Nuclear Energy in the USA

Simone Manuel
January 23, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Fig. 1: Current U.S. Nuclear power plants by source in 2018. [3] (Courtesy of the EIA)

As it relates to nuclear energy, in the United States, nothing has been the same since the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, in 1979. At the plant, located in Pennsylvania, two reactors famously had a core malfunction, Even though no one died and there were no direct health impacts, the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident caused a big shift in how America looks at using nuclear energy. [1] Not only did the accident cause citizens to fear for their safety, it also caused investors to be frightened because the clean up effort took 14 years and cost almost $1bn. [1] Since then, the government has been heavily involved in regulating the industry to ensure another accident like this wouldn't happen again.

As shown in Fig. 1, in the United States, there are currently 60 nuclear power plants operating. In total, nuclear energy accounts for 20% or a fifth of the United States energy production. [2] More specifically, Americas commercial nuclear industry produces 63 percent of our emission-free electric power. [3] There has not been a nuclear plant constructed in over 30 years, due to the stigma nuclear energy picked up from its short-cummings at TMI. However, nuclear reactors have recently been commissioned, breaking decades of stagnancy. The Watts Bar plant in Tennessee became operational in 2016, and 2 reactors are being built at the Vogtle plant in Georgia. [1]

Also, the cost to construct nuclear reactors and store its waste can be expensive. With natural gas and oil prices dramatically decreasing, nuclear energy will continue to have a hard time competing for a spot as a major contributor to the United States energy production and economy. Six nuclear plants are scheduled to permanently shut down by 2025 for economic reasons. [3] Ultimately the nuclear industry is banking on Coal and Natural gas prices to remain the same and the completion of the two reactors being built at the Vogtle plant in Georgia.

© Simone Manuel. 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] M. McGrath, "Fragile Future For US Nuclear Power," BBC News, 30 May 17.

[2] B. Plumer, "The Nuclear Showdown in Georgia," New York Times, 21 Dec 17.

[3] "Nuclear Power Outlook," U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 2018.