (ESBWR). In addition to several amendments to previously certified designs, NRC is currently reviewing the applications for three additional design certifications, including the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. US advanced pressurised water reactor (US-APWR), the AREVA NP, Inc. US evolutionary power reactor (US EPR), and the Korea Electric Power Corporation and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd advanced power reactor 1400 (APR1400).
SMRs are small enough to be fabricated in factories and can be shipped to sites via barge, rail, or truck. SMRs have a projected construction period of three years. These factors may reduce both capital costs and construction times, potentially reducing the financial risk associated with larger nuclear investments. In March 2012, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced its intention to provide USD 452 million in funding to assist in the initial development of SMR technology that has the potential to be licensed by NRC and to achieve commercial operation by 2025. In November 2012, the DOE announced the selection of Babcock & Wilcox, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Bechtel International, to cost share the work to prepare a licence application for up to four SMRs at TVA's Clinch River site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In December 2013, the DOE announced the selection of NuScale Power, LLC as the recipient of the second award; the project will be based in Oregon.
NRC has the authority to issue initial operating licences for commercial nuclear power plants for a period of 40 years. The decision to apply for an operating licence renewal is made by nuclear power plant owners and it is typically based on economics and the ability to meet NRC requirements. Operating licences are renewed by the NRC for a period of 20 years. NRC regulations do not limit the number of licence renewals a nuclear power plant may be granted. The nuclear power industry is preparing applications for licence renewals that would allow continued operation beyond 60 years, i.e. second or subsequent licence renewals; however, applications for second or subsequent licence renewals are not expected in the near future. As of 31 December 2014, the NRC has granted licence renewals to 73 of the 99 operating reactors in the United States. The NRC is currently reviewing licence renewal applications for 18 reactors to operate for 60 years and expects to receive applications from 5 more reactors between 2015 and 2021.
TVA halted construction on Watts Bar unit 2 in Tennessee and Bellefonte units 1 and 2 in Alabama, in 1985 and 1988, respectively; the pressurised water reactors (PWRs) were approximately 88% and 58% complete, respectively. Construction resumed on Watts Bar unit 2 in 2007, and the 1 218 MWe reactor is expected to be operational in late 2015. In August 2011, TVA decided to complete construction of Bellefonte units 1 and 2; however, construction at Bellefonte units 1 and 2 has been deferred until the conclusion of work at Watts Bar unit 2.
In October 1979, the NRC initiated a rulemaking process known as the Waste Confidence Rule. Prior to its original rulemaking, the NRC, as a matter of policy, stated that it "would not continue to license reactors if it did not have reasonable confidence that the wastes can and will in due course be disposed of safely". On 31 August 1984, the NRC issued the Waste Confidence Rule. Waste confidence is defined by the NRC as a finding that used nuclear fuel (UNF) can be safely stored at reactor sites for decades beyond the licensed operating life of a reactor without significant environmental effects. It enables the NRC to license reactors or renew their licences without examining the effects of extended waste storage for each individual site pending ultimate disposal.
In December 2010, with the termination of the repository programme at Yucca Mountain, the Waste Confidence Rule was amended to state that UNF could be stored safely at reactor sites for 60 years following reactor shutdown. In June 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the NRC's 2010 amendment of the Waste Confidence Rule and stated that NRC should have analysed the environmental consequences of never building a permanent waste repository and that the discussion of potential spent fuel pool leaks or fires was inadequate.
The NRC issued an order in August 2012 that suspended actions related to issuing operating licences and licence renewals. In September 2014, the NRC issued the revised and renamed Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel, thereby allowing the NRC to resume issuing reactor operating licences and operating licence renewals.
Power uprates are implemented to increase reactor capacity by increasing the maximum power level at which a nuclear reactor may operate. During 2014, the NRC approved power uprates for the following nuclear power plants: Braidwood 1 and 2 (Illinois), Byron 1 and 2 (Illinois), Fermi 2 (Michigan), and Peach Bottom 2 and 3 (Pennsylvania). As of August 2014, the NRC had approved 156 power uprates, which could add about 7 326 MWe to the US nuclear generating capacity, once implemented. Not all approved uprates have been implemented at US reactors. Uprates are under review and pending approval for 4 reactors, totalling nearly 61 MWe. In addition to those already under review, the NRC expects to receive an additional seven requests for power uprates between 2015 and 2019, totalling nearly 580 MWe.
In 2014, Vermont Yankee (Vermont) retired; the total retired capacity was nearly 620 MWe. Announced early retirements include the 615 MWe Oyster Creek plant (New Jersey) in 2019. Both Oyster Creek and Vermont Yankee were issued licence renewals that would have permitted continued operation until 2029 and 2032, respectively.
Since the March 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the NRC and the US nuclear industry have been working to address issues related to the accident. The NRC and the US nuclear industry initiated an immediate co-ordinated response to the accident, as well as long-term actions intended to assure the safety of operating and planned reactors in the United States. The NRC stated that, in all cases, the existing fleet of reactors can continue operating safely while implementing lessons learnt from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. An historical perspective is provided in the 2014 edition of Nuclear Energy Data.
Post-Fukushima safety enhancements in the United States include:
The nuclear industry, through the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), developed its FLEX strategy as a comprehensive, flexible and integrated plan to mitigate the effects of severe natural phenomena and to take steps to achieve safety benefits quickly. The FLEX approach, implemented in 2012, was informed by the industry's response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. It includes National Response Centres that were established near Memphis, Tennessee and Phoenix, Arizona; the response centres were fully operational in 2014. From those response centres, critical emergency equipment can be delivered to nuclear power plants within 24 hours. According to the NEI, the start-up cost for each regional response centre is about USD 40 million; annual operating costs are expected to be about USD 4 million. Costs are shared by companies with operating reactors. All plants are expected to have implemented the FLEX strategy by the end of 2016.
All boiling water reactors (BWRs) with Mark I and II containment systems must have reliable hardened containment venting capability to reduce pressure and hydrogen build-up. This may require improving or replacing existing containment ventilation systems. The industry expects to complete modifications to install this capability in 2019. In November 2012, as an addition to the original order issued to address more robust containment venting systems, the NRC began considering whether to propose a rule that would require containment venting systems to filter all releases during an accident for BWRs with Mark I and Mark II containments. If the NRC decides to pursue such a rulemaking, a final rule could be issued in 2017.
Utilities are installing spent fuel pool water level monitoring instrumentation that will function during extreme events. Instrumentation must be installed by 2016 or after two refuelling outages, whichever occurs first.
Nuclear power plant re-evaluations of flooding hazards were completed in 2015. If the re-evaluated flooding hazard is more severe than the design basis of the plant, an integrated assessment of total plant response to the revised flooding hazard estimates is required. Many plants are expected to be required by NRC to perform integrated assessments of flooding scenarios. The NRC is considering the level of detail required for such assessments.
All nuclear power plants were required to prepare revised seismic hazard estimates. The NRC performed a prioritisation of plants in the Central and Eastern United States (CEUS) and the Western United States (WUS). The NRC is reviewing CEUS seismic hazards reports, which were submitted in March 2014; WUS plants should submit their reports by March 2015.In July 2014, the NRC approved combining certain rulemaking activities. The "Mitigation of Beyond-Design-Basis-Events" rule, which is likely to be issued in December 2016, is expected to address on-site emergency response capabilities; emergency preparedness; station blackout mitigation strategies and spent fuel pool instrumentation and makeup capabilities; prolonged station blackout and multi-unit events (beyond-design-basis events).
In addition to activities that focus on reactors and the utilities that operate them, the NRC has spent more than two years evaluating how best to respond to the first of the 12 recommendations made in the July 2011 Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident, which recommended establishment of a "logical, systematic, and coherent regulatory framework for adequate protection that appropriately balances defence-in-depth and risk considerations." Defence-in-depth is a layered approach to safety that involves the use of multiple redundant and independent safety systems. The NRC's December 2013 evaluation of this recommendation was discussed publicly in January 2014, and included proposed actions on a policy statement that would detail, among other things, the decision criteria for ensuring adequate defence-in-depth. The proposed actions also identify the need to clarify the role of voluntary industry initiatives in the NRC regulatory process.
Progress on post-Fukushima safety enhancements may be found at the NRC's website.
All activities of the commercial nuclear fuel cycle, except reprocessing, are conducted in the United States. Spent fuel reprocessing for waste management in the United States has been discouraged by public policy, and the once-through fuel cycle is the present policy along with an active research and development programme on advanced fuel cycle alternatives. Each fuel cycle stage is subject to competition and supply from international sources, which in many cases dominate the domestic industry segment. At present, US nuclear fuel supply is highly dependent on imports for mined uranium concentrates, uranium conversion, and enrichment. Virtually all fuel fabrication requirements are met by domestic sources. EIA publishes data on the nuclear fuel cycle in the Domestic Uranium Production Report and the Uranium Marketing Annual Report.
Annual uranium requirements for the United States for the period 2014 to 2035 are projected to increase slightly from 17 161 tU in 2014 to 17 528 tU in 2035 (high nuclear case). This projected increase is based on the possibility that some new nuclear power plants may apply for and receive licence renewals to operate for an 80-year extended life cycle as well as the deployment of new nuclear technology.
According to the EIA's 2014 Domestic Uranium Production Report, US uranium mines produced 1 889 tU in 2014, 7% more than in 2013. Two underground mines produced uranium ore during 2014, one less than during 2013. Additionally, eight in situ leach (ISL) mining operations produced solutions containing uranium in 2014, one more than in 2013. Overall, there were ten mines that operated during all or part of 2014.
Total production of US uranium concentrate in 2014 was 1 881 tU, a 5% increase over in 2013, from nine facilities: one mill in Utah (White Mesa Mill) and eight ISL plants (Alta Mesa Project, Crow Butte Operation, Hobson ISR Plant, La Palangana, Lost Creek Project, Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Smith Ranch – Highland Operation, and Willow Creek Project). The Nichols Ranch ISR Project started producing in 2014. The eight ISL plants are located in Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming. Total shipments of uranium concentrate from US mill and ISL plants were 1 769 tU in 2014, 1% less than in 2013. The NRC is currently reviewing applications for 6 new facilities and 14 expansions or restarts.
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, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan are major sources of US concentrate imports.
Centrifuge enrichment projects are in varying stages of completion.
The operating licence application for GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy's Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) facility in Wilmington, North Carolina was issued by the NRC in September 2012; the licensed capacity of the facility is 6 million SWU per year. In July 2014, GLE announced that it was placing the facility in safe storage mode and slowing development of the project based on enrichment market conditions. No commercialisation date is available.
In August 2013, the GLE proposed to the DOE that it license, construct and operate a second laser enrichment facility at DOE's Paducah site to process the depleted uranium hexafluoride inventory at the site. The GLE proposal included the potential lease or use of existing Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant facilities, infrastructure and utilities. In November 2013, the DOE announced that it was opening negotiations with GLE. GLE informed the NRC in January 2014 that it would likely apply for an operating licence for the laser enrichment facility at Paducah in September 2014. As of 31 December 2014, negotiations were continuing. Development of the facility is expected to continue at a pace consistent with current and future market conditions.
Although the Megatons to Megawatts programme expired in December 2013, Centrus Energy Corporation (Centrus) signed a ten-year contract with TENEX in March 2011 to supply commercial-origin Russian low-enriched uranium to replace some of the material provided by the Megatons to Megawatts programme. Deliveries under this contract began in 2013 and are slated to continue through 2022. The contract also includes an option to more than double the amount of material purchased.
As under the Megatons to Megawatts programme, Centrus will pay TENEX the value of the work (measured in SWU) needed to create the low-enriched uranium and deliver an equal amount of natural (unenriched) uranium to TENEX. The new supply of low-enriched uranium from TENEX will gradually increase until 2015, when it reaches about half of the annual amount supplied under the Megatons to Megawatts programme. The new contract will provide low-enriched uranium that can be used to fabricate fuel for US reactors while new US enrichment facilities are licensed, constructed and operated to produce US-origin low-enriched uranium.
Most enrichment facilities in the United States plan to be fully operational in the 2015-to-2022 timeframe, although schedules remain uncertain. In the interim, in addition to those provided in the United States, enrichment services will continue to be imported from facilities in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
The 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, in conjunction with the DOE, developed a new plan to re-enrich a portion of the DOE's high-assay tails. The resulting 482 tonnes of low-enriched uranium will be used over the next 10 years to fuel Energy Northwest and TVA reactors.
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 BWRs; AREVA NP Inc. and Westinghouse Electric Co. also supply fuel for US PWRs.
The DOE plans to fabricate mixed oxide fuel at its Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River site in South Carolina, beginning in 2019, using nearly 35 tonnes of surplus military plutonium to fabricate fuel for commercial reactors. As of 31 December 2014, no commercial contracts had been signed.
Commercial nuclear power reactors currently store most of their UNF on-site at the nuclear plant, although a small amount has been shipped to off-site facilities. In 2014, US reactors discharged approximately 2 036 tHM (tonnes heavy metal), and the UNF inventory in the United States was approximately 72 780 tHM as of 31 December 2014.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982, as amended in 1987, provides for the siting, construction and operation of a deep geologic repository for disposal of UNF and high-level waste (HLW). The amendments in 1987 directed the DOE to focus solely on Yucca Mountain as the future site of a geologic repository. The NWPA limits the emplacement of waste at the geologic repository to 70 000 metric tHM. The UNF and HLW disposed of at the repository were expected to include about 63 000 tHM of commercial UNF, about 2 333 tHM of DOE UNF, and the equivalent of about 4 667 tHM (or tHM-equivalent) of DOE HLW from defence-related activities.
In 2002, the DOE determined that the Yucca Mountain site would be suitable for a repository, and in July 2002, the President and Congress accepted that recommendation and directed that the DOE submit a licence application to the NRC. In June 2008, the DOE submitted a licence application to the NRC to receive authorisation to begin construction of a repository at Yucca Mountain, and in September 2008, the NRC formally docketed the application.
President Obama announced in March 2009 that the proposed permanent repository at Yucca Mountain was no longer an option and that a Blue Ribbon Commission, made up of 15 members with a range of expertise and experience in nuclear issues, including scientists, industry representatives and respected former elected officials, would be created to evaluate alternatives to Yucca Mountain. In January 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) issued its final report.
In January 2013, the Administration released its Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste (Strategy), which presents a response to the final report and recommendations made by the BRC. Essentially, it provides "…a framework for moving towards a sustainable program to deploy an integrated system capable of transporting, storing, and disposing of used nuclear fuel and HLW from civilian nuclear power generation, defence, national security, and other activities."
The strategy also serves as a statement of Administration policy regarding the importance of addressing the disposition of UNF and HLW, lays out the overall design of a system to address that issue, and outlines the reforms needed to implement such a system. Finally, the strategy represents an initial basis for discussions among the Administration, Congress and other stakeholders on a sustainable path forward for disposal of nuclear waste.
The Administration's strategy endorses the key principles that underpin the BRC's recommendations. The Administration fully agrees with the BRC that a consent-based siting process is critical to future success. As presented in the strategy, with the appropriate authorisations from Congress, the Administration currently plans to implement a programme over the next ten years that:
In August 2013, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the NRC must continue its review of the Yucca Mountain licence application. In November 2013, the NRC Commissioners ordered NRC staff to complete and publish a safety evaluation report (SER) for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository.
On 29 January 2015, the NRC published the SER in five separate volumes, which address: general information (Volume 1), repository safety before permanent closure (Volume 2), repository safety after permanent closure (Volume 3), administrative and programmatic requirements (Volume 4) and proposed conditions on the construction authorisation and probable subjects of licence specifications (Volume 5). In publishing the Yucca Mountain repository SER series, the NRC concluded that, "…DOE has met the applicable regulatory requirements, subject to the proposed conditions of construction authorization…". The NRC is not recommending issuance of a construction authorisation at this time, because it has determined that the DOE has not met regulatory requirements regarding ownership and control of certain land and water rights. The NRC requested that the DOE provide a supplement EIS (SEIS) to support the NRC's issuance of its own SEIS in 2015. The NRC staff expects to issue a draft SEIS for public comment in late summer 2015 and a final SEIS in spring 2016.
In February 2015, Waste Control Specialists, LLC announced its intention to submit a licence application to the NRC in 2016 for a privately owned and operated interim spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) in Texas; the facility would have an initial storage capacity of 10 000 tonnes. Holtec International, in partnership with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), announced in April 2015 that it intends to build an underground ISFSI near the existing DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico; the facility would have a service life of 100 years. Both ISFSIs could be in operation by 2020.
From a legislative perspective, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 included the renewal of the Price-Anderson Nuclear Indemnity Act and incentives for building the first advanced nuclear power plants. Incentives included loan guarantees, production tax credits, and standby support insurance related to regulatory delays. The incentives are at various stages of development. Incentives included:
Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2015
Last reviewed: 21 October 2015