Country profile: United States

Summary figures for 2017

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) Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
United States99805.0 (b)20.1
OECD America120911.818.0
OECD Total3111 856.817.6
NEA Total3522 062.617.9
(b) Preliminary data.

Country report

Nuclear power plants in the United States represent approximately one-quarter of the world's nuclear power capacity. As of 31 December 2017, the United States operated 99 light water reactors (the same as at the end of 2016) with a combined net capacity of 99.56 gigawatts electric (GWe). Data are preliminary and include the electric power sector only. In 2017, US reactors generated 20.05% of total utility-scale electricity while comprising 9.27% of total US electric capacity.

In 2017, US nuclear power plants generated 804.95 net terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity of the total electricity generation of 4 014.80 TWh based on preliminary data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). 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 – Two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurised light water reactors (Vogtle 3 & 4) are being constructed in the state of Georgia, with completion scheduled for 2021 and 2022. In December 2017, following the bankruptcy of the original builder (i.e. Westinghouse) the Georgia Public Service Commission approved continuation of the construction. Bechtel Corporation, a global construction firm, was selected by Georgia Power to complete the construction.
  • Cancelled Projects – On 17 August 2017, the South Carolina Electric & Gas Company officially notified the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that the construction project to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the VC Summer nuclear power plant in South Carolina was terminated. The reasons cited include rising costs, decreasing electricity demand, construction delays and the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the lead contractor for the project and the designer of the reactors.
  • Combined Licences (COL) – As of 31 December 2017, of the 18 COL applications submitted to the NRC, 8 have been issued licences for construction and operation, 8 have been withdrawn and 2 have been suspended. The Vogtle 3 & 4 project, currently under construction, was issued a COL in 2012. The VC Summer project was also issued a COL in 2012, which remains active despite the termination of the construction project. The NRC issued a COL for Fermi 3 (ESBWR design) in 2015. In 2016, COLs were issued for South Texas Project units 3 & 4 (ABWR), Levy Nuclear Plant 1 & 2 (AP1000) and William States Lee III 1 & 2 (AP1000). The NRC issued a COL for North Anna 3 (ESBWR) in May 2017 and for Turkey Point units 6 and 7 (ESBWR) in April 2018. However, no construction announcements have been made for these six 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 2017, the NRC had granted licence renewals to 89 of the 99 operating reactors in the United States and is reviewing licence renewal applications for an additional 5 reactors. Extending operations from 60 to 80 years requires a subsequent licence renewal (SLR), and the NRC is in the process of reviewing one SLR application for two reactors and anticipates three additional SLR applications by 2021 for six additional reactors.
  • 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 zero-emission credits (ZEC) for NPPs experiencing unprofitable electricity market conditions in their jurisdictions. These ongoing market conditions are primarily a result of historical and low, local electricity prices due to a significant increase in the availability of low-cost natural gas, flat demand growth, grid congestion and the increased use of renewables, namely photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind. These price support programmes expire in approximately 10 to 12 years. Together, these state supports are applicable to approximately 6.4 GWe of US nuclear generating capacity. In 2017 and 2018, Connecticut continued to move forward with steps that would enable its Millstone nuclear power plant to compete with renewables in a state auction. In 2018, the state of New Jersey passed a ZEC bill providing up to USD 300 million annually for unprofitable nuclear power plants. Unlike the Illinois and New York ZEC supports, the New Jersey ZEC support has no expiration date. Other states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are also considering similar legislation to support financially at-risk NPPs.
  • Production tax credits – In 2018, the US President signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (HR 1892), which extended and modified the existing production tax credit (PTC) for new nuclear power. The existing PTC, established under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, allowed for up to 6 GWe of newly-deployed nuclear power capacity entering service before the original cut-off date of 31 December 2020 to earn a non-escalating 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour tax credit for eight years. The new law, which extends the PTC indefinitely and allows for the transfer of PTC to credit partners, benefits the current construction of two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. This PTC extension also benefits future US nuclear power projects including SMRs. The credit remains capped at the first 6 GWe of deployed nuclear power capacity.
  • Plant closings – Nine NPPs, operating twelve reactors and totalling 11.1 GWe have announced plans to permanently shut down their reactors because of economic and environmental issues. Six reactors, totalling 4.8 GWe, are scheduled to go offline by the end of 2020. Low electricity prices in merchant wholesale electric power markets continue to create financial challenges, primarily for smaller, single-reactor plants.
  • Power uprates – As of 31 December 2017, the US nuclear power fleet has increased its capacity by
  • 7.7 GWe through 158 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 2017, the NRC authorised six uprates (15.8 MWe). In April 2018, an uprate of 0.530 MWe was authorised for the Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey. No additional uprate applications are currently under review or expected in 2018. The NRC anticipates receiving four additional power uprate applications through 2020 for a total of 60 MWe.
  • Spent fuel and high-level waste management – As of 31 December 2017, the United States did not have a nuclear waste policy that defines a national strategy for the spent nuclear fuel currently located at storage installations adjacent to operating and shut down nuclear power plants. In 2008, the US Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a licence application to the NRC for authorisation to construct a high-level waste (HLW) geological repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, initially approved by Congress in 2002. 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 10 August 2017, the NRC reported 75 licensed independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSI) operating in 34 states – 60 are operating under general licences, 11 are operating under site-specific licences, and 4 are operating under both general and site-specific licences. One plant is currently pursuing a general licence, two sites are pursuing a future specific licence, and three plants have not announced their spent fuel storage intentions.
  • Uranium transfers – In April 2017, the US administration issued a determination that reduced the amount of uranium the DOE can transfer in 2017 and beyond, lowering the limit for both transferred natural uranium and low-enriched uranium. The determination permits the 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. According to the determination, transfers include natural uranium (NU), low-enriched uranium (LEU), and depleted uranium (DU) in the form of uranium hexafluoride UF6. As of 31 December 2016, the inventory was estimated at 300 000 metric tonnes of uranium (MTU). In May 2015, the previous determination set transfer limits at 2 500 tU in 2015 and 2 100 tU in subsequent years. The next determination is required in 2019.
  • Uranium requirements – Annual uranium requirements for the United States for 2017 to 2035 are projected to decrease from 23 001 tU in 2017 to 15 972 tU in 2035 (high nuclear case). This projected decrease is based on the possibility of additional nuclear electric power plant retirements under market conditions that may continue to be unfavourable for a significant portion of the existing nuclear power plants when fully considering fixed and growing operating costs, including capital investments for major replacement items such as steam generators. No assumptions are made about future state or federal policy changes such as price supports or carbon emission constraints that could reduce the rate of decrease in uranium demand in the United States.
  • Uranium production – According to the EIA 2017 Domestic Uranium Production Report, US uranium mines produced 442 tU in 2017, 55% less than in 2016. Six in situ leach (ISL) mining operations produced solutions containing uranium in 2017, two fewer than in 2016. Total production of US uranium concentrate in 2017 was 940 tU, 16% less than the 1 122 tU produced in 2016, from seven facilities: one conventional mill in Utah (White Mesa mill) and six ISL plants in Nebraska and Wyoming (Crow Butte Operation, Lost Creek Project, Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Ross CPP, Smith Ranch-Highland Operation and Willow Creek Project). Five 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 2017, only two ISL mines – Lost Creek and Nichols Ranch, both in Wyoming – were actively developing new well fields. The other ISL mines had suspended development, and the PineNut mine that produced to the end of 2015 was in the closure/remediation process. The White Mesa mill was the only operating conventional mill in the United States. Two additional conventional mills, the Shootaring Canyon mill in Utah and Sweetwater mill in Wyoming, are on standby status. Production from White Mesa during 2017 was from by-product material. The slowdown in uranium production in the United States during 2017 can be attributed to prolonged low uranium prices and the relatively high cost of producing uranium from developed mines. At the end of 2017, the White Mesa mill was operating with a capacity of 2 000 short tons of material per day. The Shootaring Canyon Uranium Mill and the Sweetwater Uranium Project were on standby with a total capacity of 3 750 short tons of material per day. One mill is planned for Colorado (Pinon Ridge Mill), and one heap leach plant is planned for Wyoming (Sheep Mountain).
  • Uranium conversion – The United States has one uranium conversion plant, operated by ConverDyn, Inc., located in Metropolis, Illinois. In November 2017, Honeywell announced that it would temporarily idle production of UF6 at the ConverDyn facility citing global oversupply. The company also stated that it plans to restart production once market conditions improve. Honeywell is in the process of renewing its operating licence with the NRC, maintaining its production capacity at approximately 15 000 metric tonnes per year of UF6. In addition to domestic capability, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Russia and Uzbekistan are major sources of US concentrate imports.
  • Uranium enrichment – As of 31 December 2017, the URENCO USA centrifuge facility in New Mexico, which commenced operations in June 2010, was operating at a capacity of 4.8 million separative work units (SWU) from 63 production cascades. According to URENCO USA, which is the only operational enrichment facility in the United States, current uranium enrichment market conditions no longer support investing in Phase 4 of its capacity expansion project. Phase 3 is scheduled to be completed by 2022 for a total of 72 cascades. In November 2012, URENCO USA submitted a licence amendment request to the NRC to increase its enrichment capacity to 10 million SWU, and 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, additional enrichment services will continue to be imported from facilities in Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. While new US enrichment facilities are licensed, constructed and operated to produce US-origin LEU, 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 LEU through 2026. Centrus exchanges LEU for high-enriched uranium (HEU) that is downblended to fabricate fuel.
  • Re-enriched tails – the DOE and the Bonneville Power Administration initiated a pilot project to re-enrich a portion of the DOE tails inventory. This project produced approximately 1 940 tonnes of LEU 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 high-assay tails from the DOE. In 2013, the project produced approximately 3 738 tonnes of NU, 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 (LWR): Westinghouse Electric Co. in Columbia, South Carolina; Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, Ltd in Wilmington, North Carolina; and Framatome (formerly 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). Collectively, these companies can fabricate 5 000 tU of fuel annually.

Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2018