The Business and Politics of Nuclear Energy in the United States

Vincent Chen
December 10, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015

Economics and Nuclear Energy

Fig 1: Map showing the commercial power plants in the world. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II, many countries in North America, Western Europe, and Japan began recovery efforts through economic growth. As indicated in Fig. 1, the growth and energy usage of different nations differed with association to nuclear energy supply. With high rates of growth, nations began to realize that they were running out of domestic coal and oil reserves. Priorities during different stages of economic development shift. Earlier on, abundance, typically a function of cheap sources and environmental costs, is the primary mode of concern. However, later on, requirements shift to reliability, quality, and environmental impacts. [1]

Today, population trends anticipate over 9 billion people worldwide by 2050, and as this number grows, so does energy demand. [1] Alternative energy sources offer a promising alternative to fossil fuels as it brings benefits related to better standards of living, health, life expectancy, literacy, and opportunity. Nuclear energy, in particular, has potential to be a clean, safe, and cost effective long-term solution. [1]

We will explore the steps necessary for success energy production supply chains in the United States. Afterwards, we will look into how legislation has changed the ways that these developmental technologies have been regulated over the years.

Nuclear Energy Supply Chain

In developing a nuclear energy program, various steps must be taken by private or public entities to manage the supply chain of energy production. [2]

Pre-Build and Design




Throughout each aspect of the supply chain, a skilled workforce is needed to facilitate each aspect of the process.

Politics and Legislation

In 1954, the Atomic Energy Act was passed as a United States federal law. This law provided the premise for all activities related to civilian and military use of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, it requires that all "development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise." [3] Under this act, civilians are required to acquire licenses and empowers the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to establish and govern uses of the technology. A single agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, had responsibility for the development and production of nuclear materials in the united states.

Later, in 1974, the Energy Reorganization Act split the functions and assigned what is now the Department of Energy, the responsibility of development and production of nuclear weapons, power, and other related work. [3] The NRC was assigned to regulatory work.

Technology Implications

Over the years, these policies created guidelines and frameworks for private and public entities to pursue the development of nuclear energy technologies. Beyond purely the process of building and maintaining nuclear reactors and power plants, we must consider the external resources and externalities that result from the technology. How does uranium mining affect the political underpinnings of our current technologies? What environmental consequences do these processes have?

Despite these concerns and consequences, nuclear energy has proven the potential to expand and sustain a growing global economy.

© Vincent Chen. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "GIF R&D Outlook for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems," Gen IV International Forum, 21 Aug 09.

[2] S. A. Court, "The Supply Chain For A UK Nuclear New Build Programme," UK National Metals Technology Centre, February 2009.

[3] "Nuclear Regulatory Legislation," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-0980, Vol. 1, No. 10, September 2013.