Nuclear Energy Production in the United States

Obi Eboh
March 24, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Nuclear Economic Value

Fig. 1: Columbia Generating Station. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Normally, the focus on nuclear power is how it provides a surplus of energy for wherever it is being used, but recently we have been focusing on how nuclear power provides a whole lot more than just energy. Recent studies show that nuclear power plants provide a substantial economic benefit for the states and regions in which they are used. Studies focused on the Columbia Generating Station (as seen in Fig. 1) show that the plant generates 9 billion kWhs of emission-free electricity every year, which is enough to power the entire city of Seattle. It produces all of that energy as well as $690 million in economic output. [1]

Nuclear Energy Production

Not only does nuclear power provide sustainable energy and economic benefit for a large mass of people, it also provides a lot of opportunity as well. With so much production in the United States, nuclear power plants are providing more job opportunities than ever for a large amount of the United States population. The Columbia Generating Station (as seen in Figure 1) operations support about 4,000 jobs annually and more than 3,000 of them in Washington state. [2] And with the help of those people working at the plant, the Columbia Generating Station generated 9.6 million megawatt-hours of clean electricity, which avoided emitting about 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide this year. [2] To put it in perspective, 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is the same amount of carbon dioxide that is the released by 778,000 cars every year. [2] The plant with the help of these workers also prevent the release of other air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, harmful gases that are facilitators in the creation of acid rain and urban smog. Locally Columbia employs 990 people and the annual payroll and benefits are around 140,000 for permanent employees and contractors. [2] Although nuclear energy provides a lot of benefits, it's not easy to generate. If the creation of these nuclear power plants ceased to exist, we would have to rely on another sustainable source of energy. Wind energy and solar energy would be the next choices for sustainable energy after nuclear. They account for about 8% of the countries' electricity. Wind and solar energy is significantly cheaper than nuclear energy and it is growing faster because of it. For example wind energy sources cost about 2-6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today in the United States, solar energy accounts for 300,000+ jobs and wind accounts for about 100,000, both competing with nuclear energy.

Future of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy has been largely regarded as our savior from fossil fuels or any source of energy that is considered non-renewable, but is it really the sustainable energy that we need? Overall the United States is home to more nuclear power plants than any other country in the world, however it only generates about 20% of the electric energy that our country uses, whereas in a country like France, nuclear energy generates about 75% of their energy. [1] One of the main objectives in most countries is to avoid dangerous emissions and effect climate change. [3] The good thing is that nuclear power provides a lasting source of carbon free energy and can be long lasting. [3] Also nuclear power plants have a lot of economic benefit. They usually generate about $50 billion in revenue each year and provide over 100,000 jobs for people in the United States. [2] The bad thing about nuclear power plants is that they aren't cheap. The cost of building a new plant can cost up to $9 billion and this cost issue is slowing down the construction of these plants, putting their longevity in this country in question. [2] Also plant accidents are extremely dangerous, and radioactive mess cleanups take decades to do. For right now, we can say that nuclear energy is here to stay as long as we can produce them effectively. Also just like nuclear plants produce electricity and energy, they also produce waste such as fission waste, which is classified as a high level waste. High level waste like fission waste requires cooling and shielding. We also want to keep tabs on radioactive waste because of the threat of terrorists getting their hands on this source of nuclear energy.

© Obi Eboh. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] J. M. Jasper, Nuclear Politics: Energy and the State in the United States, Sweden, and France (Princeton University Press, 2016).

[2] R. McCullough et al., "Economic Analysis of the Columbia Generating Station," McCullough Research, December 2013.

[3] J. Mahaffey, Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power (Pegasus Books, 2010).