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) 2011
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
* Provisional data
The nuclear power industry in the United States (US) is the largest in the world with 104 operating commercial nuclear reactors. The industry includes most phases of the fuel cycle, from uranium exploration and mining to nuclear waste disposal, but does not include reprocessing. Many services and supplies to the US nuclear power industry are imported. As of 31 December 2011, installed nuclear generating capacity in the US totalled 101 GWe (net).
In 2011, total electricity generation in the US amounted to 3983net TWh, with nuclear power plants generating 786 TWh, according to US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. Total electricity generation from all sources in 2011 declined from the record setting level in 2010. Nuclear generation still comprises approximately 20% of total generation in the US because performance has increased over the years.
The following sections describe progress made during 2011 in the US nuclear power programme.
Through the ESP process, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approves one or more sites for a nuclear power plant. The issuance of an ESP is independent of an application for a construction permit (CP) or a combined construction and operating licence (COL). The NRC had issued ESPs for a total of four sites up to 2011. In 2011, no new ESPs were issued and no new applications were received by the NRC.
Under current licensing procedures, the NRC may issue a COL. When the applicant uses an NRC-certified design, any safety issues related to the design will have been already resolved and the main concern will be the quality of reactor construction. Of a total of 18 COL applications filed between 2007 and 2009, 12 remain under review. On 9 February 2012, the NRC voted to approve Southern Company's COL to build two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Vogtle units 3 and 4, near Augusta, Georgia. The Vogtle units are the first to be constructed in the US in over 30 years. Of the 104 operating power reactors in the United States:
Under current licensing procedures, an applicant who seeks to build a new reactor can use off-the-shelf reactor designs that have been previously approved and certified by the NRC. Issuance of a design certification is now independent of applications for a construction permit or an operating licence. On 22 December 2011, the NRC issued the design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000.
On 20 January 2012, the US Department of Energy (DOE) issued a draft Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for a solicitation that will establish cost-sharing agreements with private industry to support engineering, design certification and licensing of SMRs. In the 2012 budget process, DOE agreed to consider SMRs of any technology that could be deployed in an expeditious manner (defined as having the ability to meet a commercial operation date of 2022). When issued, the final FOA is expected to fund up to two projects that will support the eventual deployment of SMRs that can meet this date.
Numerous SMR designs are under development in the US. Light water-based designs include Westinghouse's SMR, Babcock & Wilcox's (B&W) mPower, the NuScale Power module and Holtec's HI-SMUR. B&W expects to submit a design certification application (DCA) to the NRC for its mPower SMR in late 2013, and their proposed partner, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would submit a construction permit application for the Clinch River site by late 2014. Westinghouse is expected to submit a DCA in late 2013. DCAs for the NuScale and HI-SMUR designs are expected to be submitted in mid-2014 and early 2015, respectively. Potential siting and the timing for operating licence submittals for projects involving these designs are not yet known. There are several other SMR designs employing gas, liquid metal or molten salt cooled technologies, such as the Hyperion Power Module, the General Atomics EM2 and the General Electric PRISM designs that may have a longer licensing horizon. DOE will be considering proposals from any and all of these reactor types based on their probability of success in achieving NRC licensing and ability to be deployed in the defined timeframe.
The 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. As of January 2012, the NRC had granted licence renewals to 71 of the 104 operating reactors, allowing them to operate for 60 years. NRC is currently reviewing licence renewal applications for 15 reactors to operate for 60 years and expects to receive applications from 14 more reactors between 2012 and 2016. In 2011, the NRC approved licence extensions for ten commercial reactors and four new applications for licence extensions were received. 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. The first of these applications to operate for 80 years is tentatively scheduled to be submitted by 2013.
Power uprates are being implemented as a means of increasing reactor capacity. During 2011, the NRC approved power uprates for Limerick (units 1 and 2), Point Beach (units 1 and 2) and Nine Mile Point (unit 2). As of December 2011, the NRC had approved 140 power uprates, which could add about 6 194 MWe to the generating capacity, once implemented (not all approved uprates have been implemented). Uprates are under review for an additional 18 reactors, totalling nearly 1 453 MWe. The NRC expects to approve more than half of these uprates in 2012. In addition to those already under review, the NRC expects to receive an additional 17 requests for power uprates between 2012 and 2016, totalling nearly 1 199 MWe.
In 1988, TVA halted construction at Watts Bar unit 2 (Tennessee) and Bellefonte unit 1 (Alabama). At that time, the PWR units were approximately 80% and 55% complete, respectively. Construction resumed on Watts Bar unit 2 in 2007, and the 1 180 MWe reactor is expected to be operational in 2013. In August 2011, TVA decided to complete construction of the 1260MWe Bellefonte unit 1, which is expected to be operational between 2018 and 2020. Work at Bellefonte is currently expected to follow the conclusion of work at Watts Bar 2.
No commercial nuclear power plants were retired during 2011. However, despite having received a licence renewal to operate until 2029, Oyster Creek announced its planned early retirement in 2019.
Following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the DOE, the NRC and the nuclear industry initiated an immediate co-ordinated response as well as long-term actions to assure the safety of all operating and planned reactors in the US.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the DOE activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and focused on providing technical assistance to the Japanese and monitoring radiation releases and impacts in both the US and Japan. DOE deployed its Airborne Monitoring System aircraft and Consequence Management Response Teams to monitor radiological fallout and provide data to the US and Japanese governments. DOE also deployed representatives from the DOE and several national laboratories to augment the staff at its office in Tokyo and to provide technical assistance to the US Ambassador to Japan and the Japanese government. It also assigned personnel from its Office of Nuclear Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration to the EOC. During the first several weeks following the accident, DOE and its assembled team of experts provided a significant and diverse set of analyses to support accident management at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, including a passive cooling assessment, developing options for accelerated cooling, analysing spent fuel pool leakage scenarios, examining reactor pressure vessel steel corrosion and developing concepts for the collection, transfer, storage and treatment of waste water. In the months following the accident, DOE continued to support the government of Japan by collecting data to support lessons learnt, monitoring potential accident consequences and performing peer reviews and analysis, as requested. DOE also provided equipment such as remotely operated robotics, radiation hardened cameras and radiation sensors and monitors.
The NRC mobilised its Headquarters Operation Center and deployed responders to Japan to assess radiological and dose conditions as well as to make recommendations regarding potential protective actions for US citizens in Japan. The NRC also provided technical assistance to the US Ambassador to Japan and the Japanese government. Its actions were co-ordinated with both domestic and international agencies and US nuclear industry experts. In addition to providing the foregoing support, the NRC conducted a systematic and methodical review of its own processes and regulations in light of the accident, and on 12 July 2011, the NRC's Near-Term Task Force released its report, Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century . The report contains 12 overarching recommendations and detailed recommendations for consideration concerning both short- and long-term actions. On 5 October 2011, the NRC issued a follow-up paper that added several actions for consideration and prioritised the implementation of the recommendations. NRC's three-tiered approach to implementing the recommendations of the Near-Term Task Force is summarised below.
Tier 1 recommendations are characterised as those that should be implemented without delay, focussing on such issues as:
Tier 2 recommendations are generally dependent on Tier 1 recommendations and may require further analysis prior to implementation. Tier 2 recommendations focus on such issues as:
Tier 3 recommendations generally require long-term analysis prior to taking regulatory action or may require the implementation of Tier 1 and 2 recommendations. Tier 3 recommendations focus on such issues as:
Further, the NRC is considering whether additional activities with a clear nexus to the Fukushima lessons learnt may warrant regulatory action. The NRC's goal is to implement lessons learnt from the Fukushima Daiichi accident by 2016.
In response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) formed a Fukushima Response Steering Committee to integrate and co-ordinate the industry's response. In June 2011, the steering committee jointly released a report titled "The Way Forward/U.S. Industry Leadership in Response to Events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant", which discusses activities to oversee and co-ordinate response. INPO prepared a detailed report on post-accident events at Fukushima Daiichi and on 11 November 2011 provided the detailed report to the US industry, the NRC and Congress. The detailed report may be found at (www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/). The nuclear industry, through NEI, developed and is implementing its FLEX strategy, a comprehensive and integrated plan to mitigate the effects of severe natural phenomena and to take steps to achieve safety benefits quickly.
The once-through fuel cycle is the present policy along with an active research and development programme on advanced fuel cycle alternatives. All other nuclear fuel cycle stages are subject to competition and supply from international sources, which in many cases are dominant. At present, US nuclear fuel supply is highly dependent on imports of mined uranium concentrates, uranium conversion and enrichment. In contrast, virtually all fuel fabrication requirements are met by domestic sources.
Annual uranium requirements for the US for the period 2011 to 2035 are projected to decline from 22 866 tU in 2011 to 19 956 tU in 2035 (high case). This scenario is based on the possibility that some nuclear power plants may not apply for or receive licence renewals to operate for an 80-year extended life cycle.
As of the end of 2011, one uranium mill was operating, two mills were in standby status and one planned mill was under development. Five in situ leaching (ISL) facilities were operating, two were on standby (permitted and licensed) and two were under development (partially permitted and licensed). Total shipments of uranium concentrate from the mill and ISL plants were 1 814 tU in 2011. The NRC is currently reviewing 8 applications for new facilities, expansions or renewals, and anticipates receiving 17 additional applications between 2012 and 2013.
The US has one uranium conversion plant operated by ConverDyn, Inc, located in Metropolis, Illinois. In 2011, the facility had a production capacity of approximately 10 000 metric tonnes per year of uranium hexafluoride (UF6).
Currently, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) operates the US gaseous diffusion enrichment facility, leased from DOE in Paducah, Kentucky. Other centrifuge and laser enrichment projects are in varying stages of completion. URENCO USA's centrifuge facility in New Mexico doubled its capacity in 2011.
Most of the remaining facilities are targeted to be fully operational in the 2015 to 2018 timeframe, though schedules remain flexible. On 12 October 2011, AREVA's Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in Idaho received an operating licence from the NRC. Construction was to begin in 2012, followed by steady state operations in 2018. However, in December 2011, AREVA announced a two-year delay in the project. The operational schedule for USEC's American Centrifuge Plant in Ohio remains uncertain pending resolution of financing issues. The operating licence application for GE-Hitachi's Global Laser Enrichment facility in North Carolina is under review by the NRC; with the licence expected to be issued in September 2012.
In addition to domestic enrichment capabilities, the Russian Federation and the US signed a 20-year, government-to-government agreement in February 1993 for the conversion of 500 tonnes of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear warheads to low-enriched uranium (LEU). So far, the Megatons-to- Megawatts Programme has converted 442.5 metric tonnes of HEU into 12 789 metric tonnes of LEU, equivalent to eliminating 17 698 warheads. As of 31 December 2011, the programme, which will expire in 2013, has not been extended. However, in March 2011, USEC signed a ten-year contract with TENEX to supply commercial origin Russian LEU commencing in 2011 and continuing through 2022.
The DOE and the Bonneville Power Administration conducted a pilot project to re-enrich 8 500 tonnes of the DOE's enrichment tails inventory. This project produced approximately 1 939 tonnes of uranium equivalent between 2005 and 2006 for use by the Columbia Generating Station between 2007 and 2015.
DOE's Paducah and Portsmouth Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride Deconversion facilities were designed to convert DOE's 740 000 metric tonnes (t) inventory of depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) to a more stable form (DUO2). The Paducah and Portsmouth facilities, with deconversion capacities of 18 000 t and 13 000 t respectively, were fully operational on 30 September 2011. Steady state operations are expected by late 2012. The Portsmouth DUF6 inventory is expected to be processed in approximately 18 years and Paducah's larger inventory within 25 years.
In 2009, International Isotopes Fluorine Inc submitted a licence application to the NRC to build the first large commercial deconversion facility in New Mexico. The Fluorine Extraction Process and Depleted Uranium Deconversion Plant is expected to have a processing capacity of 6 500 t/yr. The NRC review of the licence application is forecast to be completed in mid-2012. Once licensed, the plant has a provisional contract to provide deconversion services to URENCO USA's enrichment facility. Operations are expected to commence in 2013 and reach full capacity by 2016.
Three companies fabricate nuclear fuel in the US 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. In March 2011, AREVA NP Inc. concluded all fuel fabrication activities at its Lynchburg, Virginia facility following consolidation of its operations in Richland, Washington. Mixed oxide (MOX) fuel will be fabricated at the DOE Savannah River site in South Carolina, beginning in 2016 using surplus military plutonium to fabricate fuel for commercial reactors. The construction of the MOX facility was approximately 60% complete as of December 2011. In February 2011, the TVA and AREVA signed a Letter of Intent to begin evaluating the use of MOX at TVA's Sequoyah and Browns Ferry plants, but no decision is expected until 2012.
Commercial nuclear power reactors currently store most of their spent nuclear fuel (SNF) on-site, although a small amount has been shipped to off-site facilities. EIA projected that in 2011, US reactors discharged ~2 159 tHM, and the spent fuel inventory in the US amounted to ~67 359 tHM as of December 2011.
In June 2008, the DOE submitted a licence application to the NRC for 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 the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) would evaluate alternatives to Yucca Mountain. On 26 January 2012, the BRC issued its final report. The final report recommended moving forward with a consent-based siting process for a permanent repository and federally chartering an organisation to manage the siting process. The BRC also recommended development of an interim storage site for SNF until a permanent repository is available. Meanwhile, issues related to the decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain repository are being reviewed by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included the renewal of the Price Anderson Act and incentives for building the first advanced nuclear power plants. The incentives included:
Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2012
Last reviewed: 7 October 2012