USA Nuclear Power

Charles Akin-David
June 10, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: USA Nuclear Power Plants Map. (Courtesy of the DOE. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the United States, the development of nuclear power began as a government program in 1945. This initial development stemmed from the Manhattan Project, the US government's project to develop a wartime atomic bomb. After this, the United States government began to refocus and started redistributing resources to aid in the development of nuclear power for civilian use. In December 1951, the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity was developed in Idaho. It was named the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS). Later on in the mid-1950s, the production of electricity from nuclear power was released from the government to the private sector such that corporate business with the resources could access nuclear power and use it to bring electricity. The world's first large-scale nuclear power plant was built and operated by the Duquesne Light and Power Company in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. [1] However, it was owned by the US Atomic Energy Commission. In the United States today, almost all commercial nuclear reactors are owned by private companies.


The American nuclear power industry is the world's largest with more than a hundred reactors currently in operation. (See Fig. 1.) However, since electricity utilities in the United States can come from a variety of other sources like coal, natural gas, and hydroelectricity, dependence on nuclear energy is not as necessary in this country than it would be in other countries like those in Europe who don't have access to these natural resources. The United States depends on nuclear energy to meet about one-fifth of its demand for electricity though some states are able to use nuclear energy to meet over half of their electricity demand. [2] Surprisingly, the 20 percent reliance on nuclear energy in the US is still greater than the worldwide average of 17 percent. [2] The total US production of electricity from nuclear reactors is approximately the same as the combined total from the world's other two nuclear powerhouses, France, and Japan.

Energy Policy

On July 29, 2005, the United States government comfortably passed (74-26 in the Senate and 275-156 in the House) the Energy Policy Act of 2005. [3] The bill included several incentives for the domestic nuclear power sector in efforts to promote US nuclear reactor construction. Some of the nuclear incentives included:

The act also addressed energy production in the US in many other sectors including renewable energy, oil and gas, coal, Tribal energy, nuclear matters and security, vehicle and motor fuels including ethanol, hydrogen, hydropower, and geothermal energy. [3] In October 2007, the Department of Energy began guaranteeing loans that cover up to 80% of the costs for new clean energy projects including advanced nuclear power plants under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

© Charles Akin-David. 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] W. Beaver, "Duquesne Light and Shippingport: Nuclear Power Is Born in Western Pennsylvania." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 70, 339 (1987).

[2] P. S. Nivola, "The Political Economy of Nuclear Energy in the United States," The Brookings Institution, Policy Brief #138, September 2004.

[3] "Energy Policy Act of 2005," Pub. L. No. 109-58, 119 Stat. 594 (2005) [42 USC 15801 (2005)].