US Nuclear Energy Direction

Reagan Williams
December 20, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: This figure from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy shows that nuclear energy use has been fairly stable for 20 years while fossil energy use has grown massively. [1] (Courtesy of British Petroleum)

The US has been the driving force in the world's nuclear department since the harnessing of nuclear energy was first unlocked. There are 100 nuclear power reactors currently operating in the United States. Even though this may seem like a large number, an expansion of this would allow for much greater and effective energy production for our country. The stigma around greater nuclear energy production revolves around the perceived fallout risk that would seemingly put the country in grave danger. Disasters such as Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi, and Three Mile Island have all discouraged a growth in this field as being the answer to our energy needs. With the technology of today, however, we are more equipped to deal with these disasters and prevent them from ever occurring in the first place. Certain political agendas and budget cuts have furthered the regression in this field as well. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy has shown that fossil fuel use has grown substantially while nuclear energy use has remained stable. With more widespread and informative initiatives, we can reasonably grow our nuclear energy output in order to solve some of our current energy problems.

Nuclear Energy Benefits

Nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gasses or air pollutants while being one of the most abundant resources in the world. Clean air initiatives as well as waste management programs have been enacted to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants. Nuclear reactions release nuclear energy that generates heat and fuels various turbines in order to power large and small scale operations. With the growing concern of climate change and the use of energy that harms our environment, nuclear energy used in a more widespread manner would help to alleviate some of the problems we face in a way that is cost efficient and largely more effective than current energy extraction methods. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy has shown that nuclear energy use has remained stable over the last 20 years while the use of fossil fuels have grown massively. [1] If we reverse this trend, resources used for energy would be better distributed and it would also be beneficial for the environment. Additionally, nuclear power can help solve our energy needs on a large-scale basis. This point is made evident in the book, "Why We Need Nuclear Power: The Environmental Case". The author states that while other renewable energy resources are important, they could never solve the problems of energy shortage on a wide basis. [2]

Potential Roadblocks in the US

The biggest roadblock for the implementation and use of more nuclear energy in the US is the stigma that surrounds the potential fallout from the reactors used to produce this energy. Some say that the risks do not outweigh the rewards. [3] However, the small number of incidents that have occurred, pair with new technology that has raised safety levels considerably helps combat this argument. Another issue is the waste it creates. It is toxic and difficult to store anywhere. Another major contributor to this problem is the fact that a ban exists on recycling the waste into new fuel, also, even though it is contrary to scientific evidence, many feel that nuclear waste is more harmful to the ecosystem than it actually is.


In conclusion, our world has an energy and resource problem. As a collective, we need to find and discuss possible options to solve these problems. Nuclear energy is a leading candidate and may be the best and most viable option, granted we can fix the issues that come with producing it. It is time to have a serious conversation about the expansion of nuclear energy within the United States, and in doing so, become the pioneer for its widespread use.

© Reagan Williams. 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] BP Statistical Review of World Energy, British Petroleum, June 2016.

[2] M. H. Fox, Why We Need Nuclear Power: The Environmental Case (Oxford University Press, 2014).

[3] D. Bechstein, "Nuclear Risk Pricing, Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2013.