The Benefits of
Nuclear energy is the world's largest
source of emission-free energy. Nuclear power plants produce no
controlled air pollutants, such as sulfur and particulates, or greenhouse
gases. The use of nuclear energy in place of other energy sources
helps to keep the air clean, preserve the Earth's climate, avoid
ground-level ozone formation and prevent acid rain. Of all energy
sources, nuclear energy has perhaps the lowest impact on the environment,
including water, land, habitat, species, and air resources. Nuclear
energy is the most eco-efficient of all energy sources because it
produces the most electricity relative to its environmental impact.
Nuclear power plants were responsible
for nearly half of the total voluntary reductions in greenhouse
gas emissions reported by U.S. companies in 1998, the Energy Information
Administration reported on January 4, 2000. Emission reductions
from nuclear energy usage reported by the electric power sector
increased by 43 percent from an estimated 70 million metric tons
carbon dioxide equivalent for 1997 to 100 million metric tons carbon
dioxide equivalent for 1998. That 100 million metric tons equals
47 percent of the 212 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions
reported nationwide, according to EIA. Between 1973 and 2000, nuclear
generation avoided the emission of 66.1 million tons of sulfur dioxide
and 33.6 million tons of nitrogen oxides. Each year, U.S. nuclear
power plants prevent 5.1 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 2.4 million
tons of nitrogen oxide, and 164 million metric tons of carbon from
entering the earth's atmosphere.
How do nuclear power plants reduce
The U.S. Clean Air Act standards assume
nuclear energy. The U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970 and related regulations
set federally mandated limits on the emission of certain pollutants
for states and regions of the country. Both nuclear and fossil power
plants operate in those states and regions. Air quality standards
established under the Clean Air Act have been calculated, in fact,
presuming that 20 percent of the nation's electricity will continue
to be produced by non-emitting nuclear energy, and that 30 percent
total will be non-emitting generation. This is on a national basis.
The percent actually varies from state to state, with many states
in "non-attainment" areas that have been unable to achieve air quality
standards being more heavily dependent on nuclear energy.
Nuclear plants help regions meet air
pollution standards. Air pollution compliance regulations are actually
being enforced against the total supply of electricity, not just
facilities that emit pollutants. Both emission caps and permits
under ambient air quality standards represent a predetermined level
of pollution rights available to a range of industrial activities,
one of which is electricity production. These restrictions remain
fixed, even if the total amount of electricity needed to satisfy
demand in the affected regions of the country rises. A state or
region can more easily remain within its emission limitations and
still meet its energy needs when emission-free sources are used
to satisfy a portion of demand.
Nuclear plants also reduce the cost
of air pollution control for emitting facilities. But emission-free
sources like nuclear energy do more than help in meeting air pollution
standards. When some of the electricity generating units do not
need air emission permits, like nuclear facilities, which are non-emitting,
more allowable tons remain available to emitting facilities in the
same location. Reducing the scarcity of allowable tons lowers their
price, or reduces the capital expenses needed to reduce emissions.
Non-emitting nuclear generation reduces competition for a limited
amount of rights to pollute created by law. So, they reduce the
actual capital cost of air pollution controls for emitting generation
in the same location.
Nitrogen oxides, a precursor of ground-level
ozone, provides a good example of how nuclear energy helps the energy
industry meet its clean air compliance. Under recent rules, the
Environmental Protection Agency established a cap on this controlled
pollutant for 21 eastern states. This NOx SIP Call Rule allocates
this total cap as an emission limit for each state. The cap for
all of these states is 565,000 tons, while actual NOx output in
1997 was 1,346,350 tons. If electricity generation sources that
emit harmful gases were to replace nuclear, these states would produce
an additional 131,867 tons, even if their emission rate meets the
level required by the SIP Call Rule. That replacement generation
alone would use up 31 percent of the combined caps for each state
even before all other industries are brought into the calculation.
Some states would face a significantly greater burden: South Carolina
would lose 86 percent, Connecticut 65 percent, Illinois 47 percent,
Virginia 46 percent, Pennsylvania 41 percent, and New Jersey 40
percent of their respective caps without nuclear energy.
Of all energy sources, nuclear energy
has perhaps the lowest impact on the environment especially in relation
to kilowatts produced because nuclear plants do not emit harmful
gases, require a relatively small area, and effectively minimize
or negate other impacts. In other words, nuclear energy is the most
"ecologically efficient" of all energy sources because it produces
the most electricity in relation to its minimal environmental impact.
There are no significant adverse effects to water, land, habitat,
species, and air resources.
Nuclear energy is an emission-free
energy source because it does not burn anything to produce electricity.
Nuclear power plants produce no gases such as nitrogen oxide or
sulfur dioxide that could threaten our atmosphere by causing ground-level
ozone formation, smog, and acid rain. Nor does nuclear energy produce
carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases suspected to cause global
warming. Throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, the small volume of
waste byproducts actually created is carefully contained, packaged
and safely stored. As a result, the nuclear energy industry is the
only industry established since the industrial revolution that has
managed and accounted for all of its waste, preventing adverse impacts
to the environment.
Nuclear power also provides water
quality and aquatic life conservation. Water discharged from a nuclear
power plant contains no harmful pollutants and meets regulatory
standards for temperature designed to protect aquatic life. This
water, used for cooling, never comes in contact with radioactive
materials. If the water from the plant is so warm that it may harm
marine life, it is cooled before it is discharged to its source
river, lake, or bay as it is either mixed with water in a cooling
pond or pumped through a cooling tower.
Because the areas around nuclear power
plants and their cooling ponds are so clean, they are often developed
as wetlands that provide nesting areas for waterfowl and other birds,
new habitats for fish, and the preservation of other wildlife as
well as trees, flowers, and grasses. Many energy companies have
created special nature parks or wildlife sanctuaries on plant sites.
Nuclear power plants provide land
and habitat preservation. Because nuclear power plants produce a
large amount of electricity in a relatively small space, they require
significantly less land for operation than all other energy sources.
For instance, solar and wind farms must occupy substantially more
land, and must be sited in geographically unpopulated areas far
from energy demand. To build the equivalent of a 1,000-megawatt
nuclear plant, a solar park would have to be larger than 35,000
acres, and a wind farm would have to be 150,000 acres or larger.
By contrast, the Millstone Units 2 and 3 nuclear power plants in
Connecticut have an installed capacity of over 1,900 megawatts of
power on a 500-acre site designed for three nuclear plants. Also,
uranium is a concentrated, low-volume fuel source requiring few
incursions into the land for extraction or transport.
Nuclear plants are so environmentally
benign that they enable endangered species to live and thrive nearby.
Such endangered species as osprey, peregrine falcons, bald eagles,
red-cockaded woodpecker, and even the beach tiger beetle have found
a home at nuclear power plants. Programs also protect species that
are not endangered, such as bluebirds, wood ducks, kestrels, sea
lions, wild turkeys, and pheasant. In contrast, certain wind farms
pose a hazard to endangered bird species. Bald eagles and other
birds of prey are apparently mesmerized by the movement of the propellers
and fly directly into them. Moreover, depletion of protected birds
of prey results in an increase in the pest population that was their
food source. For instance, all the birds of prey in the Altamont
pass of California have been killed by a wind farm, and the city
of Livermore developed a rodent infestation due to their absence.
Economic Benefits of Nuclear Power
Nuclear power plants provide low-cost,
predictable power at stable prices and are essential in maintaining
the reliability of the U.S. electric power system. Nuclear power
is a major national energy source. Nuclear energy is our nation's
largest source of emission-free electricity and our second largest
source of power. The 103 U.S. nuclear units supply about 20 percent
of the electricity produced in the United States. The only fuel
source that produced more electricity was coal.
Nuclear plants also contribute to
national energy security and ensure stable nationwide electricity
supply. As an integral part of the U.S. energy mix, nuclear energy
is a secure energy source that the nation can depend on. Unlike
some other energy sources, nuclear energy is not subject to unreliable
weather or climate conditions, unpredictable cost fluctuations,
or dependence on foreign suppliers. In fact, nuclear energy is a
strong domestic as well as international industry, with extensive
fuel supply sources. Nuclear power plants are large units that run
for extended periods. They help supply the necessary level of electricity,
or "baseload generation," for the electricity transmission network,
or "grid," to operate. U.S. nuclear power plants are a key element
in the stability of our country's electrical grid.
Nuclear power plants have long periods
of operation. Nuclear power plants are designed to operate continuously
for long periods of time. They can run about 540 days before they
are shut down for refueling. The longest continuous run by a light
water reactor is Three Mile Island, Unit 1, in Pennsylvania, which
completed a 688-day run. The longest run of any type of reactor
is 894 days, achieved by the Pickering 7 plant, a heavy-water reactor
in Ontario, Canada (Canadian CANDU reactors can be refueled while
An increased capacity factor results
in an increase in the production of electricity by nuclear plants.
The increase from 1998 to 1999 alone amounted to about 50 billion
kilowatt-hours more electricity, for a total of 720 billion kilowatt-hours.
That is roughly equivalent to adding six to seven one-thousand-megawatt
nuclear reactors to the U.S. nuclear fleet. The increase in electricity
produced using nuclear energy from 1990 to 1999, 143 billion kilowatt
hours, is the equivalent of adding 19 one-thousand-megawatt nuclear
reactors to the U.S. fleet.
The costs involved in producing electricity
at a nuclear power plant, operations and maintenance plus fuel,
have been declining over the past decade. In 1998 the average production
cost for the U.S. nuclear fleet was 2.13 cents per kilowatt-hour,
down from 3.04 cents in 1988. In addition, there are no unexpected
Power plants have future price stability.
A nuclear power plant can leverage its high degree of future price
stability by selling at a premium to large users an assured source
of electricity supply at a known price. For instance, presently
some users in California are willing to pay this premium to protect
themselves against the damaging effects of price volatility in the
Another value of nuclear power, transmission
system support, is typically not yet recognized. Nuclear units provide
ancillary services such as voltage support, and play a key role
in maintaining the reliability of the grid, a service with value
in an unbundled market.
Nuclear power plants have significant
additional site value, such as switchyards, access to the grid,
ingress and egress, and spare cooling capacity. In many cases, they
were planned for more units than were built, providing room to build
additional non-nuclear generation. Such diverse generation would
enable a single site to execute forward sales in the bilateral contract
market and participate in the day-ahead market, in particular selling
highly profitable 10-minute spinning reserve capacity.
Abundant fuel with low cost and stable
price. US nuclear power plants use an enriched form of uranium for
fuel. Uranium is a relatively abundant element that occurs naturally
in the earth's crust. Uranium oxide is about as common as tin. In
1998, 16 countries produced over 99 percent of the world's total
uranium production. Canada's and Australia's uranium mines account
for 46 percent. Compared to natural gas, a fuel also used to generate
electricity, uranium is already relatively low in cost and less
sensitive to fuel price increases. And a little goes a long way:
one uranium fuel pellet-the size of the tip of your little finger-is
the equivalent of 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds
of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.
One example is the Palo Verde Nuclear
Generating Station in Arizona. Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station
in Arizona generates more electricity annually than any other US
power plant of any kind, including coal, oil, natural gas and hydro.
The three-unit, 3,921-megawatt nuclear plant generated 32,095,426
megawatt-hours of electricity in 1999. Today, nuclear power plants,
the second largest source of electricity in the United States, supply
about 20 percent of the nation's electricity each year. In 2000,
US nuclear plants generated a record 753.9 billion kilowatt-hours
of electricity. In 1999, they produced 728 billion kWh. The average
electricity production cost in 1999 for nuclear energy was 1.83
cents per kilowatt-hour, for coal-fired plants 2.07 cents, for oil
3.24 cents, and for gas 3.52 cents. In the United States, six of
the nine largest investor-owned utilities by revenue were nuclear
utilities in 1998. The top investor-owned utility by profit was
a nuclear utility, and eight of the next nine profit leaders were
Despite popular belief, nuclear plants
are relatively safe. For years, America's commercial nuclear energy
industry has ranked among the safest places to work in the United
States. In 2000, its industrial safety accident rate-which tracks
the number of accidents that result in lost work time, restricted
work or fatalities-was 0.26 per 200,000 worker-hours. By comparison,
the accident rate for US private industry was 3.1 per 200,000 worker-hours
in 1998-the last year figures are available from the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. Even if you lived right next door to a nuclear power
plant, you would still receive less radiation each year than you
would receive in just one round-trip flight from New York to Los
Angeles. You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for over
2,000 years to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you
get from a single diagnostic medical x-ray.
Since March 1993, 113 metric tons
of uranium from weapons have been transformed into fuel for nuclear
power plants. That's the equivalent of 4,500 dismantled nuclear
weapons. This is the result of the United States and the Russian
Federation signing an agreement on the disposition and purchase
of 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from dismantled Russian