U.S. Exports in the Global Nuclear Energy Market

Scott Morris
February 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Introduction and Overview

Fig. 1: OK3 - a Finnish nuclear reactor currently under construction. The total cost of the project is estimated over $8 billion (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Following the 3 Mile Island disaster in 1979, commercial nuclear reactor and power plant construction came to a halt in the United States for over 30 years. Construction of new nuclear energy facilities did not resume until as recently as 2013. In the meantime, however, the international market for nuclear energy has exploded. There are currently 444 nuclear reactors worldwide, with an additional 65 under construction. [1] Fig. 1 shows one reactor currently under construction. An International Energy Agency report found that nuclear energy production would have to double by 2050 to meet the climate change goals. [1] The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that the international nuclear energy industry will be worth up to $740 billion over the next ten years. [1]

Current Status of American Nuclear Exports

The United States is no longer leading the world in the construction of new nuclear energy facilities, for a variety of reasons. Some include public distrust, backlash from previous accidents, and lack of federal support. We have only just restarted the construction and development of domestic nuclear plants. Regardless, the export of parts and supplies for the construction of nuclear facilities in other countries is a huge business opportunity. For example, the Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Company builds large sealed water pumps specifically designed for nuclear reactors. [2] They sell primarily to countries in Asia, and each pump brings in $10 million. [2]

Looking Forward

Nuclear energy is a huge industry internationally, and only slotted to grow over the next few decades. The United States currently holds a strong position in the supply of parts for new reactors and facilities, but it is losing market share to competitors in Europe and East Asia. [1] One reason is the vast amount of paperwork required to export any materials related to nuclear energy or weapons. Each firm currently has to successfully engage in a "123 Agreement," which can be difficult to get. [1] Nevertheless, the continued development of parts and supplies for nuclear energy in the United States is a boon and something that should be maintained if at all possible. It brings in export revenue and creates jobs, but also provides a base and the infrastructure to meet domestic demand if nuclear energy should ever make a big comeback.

© Scott Morris. 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] "2016 Top Markets Report: Civil Nuclear," U.S. International Trade Administration, May 2016.

[2] M. L. Wald, "Nuclear Industry Thrives in the U.S., But For Export," The New York Times, 30 Mar 11.