Country profile: United States

Summary figures for 2015

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.

Country
Number of nuclear power plants connected to the grid
Nuclear electricity generation
(net TWh) 2015
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
United States
99
798.0
*
20.4
 
OECD America
120
911.2
18.5
 
OECD Total
317
1 878.7
18.4
 
NEA Total
352
2 073.9
18.7
 

* Preliminary data

Country report

The nuclear power industry in the United States is the largest in the world, with 100 operating commercial nuclear reactors. Many services and supplies to the US nuclear power industry are imported. As of 31 December 2015, installed nuclear capacity in the United States totalled 99.8 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 9.6% in 2015.

Nuclear power generation

In 2015, total electricity generation in the United States was 3 915 net terawatt-hours (TWh), with nuclear power plants generating 798 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.

Status of the nuclear power programme

The following sections describe progress made during 2015 in the US nuclear power programme.

Early site permit (ESP) applications

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 2015, NRC had issued ESPs for four sites. The NRC did not issue any new ESPs in 2015 or receive any new applications. During 2015, one ESP application was under review.

Combined licence application

Under current licensing regulations, the NRC may issue a combined licence (COL) for construction and operation. When the applicant uses a design certified by the NRC, 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 2015: five COLs were withdrawn, four COLs were suspended and five COLs were under active review. On 30 April 2015, NRC voted to approve Detroit Edison Company's COL to build a new economic simplified boiling water reactor (ESBWR), Fermi, unit 3, near Newport City, Michigan. On 12 February 2016, NRC voted to approve South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company's COL to build two new advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR), South Texas Project, units 3 and 4, in Matagorda County, Texas. As of 31 December 2015, Southern Nuclear Operating Company's two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Vogtle units 3 and 4, near Augusta, Georgia, and South Carolina Electric & Gas Company's two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Virgil C. Summer units 2 and 3, near Columbia, South Carolina, were under construction.

Design certifications for new reactors

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 the 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 2015, the NRC had issued design certifications for four designs, including the Westinghouse AP600 and AP1000, the General Electric Nuclear Energy ABWR and the GE-Hitachi ESBWR. In addition to several amendments to previously certified designs, the 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).

Small modular reactors (SMR)

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 the NRC and to achieve commercial operation by 2025. In November 2012, the DOE announced the selection of Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), 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 BWXT mPower SMRs at TVA's Clinch River site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. TVA submitted an ESP application to the NRC in May 2016 and expects to submit a COL application in 2018. Each mPower SMR is expected to have a capacity of 195 MWe. The first mPower SMR could be operating by 2026.

In December 2013, the DOE announced the selection of NuScale Power, LLC as the recipient of the second award. Each NuScale SMR is expected to have a capacity of 50 MWe; the reactor building is designed for 12 SMRs. The project will be based at the Idaho National Laboratory outside Idaho Falls, Idaho. The NRC expects to receive a Design Certification Application in late 2016, and NuScale expects the first SMR to be operating by the middle of 2024.

Licence renewal

The NRC has the authority to issue initial operating licences for commercial nuclear power plants for a period of 40 years. Operating licences are renewed by the NRC for a period of 20 years. As of 31 December 2015, NRC had granted licence renewals to 81 of the 100 operating reactors in the United States. The NRC is currently reviewing licence renewal applications for 12 reactors and expects to receive applications from five more reactors between 2017 and 2022. The nuclear power industry is preparing applications for licence renewals that would allow continued operation beyond 60 years, i.e. for 80 years. Virginia Electric and Power Company (Dominion) expects to submit an application for a second licence renewal for Surry units 1 and 2 in early 2019.

Power uprates

Power uprates are implemented to increase reactor capacity by increasing the maximum power level at which a nuclear reactor may operate. During 2015, the NRC approved no power uprates. As of 31 December 2015, 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 three reactors, totalling nearly 489 MWe. In addition to those already under review, the NRC expects to receive an additional seven requests for power uprates between 2016 and 2019, totalling nearly 127 MWe.

Retirements

No nuclear power plants retired in 2015. Announced early retirements include: the 615 MWe Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station (New Jersey) in 2019, the 678 MWe Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Massachusetts) by mid-2019, and the 852 MWe James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant (New York) in late 2016 or early 2017.

United States response to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi

Since the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, the NRC and the US nuclear industry have worked 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 continued safety of operating and planned reactors in the United States. The NRC continues to emphasise that, in all cases, the existing fleet of reactors can continue operating safely while implementing lessons learnt from the accident at Fukushima.

The NRC has taken significant actions to enhance reactor safety based on the lessons learnt from the accident at Fukushima. These actions are related to: accident mitigation strategies, reliable hardened containment venting capability, improved spent fuel pool instrumentation, seismic hazard re-evaluation, flooding re-evaluation, emergency preparedness, mitigation of beyond-design-basis events and improvements to the NRC's regulatory process. Plant specific progress on US safety enhancements can be found on the NRC's webpage.

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. All plants are expected to have implemented the FLEX strategy by the end of 2016.

An historical perspective on the US response to the accident at Fukushima is provided in the 2015 edition of Nuclear Energy Data.

Fuel cycle

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.

Uranium requirements

Annual uranium requirements for the United States for the period 2015 to 2035 are projected to decrease slightly from 21 932 tU in 2015 to 20 978 tU in 2035 (high nuclear case). This projected decrease is based on the possibility that the early retirements of some operating nuclear power plants due to financial uncertainty may offset new builds and the receipt of licence renewals to operate for an 80-year extended life cycle.

Uranium production

According to EIA's 2015 Domestic Uranium Production Report, US uranium mines produced 1 427 tU in 2015, 24% less than in 2014. One underground mine produced uranium ore during 2015, one fewer than during 2014. Additionally, seven in situ leach (ISL) mining operations produced solutions containing uranium in 2015, one fewer than in 2014. Overall, there were eight mines that operated during all or part of 2015.

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 2015. 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 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.

Centrus Energy Corporation (Centrus) signed a ten-year contract with TENEX in March 2011 to supply commercial-origin Russian low-enriched uranium. An extension of the contract was signed in December 2015. Deliveries under this contract began in 2013 and are slated to continue through 2026. The contract also includes an option to more than double the amount of material purchased. 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 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.

Re-enriched tails

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. 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 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).

Nuclear waste management

Commercial nuclear power reactors currently store most of their used nuclear fuel (UNF) on-site at the nuclear plant, although a small amount has been shipped to off-site facilities. In 2015, US reactors discharged approximately 2 235 tonnes heavy metal (tHM), and the UNF inventory in the United States was approximately 75 137 tHM as of 31 December 2015.

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.

President Obama announced in February 2009 that the proposed permanent repository at Yucca Mountain was no longer an option. In January 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America's Nuclear Future issued its final report. The report evaluated alternatives to Yucca Mountain. In January 2013, the DOE 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 programme 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 Preliminary Evaluation of Removing Used Nuclear Fuel from Shutdown Sites was issued in October 2014. The report focused on the development of a pilot interim storage facility that could accept UNF from permanently shutdown reactors. As of 31 December 2015, there are 24 shutdown commercial reactors in the United States.

In March and September 2015, legislation was introduced in both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives, respectively, to address the management, storage and disposal of UNF. In the meantime, private companies continue to pursue the design and licensing of interim storage facilities for UNF.

In April 2016, Waste Control Specialists, LLC submitted a licence application to the NRC for a privately owned and operated interim spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) in Texas; the facility would have a storage capacity of 40 000 tonnes and could receive a licence from the NRC in 2019. Holtec International, in partnership with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), expects to submit a licence application to the NRC in November 2016 for an underground ISFSI near the existing DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico; the facility would have a service life of up to 80 years and a storage capacity of 75 000 tonnes. Both ISFSIs could be in operation by 2020.

An historical perspective on nuclear waste management in the United States is provided in the 2015 edition of Nuclear Energy Data.

Legislation

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 2016

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Last reviewed: 21 December 2016